The U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor has been around almost as long, but has been awarded 3,520 times, compared to a mere 1,358 for the Victoria Cross. In addition, the VC has only been bestowed 15 times since World War II, and not to a civilian since 1879. Legend has it that the original metal for the Cross came from cannons seized at Sevastopol during the Crimean War, but a metallurgist has determined the brass to be from Chinese guns instead, hinting at a story yet to be told.
The VC's rarity and the exceptionalism behind it make it one of the most intriguing and sought-after decorations in the world. And I got to touch one the other day.
Our good friend Peter gave Audrey, Glory and I the opportunity to view it a week ago, the day before he and it flew to Ottawa so this august decoration can take its place in the Canadian War Museum.
For most conspicuous bravery and outstanding devotion to duty in attack. When his platoon was held up by uncut wire and a machine gun causing many casualties, Pte. Robertson dashed to an opening on the flank, rushed the machine gun and, after a desperate struggle with the crew, killed four and then turned the gun on the remainder, who, overcome by the fierceness of his onslaught, were running towards their own lines. His gallant work enabled the platoon to advance. He inflicted many more casualties among the enemy, and then carrying the captured machine gun, he led his platoon to the final objective. He there selected an excellent position and got the gun into action, firing on the retreating enemy who by this time were quite demoralised by the fire brought to bear on them.
During the consolidation Pte. Robertson’s most determined use of the machine gun kept down the fire of the enemy snipers; his courage and his coolness cheered his comrades and inspired them to the finest efforts.
Later, when two of our snipers were badly wounded in front of our trench, he went out and carried one of them in under very severe fire.
He was killed just as he returned with the second man.The decoration has lived in a safety deposit box now for many years, with a framed replica on the wall in Pete's mum's place. Notionally it was to be handed down to male heirs or, failing that, presented to the Canadian War Museum. As Pete is an only child with no children of his own, the decision was made to arrange the transfer now, so Mum can rest easy knowing this cherished medal has gone to the proper place. Only 99 Canadians have ever been awarded the Victoria Cross, and the Museum has 39 of them - presumably, Robertson's will bring it to 40.
As such, the Cross is in spectacular condition (at least to a layman's eyes), as is the original presentation box.
|Presentation box lid interior|
|Reverse of the medal|
|The miniature VC|
|Memorial Cross GRI|
|Memorial Cross reverse.|
If you should travel to Belgium, Pte. James Peter Robertson's remains are interred at the Tyne Cot cemetery there, along with so many other Canadian and Allied soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in the so-called "war to end all wars."
After two generations in the hands of a grateful family, this particular Victoria Cross now moves to a public institution, which is perhaps how it should be. Now even more people can see it, appreciate it, and hear the harrowing tale of how it was earned, as well as the cruel irony of how the recipient died - not while taking lives, but saving them.
What a privilege to have been accorded a personal encounter with such a piece of significant and moving history! Thank you, Pete.