It was the events of the Crimean War that changed everything. Until that time, those serving in Britain's army or navy had been expected to do their duty without thought of recognition or reward, particularly the men in the lower ranks.
Fuelled by reports from the first ever war correspondents, which were read by an increasingly literate public, the mumblings of discontent over how the gallantry and valour of the ordinary man was recognised rapidly grew into a national outcry. Questions were asked in Parliament, answers were demanded by the press - why were the heroes of the Alma, Inkerman and the Charge of the Light Brigade not being officially acknowledged? Something had to be done.
That something was the introduction of an award that would be of such prestige it would be sought by all men from the most junior private to a Field Marshal. It would be the highest possible award for valour in the face of the enemy and it bore the name of the Queen for whom the men fought - The Victoria Cross.
Since the VC was instituted in January 1856, it has been awarded 1,358 times to 1,355 individual recipients. Those men were thrown into wars and campaigns around the globe, from the seas and skies around the UK to the deserts of Africa and the sweltering jungles of the Far East. The two world wars saw the most VCs awarded - 628 in the First and 182 in the Second. Only fifteen medals, eleven to members of the British Army, and four to the Australian Army, have been awarded since the Second World War.
In this highly-illustrated work, the renowned Victoria Cross historian and author Brian Best examines the introduction and evolution of the VC, along with some of the fascinating individuals and remarkable acts of valour associated with it, through an intriguing collection of 100 objects.
BRIAN BEST has an Honours Degree in South African History and is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He was the founder of the Victoria Cross Society in 2002 and edits its Journal. He also lectures about the Victoria Cross and war art.