Victoria Cross collector extraordinaire Lord Ashcroft published an article in yesterday's Daily Mail about the "the romance and tales of exceptional valour behind the Victoria Cross." It's appropriate to remember all heroes on June 6, the anniversary of the Normandy Invasion.
The Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum in London opens to the public on November 12, 2010.
The new gallery, to which I have happily donated £5 million to build, will display the largest collection of VCs in the world - a collection that I started building nearly a quarter of a century ago. It will also display a formidable collection of medals already owned by or in the custody of the Imperial War Museum, including more VCs and George Crosses (GCs), sometimes called 'the civilian VC'.
The gallery is a dream come true for me; the ultimate result of a fascination and admiration that I have had with bravery since I was a schoolboy. Unlike my father's generation, I have never had to fight for my country. But I was born the year after the end of World War II and, as I grew up, I heard countless references to the war years. This, in turn, gave me an interest in the war in general, and gallantry in particular.
My late father, Eric Ashcroft, also proved an inspiration to me. As a young officer, he had been on Sword Beach at dawn on June 6, 1944, as part of the D-Day landings. The officers had been warned to expected 75 per cent casualties - dead and wounded - as they landed. Under heavy enemy fire, my father's commanding officer, a colonel, was shot dead at his side. My father was struck by shrapnel but he refused to be evacuated. He carried on fighting until eventually ordered from the battlefield, and his injuries were serious enough to end his front-line service.
My greatest military interest of all has been the VC: a medal that represents everything that is best about Britain. It can be awarded to anyone - regardless of class, colour, religion, creed or rank - provided he (or she) exhibits truly exceptional courage in the face of the enemy. The VC was instituted through a Royal Warrant on January 29, 1856, which announced a single decoration - for valour - available to the Army and Royal Navy (and later the RAF). Since then, the medal has been awarded 1,356 times.
The trust is proud that within the collection are the VCs of Lieutenant John Chard and Private Robert Jones, two of no fewer than 11 Rorke's Drift VCs, the largest number ever awarded for a single military action. To place this into context, remember that just one VC was awarded throughout the whole of the Battle of Britain and just one for the D-Day landings.
I have made the journey - for me the pilgrimage - to Rorke's Drift and have tried to imagine the courage that was displayed by those fine soldiers, and especially by those two young men. Incidentally, contrary to reports earlier this year, I purchased the Chard VC nine years ago, at a competitive market price, and only after it was authenticated by experts and certainly not when there remained any speculation that it might be a replica medal.
To read the complete article, see:
Lord Ashcroft on the romance and tales of exceptional valour behind the Victoria Cross
Wayne Homren, Editor
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