4 November 2017 - 3 June 2018
Room 31: case display, Floor 1
To mark the centenary of the First World War, this display consisting of two showcases, commemorates recipients of the Victoria Cross (VC). The VC is the highest commendation in the British honours system for members of the military. Named after Queen Victoria and established at the end of the Crimean War in 1856, the VC is awarded only in exceptional circumstances, for acts of extreme bravery carried out under direct enemy fire.
The VC was awarded 628 times for action during the First World War, accounting for almost half of all the 1,356 Victoria Crosses awarded and the most presented in a single conflict. These stark figures emphasise the huge loss of life and tremendous acts of bravery that characterised this war. The great public interest in VC recipients and their inspirational stories was fuelled by collectable ephemera such as cigarette or post cards. The depiction of war heroes served as visual propaganda to turn attention towards bravery and individual achievements, rather than the horrors of war and heavy casualties. As well as examples of publicly available photographs this display also features studio portraits which were taken as a record of honours received and as mementos for wives and family.
Photographs Collection: Display
The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest commendation in the British honours system for members of the military. It is awarded only in exceptional circumstances, for acts of extreme bravery carried out under direct enemy fire. Named after Queen Victoria and established at the end of the Crimean War in 1856, the VC has been awarded 1,358 times to 1,355 recipients. Coinciding with the photography display For Valour: Recipients of the Victoria Cross, 1914—1918 at the National Portrait Gallery, this slideshow features VC recipients from the Victorian era to the present day.
Robert James Loyd-Lindsay, Baron Wantage (1832-1901)
By Camille Silvy (1834-1910)
Albumen print, 1860
Loyd-Lindsay entered the Scots Fusiliers Guards in December 1850. He served throughout the Crimean Campaign and received the Victoria Cross in 1857 for deeds of valour at Alma and Inkerman in 1854. He was also awarded the Legion of Honour for his Crimean service. In 1870, Loyd-Lindsay became a founder member of the National Society for Aid to the Sick & Wounded (later the British Red Cross Society).
Sir Dighton MacNaghten Probyn (1833-1924)
By Bourne & Shepherd (founded 1863)
Albumen carte-de-visite, 1860s
Probyn was awarded the VC by Queen Victoria in 1858, the first recipient of the award to be recognised for acts of bravery during the Indian Mutiny. Probyn was at Jullundur, the station of his parent regiment, the 6th Bengal Light Cavalry, when the Mutiny broke out in May 1857. His acts of bravery were reported in The London Gazette on 18 June 1858: ‘At the battle of Agra, when his squadron charged the rebel infantry, he was some time separated from his men, and surrounded by five or six sepoys. He defended himself from the various cuts made at him, and before his own men had joined him had cut down two of his assailants.’
Randolph Cosby Nesbitt (1867-1956)
By Alexander Bassano (1829-1913)
Cigarette card, published by Ogden's, circa 1900
Given by Terence Pepper, 2013
As a Captain in the British South Africa Police, Nesbitt became involved in the Mashonaland Rebellion in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). On the 19 June 1896, Nesbitt led a patrol of thirteen men to rescue miners surrounded by rebels. His actions during this conflict led to the award of his VC. This photograph by Bassano was published as a cigarette card by ‘Ogden's Guinea Gold Cigarettes’. Originally inserted into cigarette packets to help strengthen the flimsy material, the cards soon became collectible and were popular from c.1870 until the end of the Second World War.
Arthur Martin Leake (1874-1953)
By Alexander Bassano (1829-1913)
Albumen carte-de-visite, after 2 June 1902
Martin Leake Family
Digitised by the Wellcome Library
Army surgeon Martin Leake is one of only three people who have been awarded the VC twice. He received his first for acts of bravery during the Boer War and the second during the First World War in 1914, for rescuing a large number of wounded who were lying close to enemy trenches, while exposed to constant fire.
This portrait by Bassano was taken after Martin Leake was presented with his first VC. A collection of photographs of and by Martin Leake, including studio and family photographs as well as prints and negatives relating to the First Battle of Ypres, has been made available online by the Wellcome Library.
Euston Henry Sartorius (1844-1925)
By Walter Stoneman (1876-1958)
Gelatin silver print, 1920
Sartorius was awarded the VC for an act of conspicuous bravery which took place in 1879 during the Second Anglo-Afghan War. As a captain in the 59th (2nd Nottinghamshire) Regiment of Foot, Sartorius led a party of five or six men to storm a steep and rocky hill under Ghazi possession. During this attack, Sartorius was wounded by sword cuts to both hands, and one of his men was killed. Euston Henry’s brother Reginald William Sartorius was also awarded a VC during the conflict in the Gold Coast of Africa in 1873.
Alfred Francis Blakeney Carpenter (1881-1955)
By Olive Edis (1876-1955)
Gelatin silver print, 1920s
Carpenter joined the Royal Navy in 1896. On 22/23 April 1918, he was in command of HMS Vindictive which was to land a force of two hundred Royal Marines on the mole at Zeebrugge, Belgium at the start of the Zeebrugge Raid. For his conduct during this action he was awarded the VC. After a lecturing tour through the USA and Canada in 1918–19 he published his first-hand account of the war, The Blocking of Zeebrugge (1921).
Alfred Oliver Pollard (1893-1960)
By Lafayette (founded 1880)
Half-plate nitrate negative, 1 March 1932
Pollard entered the First World War as a private, but was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 1st Battalion, Honourable Artillery Company. He was awarded the VC for an act of bravery on 29 April 1917 at Gavrelle, France. The London Gazette reported on 8 June 1917: ‘The troops of various units on the left of this Officer's battalion had become disorganised owing to the heavy casualties from shell fire; […] 2nd Lt. Pollard at once realised the seriousness of the situation, and dashed up to stop the retirement.’ After the war Pollard became a professional writer of crime and mystery books.
Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart (1880-1963)
By Cecil Beaton (1904-80)
Gelatin silver print on white card mount, 1944
Carton de Wiart served in the Boer War, First World War, and Second World War. During these conflicts he was wounded eight times, losing his left eye and his left hand. He earned his VC in July 1916 for ‘most conspicuous bravery, coolness and determination during severe operations of a prolonged nature’ while commanding the 8th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment at La Boiselle, France. During the Second World War, Carton de Wiart was a prisoner of war in Italy from 1941–43. After his release, his diplomatic skills were employed in missions to Poland and China, where he was sent as Churchill's personal representative.
Johnson Gideon Beharry (b. 1979)
By Giles Price (b.1973)
Inkjet print, 9 May 2007
Lance Corporal Beharry is the first living British person to be awarded the VC since 1965. Born in Grenada, Beharry moved to the UK in 1999 and joined the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment in 2001. He was posted to Iraq in 2004, where he twice saved members of his unit from ambushes at Al-Amarah. His heroic actions under enemy fire saved the lives of thirty soldiers, though he himself sustained serious head injuries. Beharry was still recovering from brain surgery when he was awarded the VC in March 2005. He published his autobiography, The Barefoot Soldier, in 2006.
Rambahadur Limbu (b. 1939)
By Rory Lewis (b.1982)
Inkjet print, 2016
Rambahadur Limbu is a Nepalese Gurkha recipient of the VC. He was a lance corporal in the 2nd Battalion, 10th Princess Mary's Own Gurkha Rifles, British Army during the Indonesian Confrontation (1963–66). Limbu was awarded the VC for acts of bravery while defending a position inside the border between Malaysia and Indonesia in the Bau District of Sarawak in November 1965. Limbu received his VC from Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace on 12 July 1966. It is the only VC awarded to a Gurkha since the Second World War.