Victoria Cross medals are NOT made from Russian guns: Widely-held belief that Britain’s top military honour is forged from melted-down Crimean War weapons is false, claims research
- Dr Andrew Marriott says it is ‘highly implausible’ they came from Russian guns
- The retired lieutenant colonel says the belief originated from press speculation
- The military honour was awarded to 627 recipients in WW1 and to 181 in WW2
The widely-held belief that Britain’s top military honour – the Victoria Cross – is made from melted-down Russian guns is false, new research has claimed
The widely-held belief that Britain’s top military honour – the Victoria Cross – is made from melted-down Russian guns is false, new research has claimed.
It was thought The Victoria Cross – awarded since 1857 for courage displayed ‘in the presence of the enemy’ – was made from enemy guns captured during the Crimean war against Russia.
However new research states this is unlikely to be true and the belief originated from speculation in the press.
Instituted by Queen Victoria, the Victoria Cross is Britain’s highest award for valour in war and has been awarded 1,358 times.
Dr Andrew Marriott, 64, a retired lieutenant colonel and visiting researcher at Newcastle University, concluded it is ‘highly implausible’ that the medals came from Russian guns after the victory at the siege of Sevastapol in 1855.
During his research into its origins he found a newspaper report and a letter in the Times from a Crimean veteran suggesting they came from captured guns – which he says is how the myth was born.
X-ray scans of the medals showed that there was a noticeable change in their composition part way through WW1 and again during WW2, when compared with the 19th-century models.
‘Although we know that Queen Victoria decreed that the new honour be cast from bronze, there is no evidence to suggest that she wanted captured weapons from Sevastopol to be used for this purpose,’ Marriott told The Observer.
‘Like many at the time, the Queen saw little to celebrate from the victory at Sevastopol, and had displayed little interest in the captured Russian ordnance. The only contemporary record of a Sevastopol connection is a newspaper report of the medal ceremony in Hyde Park in 1857.
‘The correspondent most likely conflated various stories circulating about the redistribution and recycling of captured Crimean guns.’
Dr Andrew Marriott, 64, (pictured) a retired lieutenant colonel and visiting researcher at Newcastle University, concluded it is ‘highly implausible’ that the medals came from Russian guns after the victory at the siege of Sevastapol in 1855
He added that Hancocks Jewellers in London has been the sole producer of the medal since its inception.
During WW1 the jewellers had to ask the War Office for a resupply of metal after running out and, believing the myth that was going around, turned to captured guns.
Marriott said the War Office would have been unsure where to source the metal from and due to the tradition about Sevastopol guns, a delegation would have been sent to cut bits of guns for the supply.
The current source of Victoria Cross metal is thought to be a cascabel – the round protrusion at the back of a cannon – stored at a Ministry of Defence depot in Donnington, Shropshire.
Research found evidence that this cascabel may have been taken from a gun captured during the second Anglo-Chinese war of 1860, three years after the first Victoria Cross awards were made.
Marriott said it is clear that most of the VCs awarded since the first world war have plausibly been sourced from the cascabels of captured guns.
The medal was awarded to 627 recipients in the first world war and to 181 in the second world war. The most recent person to receive it was Joshua Leakey from the Parachute Regiment for his involvement in a raid in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
The Crimean War: How the conflict changed the balance of power in Europe
The Crimean War took place between October 1853 and March 1856, and was fought between a coalition of the British, French, Ottoman Empire and Sardinia against the Russian Empire.
On paper, the conflict began because of a dispute between France and Russia over who should have authority over the Christians residing in the Ottoman Empire. In reality, however, it was about power.
France’s new emperor, Napoleon III, wanted France to re-stamp her authority on the international stage, and saw the gradual weakening of the Ottoman Empire as an opportunity for France to flex her muscles and attempt to intimidate the Ottomans into bowing to French pressure.
After the Ottomans refused to renege on their previous deal with the Russians France essentially threatened them into changing their allegiance.
French and British soldiers spend time together outside Sevatapol during the Crimean War in 1854
Britain, whose relations with France had been at best shaky up to this point, decided to side with the French in any case as they did not want to see Russia expand her influence as the Ottoman Empire began to recede.
After Russia attacked a fleet of Ottoman ships docked in Sinop, destroying several, both France and Britain joined the Ottomans in declaring war on them.
What followed was a long, drawn-out campaign which consisted of several set piece battles, namely in Crimea, The Crimea and Azov, the last of which took place at sea.
The Crimea campaign featured the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade, and actually saw public opinion in Britain turn against a war they had earlier been in favour of.
The Charge of the Light Brigade was a charge of British light cavalry led by Lord Cardigan against Russian forces during the Battle of Balaclava on 25 October 1854 during the conflict.
The war was eventually brought to an end by the Congress of Paris, which saw Russia return certain areas to the Ottomans while they themselves were returned several ports which had been seized by the British and French during the conflict.
The Ottomans lost an estimated 45,000 men, the French 135,000 and the British 40,000, while the Russians were reported to have lost over 500,000 men.
The vast majority of the casualties suffered in the war were from disease or non-combat related reasons, rather than being killed in action.
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