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9 November 2016
The Museum of London today opens its latest display showing a rare Victoria Cross discovered on Thames foreshore. The VC is the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
As required, the finder, Tobias Neto, reported his find to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and started researching the medal in the hope of finding out to whom it originally belonged. This display explores this remarkable medal, one of the earliest Victoria Crosses awarded, and the outstanding acts of bravery that may have earned it.
A certain amount of mystery surrounds the medal and who it was originally awarded to. It was given for actions in the Battle of Inkerman during the Crimean War. A number of VC medals were awarded for the Battle of Inkerman, the location of two of those medals are recorded as unknown.
Two men are thought to be possible recipients of the medal: Private John McDermond, from the 47th (the Lancashire) Regiment and Private John Byrne from the 68th (Durham) Light Infantry.
John McDermond, a Scottish Private, saved the life of Lieutenant Colonel O’Grady Haly who was injured and surrounded by enemy while leading a charge against an attacking Russian column. Private McDermond killed the man who wounded the Colonel and drove the others off while the Colonel was brought back behind British lines. John McDermond was invalided out of the Army in 1862 and reports suggest before he died he was in the poorhouse and then buried in an unmarked grave in Scotland.
John Byrne, an Irish Private, earned his medal for successfully returning to rescue a wounded comrade under heavy fire after his regiment had been ordered to retire. His story culminates in 1879 in Monmouthshire when he allegedly shot a man for insulting the VC medal. John then returned home and when confronted by the police, reportedly took his own life.
Further research on these two extraordinary soldiers might be able to tell us more, especially how this important medal ended up in the Thames.
On show alongside the cross will be a record book which includes the engraving details for each VC issued from 1854-1927 and original medal design from Hancocks, the jewellers who make the medals, and a modern copy of a VC with an original c1856 suspender bar and modern ribbon.
The Victoria Cross was created in 1856 by Queen Victoria who proclaimed it would recognise ‘those officers or men who have served Us in the presence of the Enemy and shall then have performed some signal act of valour or devotion to their country.’ Awarded regardless of rank, it was the first medal to be freely attainable, acting both as a reward and motivator.
Further information: www.museumoflondon.org.uk
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