Video of the week: The largest exhibition of Victoria Crosses ever shown

The Victoria Cross, as any medal collector will know, is Britain's highest award for valour in the face of the enemy. It is awarded regardless of rank, and has been handed out since the Crimean War, when an increase in reporting of events and bravery from the front led to a public call for courage to be acknowledged.

Since then, the medal has been awarded the medal has been awarded 1,356 times to 1,353 individual recipients, with a bar added to the three who received the award twice: Arthur-Martin Leake, Noel Chavasse and Charles Upham.

Victoria crosses are highly coveted around the world by both museums and private collectors, and keen bidding is always seen when one goes under the hammer, making them a strong investment.

For this reason, it's rare to see any great number of VCs together. However, the collector Lord Ashcroft has joined forces with the UK's Imperial War Museum to make an exception to that.

Michael Ashcroft of the United Kingdom and Belize is one of the richest men in Britain, and became Baron Ashcroft in 2000. He is also known for founding Crimestoppers, a charity which allows people to anonymous information about crimes and receive rewards if the information proves useful to the police.

His enduring passion however is the Victoria Cross, and he owns the world's largest collection: 152 VCs, representing 11% of those awarded including the VC and Bar of Captain Noel Chavasse which he purchased for £1.5m.

Now he has joined forces with the museum, which has 48 of its own. All will be displayed alongside another 162 awards ranging from the Crimean to the Falklands wars. The above video gives a view of the history of the VC, and for which wars it has been awarded.

Also appearing from the Museum's own supply are 31 George Crosses, the equivalent award for extraordinary courage displayed by civilians or military men away from the enemy. Ashcroft has made a £5m donation to facilitate the show.

Medal collectors will be interested to know that there is one Victoria Cross which is available on the private market - not one from Ashcroft's collection. That is: the medal of Lieutenant (later Brevet Major) John Simpson Knox.

The Scotsman's medal is dated to "20 Sept 1854 18 June 1855" and was awarded for his actions in the 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade at the Battle of the Alma, which was the first major engagement of the Crimean war.

The Extraordinary Heroes exhibition opens on November 12 at London's Imperial War Museum.


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