Close-up: The Victoria Cross

Last updated at 08:43 18 March 2005

A hero soldier has been awarded the first Victoria Cross since 1982 after he rescued colleagues in two ambush attacks in Iraq.

  • Private Johnson Beharry, 25, becomes the first recipient in 23 years of the Victoria Cross - the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
  • The VC can only be offered for a pre-eminent act of valour "in the presence of the enemy".
  • It was first bestowed in 1856, recognising bravery during the Crimean War of 1854 to 1855.
  • Since then, 1,355 awards have been made, 57 of which have been won by the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment or its forebearers.
  • Each medal has been made by London jewellers Messrs Hancocks from the bronze of Chinese cannons captured from Russian troops at the siege of Sevastopol.
  • A 358oz cascabel of the metal - a large knob at the rear of the cannon that held ropes to man-handle the weapon - is stored at the Army's Central Ordnance Depot at Donnington and it is thought there is enough material left for about 85 more medals.
  • There is now a requirement for at least three witnesses to attest to acts of valour to ensure they are worthy of the Cross.
  • Before today, the VC had been awarded only 11 times since 1945.
  • The last occasions were to Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Jones and Sergeant Ian John McKay, who both received posthumous awards following the Falklands War.
  • It has been estimated that the chance of surviving an action worthy of a Victoria Cross is 10 per cent.

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