It was early in 2015 that the Chairman of the VC&GC Association made contact regarding a joint celebration between our two organisations to mark the 75th anniversary of the introduction of these two awards. On 23 September 1940, in a broadcast from Buckingham Palace to Britain and the Empire, His Majesty King George VI announced a new distinction for civilians that would bear his name, for ‘acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger’ – an award for courage for acts not carried out under fire from an enemy. In his speech, the King said:
“In order that they should be worthily and promptly recognised, I have decided to create, at once, a new mark of honour for men and women, in all walks of civilian life. I propose to give my name to this new distinction which will consist of the George Cross which will rank next to the Victoria Cross and the George Medal for wider distribution.”
Since that date, these civilian awards have been awarded to men and women who have carried out those ‘acts of the greatest heroism and other acts of great bravery’ which the King felt warranted these new awards. It is important to remember that both these decorations are awarded for actions not in the face of the enemy. In the heat of battle, soldiers can very often be spurred on to commit gallant and heroic deeds to save their colleagues. Yet recipients of the George Cross and the George Medal will have selflessly placed themselves in jeopardy to protect or save lives and property, with little concern for their own safety and with no other thought than of doing the right thing. The 75th anniversary of the introduction of the George Cross and the George Medal therefore served as an important reminder of the selfless courage and bravery of those able to be present on 24 September 2015. It was also important to celebrate the 75th anniversary of these awards as the inevitable attrition of age and infirmity may further stem the number of medal recipients able to celebrate any anniversary in the future.
The celebrations started the night before with an informal meet and greet over supper at the Union Jack Club in London where many recipients met each other for the first time. An early and dismal start to the following day saw the medallists and their guests assemble at the statue of King George VI near Carlton Gardens on the Mall for a wreath laying ceremony where they were joined by the Minister of State for Defence Earl Howe, the Defence Services Secretary, Major General Richard Nugee CVO CBE and Rear Admiral Sir Jeremy de Halpert KCVO CB, one of our most active Vice Patrons.
The Chairman of the VC&GC Association, Major Peter Norton GC and our President, jointly laid a wreath at the statue and the Chaplain of the Royal Hospital led a short service of remembrance. Through the extreme generosity of the London Taxi charity who had provided sufficient taxis for the entire day, the medallists and guests then headed to the Royal Hospital Chelsea where thanks to the courtesy of The Governor, General Sir Redmond Watt KCB KCVO CBE DL, we were able to use their wonderful facilities for a parade in Figure Court and a service of thanksgiving and commemoration in the Chapel.
Our guest for the day was HRH The Duke of Kent who on arrival, joined us for an official photograph with all medallists and Cross holders. After spending time chatting to the medallists, the Duke read a lesson during the service in the famous Wren Chapel and then joined everyone for lunch. Before departing, the Duke presented flowers to the Secretaries of both organisations for their efforts in assisting with the organisation of the day’s events. As can be imagined, the national press had a field day with so many decorated individuals available for interview in one place, But for those on parade,it was not a time to dwell on their own heroics, it was an occasion to salute the courage of others, both past and present.
To honour the recipients of the GC and GM attending the 75th anniversary, a pair of 50mm, silver commemorative limited edition medals was struck. The obverse shows on one, the effigy of HM Queen Elizabeth II facing right and the other medal shows HM George VI facing left. The reverse of each medal shows a miniature GC and GM surrounded by the lettering 24th September 1940 – 24th. The cypher of HM Queen Elizabeth II and of her late father HM George VI are also shown. Each boxed set of medals was engraved with the name of the recipient around the rim and presented to each individual by HRH The Duke of Kent.
Alongside the holders of the George Cross also present, the George Medallists who attended the anniversary celebrations in London were John Balding MBE GM, Lisa Potts GM, Peter Gurney MBE GM* Ken Irvine GM, Alan Islam GM QGM, Len Jakeman GM, Mike Stacey GM, Sid Brazier GM, Mike Knox GM, Pete Hurry GM, Mike Lakey GM, Arthur Garner GM, James Pollock GM, Eric Smith GM, Steve Thomas GM, Nick Thomsen GM, John Jackson MBE GM, John Purnell GM QPM, Gordon Meredith GM, Terry McFall GM, Mike Hoskins GM, Mark Davis GM, Ken Bowerman GM, Don Acton GM, Mark Gold GM, Mark Blatherwick MBE GM, Peter Slimon GM, Andy Peat GM.