The George Cross, Commonwealth Civilian Award
Ten Canadians were recipients of the silver “George Cross” for uncommon bravery, the medal intended to honour exceptional gallantry unrelated to battle.
Wielding his sword, St. George slays the large and intimidating dragon. Radiating strength and courage, the image in silver is a fitting symbol for the Commonwealth’s civilian award equivalent to the military’s Victoria Cross: the George Cross.
Realizing that the extreme bravery of civilians during World War Two went unrecognized, King George VI “decided to create an award for the men and women of the Commonwealth whose courage could not be marked by any other honour,” noted the George Cross (GC) Database. An honour also for the military, the George Cross was awarded for outstanding bravery while not in battle. The George Cross and the George Medal were introduced on September 23, 1940 with the Royal Warrant issued the next day. (King George stated the George Medal was for wider distribution.)
George Cross Features Engraved Dragon and Slayer
Designed by Percy Metcalfe, the image of St. George and the dragon was based on engravings by Italian-born Benedetto Pisttuccio. Employed by the Royal Mint in England, Pisttuccio was hailed for his fine engraving work in gems, cameos, medals and coins. His fine engraving of St. George and the dragon was featured in the centre of the medallion, with the words “For Gallantry” written on a circular band.
“GVI” was inscribed on each arm of the cross, representing King George VI. On awarding, the name of the recipient and date received were engraved on the reverse of the medallion. The awards were struck by England’s Royal Mint.
George Cross Superseded Only by Victoria Cross
Hanging from a silver bar enhanced with engraved laurel leaves, the cross is attached to an elegantly simple dark blue ribbon. The George Cross is worn below the left shoulder. Women recipients wear the George Cross suspended by dark blue ribbon fashioned into a bow. The George Cross is worn first in a row of medals, superseded only by the Victoria Cross. All recipients are permitted to add “GC” after their name. Recipients were also given mini-George Crosses to wear when not adorned with the full medal.
Awarded for Civilian Acts of Exceptional Bravery
The first Commonwealth member to receive the George Cross for extreme courage was British citizen Mr. Thomas Alderson in London, England on May 24, 1941. Three British military men received the award on the same day after Alderson – Lt. Cdr. Robert Armitage, Major Herbert Barefoot and Wg. Cdr. Laurence Sinclair. Over the next several decades, over 400 George Cross medals were issued.
Ten Canadians were honoured with the George Cross. Three people received earlier awards for heroic outstanding bravery and were given the option to convert their medals for the George Cross. Seven recipients were military members from the RCAF and Canadian Army.
Canadian Recipients of the George Cross
According to Veterans Affairs Canada, the Canadian soldiers who received the George Cross were:
- Gravell, Karl – Leading Aircraftman with the Royal Canadian Air Force (the youngest to receive the posthumous honour.)
- Gray, Roderick Borden – Flying Office, RCAF (posthumously)
- Hendry, James – Corporal, Canadian Army (posthumously)
- Patton, John MacMillan Stevenson – Lieutenant and Chief Chemical Engineer, Canadian Army
- Rennie, John – Acting Sergeant, Canadian Army (posthumously)
- Ross, Arthur Dwight – Air Commodore, RCAF
- Spooner, Kenneth Gerald – Leading Aircraftman, RCAF
The three recipients who exchanged other medals of honour for the George Cross were:
- Ashburnham-Ruffner, Doreen – she received the Albert Medal for gallantry in September 1916 when she was only 11 years old. When a cougar attacked, she fought the animal with her bare hands to rescue her cousin. She exchanged her initial medal for the George Cross in 1971.
- Bastian, Gordon Love – Second Engineer Officer, Merchant navy. He received the Albert Medal for bravery in August 1943 and exchanged it for the George Cross in November 1973
- Frost, Ernest Ralph Clyde – ACFM, 1st Class, Royal Air Force. Frost’s Empire Gallantry Medal was exchanged for the George Cross
George Cross Replaced by the Cross of Valour in Canada
“The George Cross is no longer awarded to Canadians by the Queen, who awards the Cross of Valour (Canadian) instead,” according to The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry entry on the “George Cross.”
Visit the George Cross Database for a full list of Commonwealth recipients and their exception acts of courage.
“The Decoration, Facts and Statistics and Information About the Exchanges,” The George Cross Database Accessed November 9, 2010
“Orders and Decorations – The George Cross (GC),” Veterans Affairs Canada Accessed November 9, 2010
“The George Cross,” The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry Accessed November 9, 2010