Inquiries into the Victoria Cross and Other Awards for Bravery
Hugh A. Halliday
The Victoria Cross is the most famous decoration for bravery in the world, its prestige rivalled only by the Medal of Honor. Other awards recognize courage in dangerous (but not combat) circumstances, among them the George Cross and Canada’s Cross of Valour. But how is bravery measured? Is valour “in the presence of an enemy” more deserving than valour away from combat? Do all brave persons receive the honours they deserve? Where does “duty” end and “above the call of duty” begin? Has courage sometimes been confused with recklessness?
Valour Reconsidered examines recommendations for VCs and similar awards, asking why some were approved and some not. It explores factors such as service politics, evolving perceptions “extreme danger” and the role of personalities who sponsored or opposed recommendations.
The author questions campaigns to award posthumous honours years after the event in attempts to rewrite history. Such lobbying in the United States resulted in bestowal of the Medal of Honor on Theodore Roosevelt 82 years after his death. Similar actions are proposed in the case of VCs for Australian, British and New Zealand heroes decades after the First and Second World Wars, purportedly to “re-right” historic injustices. Halliday revisits the controversy of Billy Bishop’s VC (1917) and sheds new light on VCs awarded after the 1942 Dieppe Raid. He includes a provocative chapter on Canadian honours and awards, suggesting that current Canadian definitions of valour and service are more generous than those prevailing in other countries.
Hugh A. Halliday, who retired from the Canadian War Museum in 1995, is widely respected as an authority on awards and decorations. He is the author or compiler of several books on RCAF history and airmen, including Not in the Face of the Enemy: Canadians Awarded the Air Force Cross and Air Force Medal, 1918-1966, as well as Wreck! Canada’s Worst Railway Accidents and Murder Among Gentlemen, all published by Robin Brass Studio.