The George Cross is the UK’s highest award for bravery by a civilian or a military person where the award of the Victoria Cross (VC) is not applicable. In order of precedence, the George Cross is second only to the Victoria Cross. As no person has won both awards, they can be considered as equals. Since its introduction, the George Cross can be awarded posthumously.
The George Cross has been awarded twice to a group of people, as distinct from an individual: The Island of Malta in 1942 and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in November 1999.
Initially only the George Cross could be issued posthumously, but following a new warrant in 1978, the George Medal can be now be issued posthumously.
When the George Cross was introduced, it superseded the Empire Gallantry Medal (EGM) whose living recipients were required to exchange their EGM for the George Cross.
Following an amended warrant in December 1971, surviving recipients of the Albert Medal (AM) and Edward Medal (EM) exchanged their medal for the George Cross.
There have been instances when it was not easy to decide whether a Victoria Cross or a George Cross was the more proper award. The George Cross was intended to be an award for outstanding civilian bravery, but as many people in the armed forces were unavoidably engaged in work not appropriate for strictly military awards, they became eligible for the George Cross equally with civilians.
Consequently, 76 of the first 100 awards were made to members of the armed forces. A complete tally of the 152 direct awards of the George Cross up to 1985 shows that only 49 have gone to civilians. Awards of the George Cross have now become so rare that few people are ever likely to see one, or its recipient.
The George Cross is of silver, with the words “For Gallantry” as described in the warrant, and is suspended from a dark blue ribbon one and half inches wide, and is worn on the left breast before all other medals and orders except the Victoria Cross. Ladies not in uniform wear the Cross, suspended from a wide bow of blue ribbon, below the left shoulder. Each Cross is made by the Royal Mint and engraved on the reverse with the recipient’s name and date of the London Gazette in the case of direct awards and for the exchanged EGMs, and the date of the action for exchanged AMs and EMs.
FIRST RECIPIENT OF GEORGE CROSS
Mr. Alderson was born in Sunderland, Co. Durham, during 1903. He was a Detachment Leader, in the ARP.
Brindlington, Yorkshire, suffered a number of incidents at the beginning of the Blitz in September 1940 and Mr. Alderson, together with other members of his section, rescued many people trapped under the wreckage of demolished houses. In just one of these incidents 6 people were trapped in a cellar beneath the debris of two 5-storey buildings which had been totally demolished. Mr. Alderson worked his way into this cellar by tunnelling 13 to 14 feet under the main heap of wreckage and for 3˝ hours he worked in an unceasingly cramped position, and managed to free all the trapped people.
The award of Mr. Alderson’s George Cross was published in the London Gazette on 30 September 1940.
Mr. Alderson died in Driffield, Yorkshire, on 28 October 1965. His George Cross is now displayed in the Imperial War Museum’s Victoria & George Cross Gallery.
THE YOUNGEST RECIPIENT OF THE GEORGE CROSS
The youngest recipient of a directly awarded George Cross is John Bamford, who was aged 15 years 7 months. Mr. Bamford was born in Ilkeston, Derbyshire on 7 March 1937.
The following citation was published in the London Gazette 16 December 1952:
A fire broke out in a house occupied by a man, his wife and six children, and in a very short time was burning fiercely.
John Bamford and his father went downstairs and upon opening the living room door at the foot of the stairs the interior of the room burst into flames. Owing to the intense heat they were unable to get back upstairs to the rest of the family. They ran out through the front door, climbed on to the top of a bay window which gave access to a bedroom, opened the window and helped three of the children and the mother on to the flat roof.
John Bamford and his father then climbed into the bedroom where they could hear the two remaining children, aged 4 and 6, shouting in the back bedroom, situated immediately above the seat of the fire. The bedroom doors at the head of the stairs were enveloped by flames. The father draped a blanket around himself and attempted to reach the children but the blanket caught fire and he was driven back. John Bamford then told his father to go to the back of the house while he got down on his hands and knees and crawled through the flames into the bedroom. His shirt was completely burned upon him but nevertheless he snatched the two young boys from the bed and managed to get them to the window.
He dropped the younger boy from the window into his father’s arms but the elder boy struggled from his grasp. Bamford could then have got out himself but he left the window and chased the screaming child through the flames across the room. He eventually managed to catch him and throw him from the window. By this time Bamford was fast losing consciousness. He was terribly burned on the face, neck, chest, back, arms and hands but he managed to get one leg over the window sill and then fell to the ground.
John Bamford displayed courage of the highest order, and in spite of excruciating pain succeeded in rescuing his two brothers.
The George Cross has been very rarely awarded since the end of World War Two. Although intended primarily as a civilian award, the majority of awards have been made to military personnel for acts not coming within the scope of a military gallantry award.
The George Medal was instituted, together with the George Cross, on 24 September 1940. At that time there was a particular need to reward a great many people in all walks of life. However, it was the intention of the authorities that the George Cross should stand supreme and that its position as the ‘civilian Victoria Cross’ should not be undermined by the award of larger numbers. The result was that the George Medal, or GM, was introduced as a ‘junior’ to the George Cross.
The George Medal is the 2nd highest, to the George Cross, gallantry medal that a civilian can win. As with the George Cross, Military personnel are eligible for the George Medal if their act does not qualify for a military gallantry award.
The original warrant for the George Medal did not permit it to be awarded posthumously. This was subsequently changed and the George Medal has since been awarded posthumously.
The George Medal is a circular silver medal. The obverse depicts the effigy of the sovereign and the reverse show St. George slaying the dragon on the coast of England. The ribbon is red with five narrow blue stripes; an identical blue colour to that used for George Cross ribbon.