The Victoria Cross for Australia is the highest award in the Australian Honours System, superseding the Victoria Cross for issue to Australians. It was created by letters patent signed by Queen Elizabeth II on 15 January 1991. As of July 2008, no awards of the Victoria Cross for Australia have been made; the last Victoria Cross awarded to an Australian was to Warrant Officer Keith Payne for gallantry on 24 May 1969 during the Vietnam War.
The Victoria Cross for Australia is the "decoration for according recognition to persons who in the presence of the enemy, perform acts of the most conspicuous gallantry, or daring or pre-eminent acts of valour or self-sacrifice or display extreme devotion to duty. As the highest Australian award it is listed first on the Australian Order of Wear with precedence in Australia over all orders, decorations and medals. The decoration may be awarded to members of the Australian Defence Force and to other persons determined by the Australian Minister for Defence. There has been no official announcement as to source of the metal for the Victoria Cross for Australia. A person to whom the Victoria Cross for Australia has been awarded is entitled to the post nominals VC placed after the person’s name.
When the medal is awarded, the ceremony will be presided over by the Governor-General of Australia who will present the medal during an investiture. As with the awarding of the original VC, recipients are entitled to an annuity paid by the Government, currently AU$3,230 per year. Because of the rarity and inherent significance of the original medal, they are highly prized, both as an award and as a collector's item, one VC being sold for over AU$1 million at auction. The VC for Australia can be expected to be equally valuable.
On 29 January 1856 Queen Victoria signed the Royal Warrant that officially instituted the Victoria Cross. The Warrant was backdated to 1854 to recognise acts of valour committed during the Crimean War. It was originally intended that the Victoria Crosses would be cast from the bronze cascabel of two cannon that were captured from the Russians at the siege of Sevastopol. However, historian John Glanfield has proven, through the use of X-rays of older Victoria Crosses, that the metal used for the Victoria Crosses is in fact from antique Chinese guns, and not of Russian origin.
The barrels of the cannon used to cast the medals are stationed outside the Officers' Mess, at the Royal Artillery Barracks at Woolwich. The remaining portion of the only remaining cascabel, weighing 10 kilograms (358 oz), is stored in a vault maintained by 15 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps at Donnington, Telford. It can only be removed under armed guard. It is estimated that approximately 80 to 85 more Victoria Crosses could be cast from this source. A single company of jewellers, Hancocks of London, established in 1849, has been responsible for the production of every medal since its inception. Both the Australian and New Zealand Victoria Crosses are to be made from the same gunmetal as the originals.
The original medal was awarded to 96 Australians. Ninety of these were received for actions whilst serving with Australian units. Six were received for actions whilst serving with other units. The majority of the awards were for action in the First World War, when a total of 64 medals were awarded. Nine of these awards were for action during the Gallipoli Campaign. Twenty medals were awarded for action in the Second World War, and the other medals were for action in the Boer War, Russian Civil War and in the Vietnam War. The last recipient was Warrant Officer Keith Payne, for gallantry on 24 May 1969 during the Vietnam War. Payne was awarded the medal for instigating a rescue of more than forty men.
In the last 20 years several Commonwealth countries have introduced their own honours systems, separate from the British Honours System. Australia, Canada and New Zealand have each introduced their own decorations for gallantry and bravery, replacing British decorations such as the Military Cross with their own awards. Most Commonwealth countries, however, still recognise the Victoria Cross as their highest decoration for valour.
With the issuing of letters patent, on 15 January 1991, Australia became the first Commonwealth nation to institute a separate Victoria Cross award in its own honours system. Although it is a separate award, the Victoria Cross for Australia's appearance is identical to its British counterpart. Canada followed suit when in 1993, Queen Elizabeth signed Letters Patent creating the Canadian Victoria Cross. The Canadian version has a different inscription, as well as being created from a different unspecified metal. The legend has been changed from FOR VALOUR to the Latin PRO VALORE. In 1999 New Zealand created its own Victoria Cross, identical to the Australian and British Victoria Crosses, and this has been awarded once, on 2 July 2007 to Willie Apiata.
The Victoria Cross for Australia is identical to the original design. It is a "cross pattée 41 millimetres high, 36 millimetres wide. The arms of the Cross have raised edges. The obverse bears a Crowned Lion standing on the Royal Crown with the words 'FOR VALOUR' inscribed on a semi-circular scroll below the Crown. The reverse bears raised edges on the arms of the cross and the date of the act for which the Cross is awarded is engraved within the circle in the centre. The inscription was originally to have been FOR BRAVERY, until it was changed on the recommendation of Queen Victoria, who thought some might erroneously consider that only the recipients of the Victoria Cross were brave in battle. The decoration, suspension bar, and link weigh about 27 grams (0.87 troy ounces).
The cross is suspended by a ring from a seriffed "V" to a bar ornamented with laurel leaves, through which the ribbon passes. The reverse of the suspension bar is engraved with the recipient's name, rank, number and unit. On the reverse of the medal is a circular panel, on which the date of the act for which it was awarded is engraved in the centre. The ribbon is crimson, and is 38 millimetres (1.5 inches) wide. Although the warrants state the colour as being red, it is defined by most commentators as being crimson or "wine-red".
The Victoria Cross for Australia is awarded for
"... most conspicuous gallantry, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy or belligerents."As of July 2008, the Victoria Cross for Australia has not yet been awarded. Awards will be granted by the Governor-General with the approval of the Sovereign. As with the Victoria Cross, any recommendation will pass through the military hierarchy to the Minister for Defence. Any subsequent award of the Victoria Cross for Australia to the same individual shall be made in the form of a bar to the Cross. Where a person has been awarded a second or three or more awards, the post nominals “VC and Bar” or “VC and Bars” may be used.
The various forms of the Victoria Cross are inherently valuable, as was highlighted on 24 July 2006, when at the auctionhouse Bonhams in Sydney, the VC which had been awarded to WWI soldier Captain Alfred Shout, fetched a world-record hammer price of AU$1 million. Shout had been awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously in 1915 for hand-to-hand combat at the Lone Pine trenches in Gallipoli, Turkey. The buyer, Kerry Stokes, has loaned it to the Australian War Memorial for display with the eight other Victoria Crosses awarded to Australians at Gallipoli. The Australian War Memorial in Canberra currently holds 60 Victoria Crosses, 58 awarded to Australians and two to British soldiers, forming the largest publicly displayed collection in the world.
The Victoria Cross for Australia is the highest award in the Australian Honours Order of Precedence. As such, it takes precedence over all other postnominals and Australian orders and decorations. This postnominal is only valid for the recipient and is not transferred to the recipient's heirs after their death. The Australian Government pays a Victoria Cross Allowance to any service person awarded the medal, and currently provides the two surviving Australian recipients with this allowance under Section 103, Subsection (4), of the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986. In January 2006 the amount was AUD$3,230 per year, indexed annually in line with Australian Consumer Price Index increases. This amount is in addition to any amount that the veteran may be awarded under the general decoration allowance (at November 2007, AUD$2.10 per fortnight).
The awards were to be made posthumously to John Simpson Kirkpatrick, Albert Cleary and Teddy Sheean for their actions in the First and Second World War. Kirkpatrick's story has become an Anzac legend. He was a stretcher bearer with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps at Gallipoli during World War I. He landed at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915 and, on that first night, took a donkey and began carrying wounded from the battle line to the beach for evacuation. He continued this work for three and a half weeks, often under fire, until he was killed. An attempt was made in 1967 to have Kirkpatrick awarded the VC. This was unsuccessful as in 1919, King George V had decreed that no more operational awards would be made for the recently concluded war. Following the 2007 Australian federal election the Labor party came to power and the Bill was reintroduced. Historians such as Anthony Staunton, writing in the Australian Journal of Military History, have stated that the Victoria Cross for Australia should not be awarded retrospectively as it would set a dangerous precedent.