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The Victoria Cross Wars (Hardback)

Battles, Campaigns and Conflicts of All the VC Heroes

Military > Frontline Books Military > Victoria Crosses

By Brian Best
Frontline Books
Pages: 574
Illustrations: 32 black and white
ISBN: 9781473887367
Published: 20th March 2017



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The British Empire at its height stretched around the globe. From Asia to the Americas, scores of countries were conquered or assimilated into the greatest commonwealth of nations in history. Many of these countries were won, and held, at the point of the bayonet, and British soldiers and sailors fought long and hard campaigns in deserts, mountains and jungles to maintain and expand the Empire. Fighting, though, means bloodshed; it also means bravery.

Victoria Crosses were awarded in operations against Persia, Abyssinia and China, in New Zealand, Burma and Sudan, in the Perak War, the Andaman Islands Expedition and the Mashona Rebellion, to name but a few of the forty-four different campaigns of the colonial era.

The Victoria Cross Wars explains Britain’s involvement in these little-known and forgotten campaigns, detailing the battles and engagements that resulted in the granting of the most highly regarded award for valour in the face of the enemy. The greater conflicts of the twentieth century also receive due treatment, as do more recent operations in the troubled parts of the world.

A total of 1,358 VCs have been awarded since the cross of valour was first instituted in 1855, the latest of which was announced in February 2015. The stories behind the awarding of these medals have been repeated in countless anthologies but The Victoria Cross Wars explains not just what the men did, but why they were there and what they were fighting for.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the background to each of the conflicts, including some little-known ones such as the War of the Golden Stool. The book is well illustrated with some sixty photographs and I recommend it to anyone interested in military history.

Scuttlebutt Edition 55

Within each chapter are the stories of one or more Victoria Cross holders. Some of these campaigns and wars are barely known today, but the author has filled each summary with good details and extensive background on the actions the soldiers fought and the award of the decoration.

Military Heritage, November 2017

This is a comprehensive and fixating book, combining together various stories of the Victoria Cross awards throughout the years. It covers various theatres of war, in the context of the British imperial and foreign policy, and the diverse conflicts therein. Many of these countries which were part of the Empire were won, and held with warfare. Fighting, though, means bloodshed; it also means bravery. 
To this end, the book explains Britain's involvement in the lesser known campaigns, whilst intertwining the stories of battles and engagements which resulted in the award of the highest distinction of valour for the British Army. In total, 1,358 Victoria Crosses have been awarded since its inception in the mid 1800s. The stories behind the awarding of these medals have been repeated in countless anthologies but The Victoria Cross Wars explains not just what the men did, but why they were there and what they were fighting for.

The list of conflicts encapsulated in the book is comprehensive. The reader learns about various VC's awarded from its inception at Crimea, to the Persian War, Indian Mutiny, Bhutan War, the Second Afghan War, and the Anglo Zulu War; to name but a few. In turn, the reader obtains a valuable insight into the major campaigns in which Britain was engaged in the middle to late 19th Century. Further details are added of the Anglo-Boer War, the First World War, World War Two and the Falklands War. In turn, this book is as much a military history of British campaigns over the last two centuries as much as it is a valuable history of the Victoria Cross. The two are of course inexorably linked. Moreover, the book explains Britain's involvement in these little-known and forgotten campaigns and details the battles and engagements that resulted in the granting of the most highly regarded award for valour in the face of the enemy.

Alongside the copious detailed biographies included in the book, contextualised background is provided in relation to each campaign thus giving the reader an overview of British Imperial conflict, the World Wars, and also post-war engagements. In turn, the greater conflicts of the twentieth century receive due treatment as do more recent operations in the troubled parts of the world.

Each story in this book deserves its own focus and concentration. However, just a few developed in the book continually give us reminder, if it were needed of the heroism, individualism and also spirit of comradeship encapsulated in this award. Just one story is that of James Langley Dalton during the Zulu attack at Rorke's Drift where he supervised the defensive work, and was among those who faced the first attack at the corner of the hospital, where he provided important fire on the attacking Zulu's and also saved the life of a man in the Army Hospital Corps by shooting a Zulu who had seized the man's rifle. Another such example is that of Joseph John Farmer who during the first Anglo-Boer War, was hit many times by bullets during a Boer attack which resulted in many British casualties. It was noted in the London Gazette that Farmer had showed a 'spirit of self abnegation and an example of cool courage which cannot be too highly commended'.

The story of Gunner Alfred Smith during the Sudan War is equally captivating having fought of an attacker with a handspike until the square reformed. Stories of further gallantry in subsequent conflicts are developed, including that of Richard Douglas Sandford, Royal Naval officer, commander of submarine C.3. He obtained his V.C. during the Zeebrugge Raid, 1918, a British attempt to halt German submarine access to the North sea via the canal from Bruges to Ostend. The fearlessness of Ferdinand Maurice Felix West is equally as engrossing; the first V.C. awarded to the newly formed Royal Air Force. Despite being badly wounded, he managed touchdown, whilst also being attacked by German fighters. Equally, Francis Arthur Jefferson, display similar fortitude during the Battle of Monte Cassino when his company dug in under attack. Francis took the initiative going forward, and attacked the leading attacking tank, contributing to stalling the

Such stories are rightly eternal, and measureless in how they continually resonate. They ensure that the reader takes a back to reflect upon what exactly courage means. The stories shared in this book further helps secures the knowledge that the gallantry and spirit of these men lives on for future generations. As so often said, Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Jon Sandison, Freelance

Quite an absorbing read

Medal News, August 2017

Looking at things from a new angle, the author is to be congratulated on tackling more than 50 campaigns in chronological order, thus creating an important addition to the canon of the Victoria Cross which will be welcomed by all military historians.

This England, Autumn 2017

A magnificent work. Key documentation on which to deepen and a very useful guide to control the military actions of the British Empire in time and form.

Read the complete Spanish review here.

José Manuél Rico Cortés (Mister JM) - Miniaturas JM

A fine historical and contextual study of this most important decoration.

Amourer Incorporating Classic Arms and Militaria, July 2017

An interesting insight into some of our VC heroes. The index with names at the back is helpful when looking for specific names.

Read the full review here.

GoodReads, Kristin Davison

As featured in

Family Tree, June 2017

As featured in

Your Family History magazine, May 2017

This is a brilliant book that looks at the Victoria Cross and the people to whom it has been awarded in the various conflicts since its inception.

Books Monthly, May 2017 - reviewed by Paul Norman

There have been other books on VC recipients before, but personally I have found this one of the most interesting ways of looking at them that I can remember reading.

Read the full review here.

Military Model Scene, Robin Buckland
 Brian Best

About Brian Best

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 and edited its Journal for many years. Brian also lectures about the Victoria Cross and War Art. He is married and lives in Rutland.

Perfect Partner

Unrewarded Courage Acts of Valour that Were Denied the Victoria Cross (Hardback)

The Victoria Cross is the most exclusive and prestigious of all gallantry awards. In order to retain this exclusivity, the standard of courage, endeavour or sacrifice required for a recommendation to be accepted for the award of the VC must be of the highest possible order. This has meant that many extremely courageous acts have failed to be rewarded with the VC, even though they appear to be just as remarkable in the level of danger and daring as some of those which were accepted for the medal. The reason for this, is that the awarding of the VC, indeed even the acknowledgement from a commanding…

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