When 25-year old Private Johnson Beharry won the Victoria Cross in 2005 for bravery under fire in Iraq, he was the first person to win Britain's highest military honour since the Falklands war in 1982 and the first living recipient since 1969, when two Australians were given the award for action in Vietnam. Born out of the squalor of the Crimean War in 1856 and the fragility of the monarchy at that time, the VC's prestige is such that it takes precedence over all other orders and medals in Britain. But while many books have been written about specific aspects of the VC and its recipients, none have asked why so many brave men who deserved the medal were denied it, and why no women have ever been awarded the VC, even though they are entitled. Military historian Gary Mead's vivid and balanced account of the VC's life and times exposes the hypocrisy behind one of the UK's last sacred cows, and explores its role as a barometer for the shifting sands of political and social change during the last 150 years.
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Gary Mead was a journalist for the Financial Times for ten years and has worked extensively for the BBC and Granada TV. He is the author of The Doughboys: America and the First World War (2000) and The Good Soldier (2007).Review:
This highly revisionist, hard-hitting book will I predict be highly controversial. Yet no-one will deny Gary Mead's scholarship, deep research and ability to express an argument with lucidity and passion, as well as his readiness to name names. The Ministry of Defence must now listen to his arguments, and profoundly reform the way we reward - or more often fail to reward - our heroes Andrew Roberts Victoria's Cross is a highly original, judicious book, which questions our long-held assumptions about Britain's highest honour. In beautifully lucid prose, Gary Mead reminds us of the complex background to the creation of the VC. More importantly, he reveals how this decoration, originally a means of recognizing exceptional individual gallantry, has, almost imperceptibly, come to be a potent political tool, far removed from its roots. This is a "must-read" book for anyone interested in military and social history. Peter Hart A thorough, cogent and almost unarguable case -- Allan Mallinson Spectator This book is not simply another collection of heroic VC stories. It is, rather, a critique of the criteria by which the medal is awarded, and its conclusions about the arbitrary nature of many VC awards are quite disturbing. -- Nigel Jones Daily Telegraph
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