Morale: The Price Of A Victoria Cross


November 28, 2010: The Victoria Cross is the highest British military award for valor. One recently sold at auction for $328,000. There has long been a collectors market for military decorations, which, although an ancient practice, only became popular again in the 18th century. There are now millions of collectors, and low level awards can be had for a few dollars. The Victoria Cross was first awarded in 1856 (during the reign of queen Victoria), and those with the most value at auction are those awarded to the most noteworthy individuals. Scarcity and age also determine the collector value of an award. The Victoria Cross is thus rare, often quite old, and always the result of actions above and beyond the call of duty.

The one that recently sold for $328,000 was won by Donald Bell, a professional football (soccer) player who enlisted after World War I broke out in 1914. He was the first professional footballer to do so. Bell was college educated, and planned to be a schoolteacher. But he was always an avid amateur footballer, and went pro in 1913, if only because it paid better than teaching. Less than a year after enlisting, he was promoted to lieutenant. Bell won the medal for extraordinary heroism in 1916, although was killed in combat five days later. His wife received the medal for him. Bell was the only professional footballer to be awarded the Victoria Cross, and ten years ago, a permanent memorial to his battlefield actions was dedicated in Contalmaison, France, near where he died. The Victoria Cross is awarded by the monarch (king or queen of England) or, for Commonwealth winners (or their next of kin) not able to get to Britain, by the monarch's representative (the Governor-General).

The American equivalent is the Medal of Honor which, after a 1996 law was passed, cannot be sold (or traded for anything). So far, 3,471 Medals of Honor have been awarded, compared to 1,356 Victoria Crosses. The Medal of Honor was first awarded in 1863, during the Civil War (1861-5), and throughout the 19th century was the only award for bravery. But in the early 20th century, the United States created lesser awards (Bronze Star, Silver Star, Distinguished Service Cross), making Medal of Honor awards much less common. At that point, the Medal of Honor assumed a similar prominence that the Victoria Cross had always had.





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