The George Cross (GC) is the highest Commonwealth decoration awarded for acts of conspicuous gallantry not in the face of the enemy and is equal to the Victoria Cross. It is the highest honour that can be awarded for non-operational gallantry or to anyone during peacetime.
Since its inception in 1940, the GC has been awarded 84 times posthumously and 70 times to survivors (excluding the two collective awards to Malta and the Royal Ulster Constabulary). No Bar to the GC (i.e. a second award) has yet been awarded.
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Created on September 24 1940 by King George VI, it is awarded for an act of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger. In its history, it has been awarded directly to only four women, of which three were SOE agents who served during World War II.
In 1971, surviving recipients of the Albert Medal and the Edward Medal were invited to exchange their award for the George Cross. Of the 65 holders of the Albert Medal and 68 holders of the Edward Medal eligible to exchange, 49 and 59 respectively took up the option.
- It was awarded to the island of Malta in a letter dated April 15 1942 from King George VI to the island's Governor William Dobbie: "To honour her brave people, I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history". The fortitude of the population under sustained enemy air raids and a naval blockade which almost saw them starved into submission, won widespread admiration in Britain and other allied nations. The George Cross is woven into the Flag of Malta and can been seen wherever the flag is flown, for example at the United Nations and more recently at the European Parliament.
- It was awarded to the Royal Ulster Constabulary in 1999 by Queen Elizabeth II following the advice of her Government. Buckingham Palace announced, "The Queen has awarded the George Cross to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, to honour the courage and dedication of the officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and their families who have shared their hardships." The Queen paid her own personal tribute to the RUC by presenting the George Cross to the organisation in person at Hillsborough Castle, County Down.
- The GC citation published in the London Gazette on November 23 1999 states: "For the past 30 years, the Royal Ulster Constabulary has been the bulwark against, and the main target of, a sustained and brutal terrorism campaign. The Force has suffered heavily in protecting both sides of the community from danger – 302 officers have been killed in the line of duty and thousands more injured, many seriously. Many officers have been ostracised by their own community and others have been forced to leave their homes in the face of threats to them and their families. As Northern Ireland reaches a turning point in its political development this award is made to recognise the collective courage and dedication to duty of all of those who have served in the Royal Ulster Constabulary and who have accepted the danger and stress this has brought to them and to their families."
- Within two years, (on November 4 2001), the RUC was replaced with the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Most recent recipients
The most recent military recipient of the George Cross was Trooper Christopher Finney of the Blues and Royals, for gallantry during a friendly fire incident in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Finney is also the youngest military recipient of the decoration, and the most recent living recipient.
The most recent civilian recipient was Sergeant Stewart Graeme Guthrie of the New Zealand Police, who received his award posthumously for apprehending a gunman in Aramoana, New Zealand (London Gazette, February 15 1992).
Future awards to military personnel
The Victoria Cross is awarded for acts of valour "in the face of the enemy". However there have been a number of military personnel who have received the George Cross because they have shown conspicuous gallantry, but not in the face of the enemy, or have not been under military command at the time (POWs). With changes in military technology, it is thought that in future more actions will result in the recipient being awarded the GC rather than the VC.
Awards by nation
There have been 10 crosses awarded to Canadians: 8 military, 1 Merchant Navy, and 1 woman. The GC is no longer awarded to Canadians by the Canadian government which awards the Cross of Valour (Canadian) instead.
The last Australian to be awarded the George Cross, and the most recent surviving civilian recipient, was Constable Michael Kenneth Pratt of the Victoria Police, Melbourne, for arresting two armed bank robbers (London Gazette, July 5, 1978). The Australian government established the Cross of Valour (Australian) in 1975 to be awarded by the Australian government "only for acts of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme peril" instead of recommending the awarding of the George Cross.