As part of Lord Ashcroft's on-going commitment to both the Victoria Cross (VC) and education in the United Kingdom, he set out to produce a teaching pack for schools.This is now available and has been sponsored by The Ashcroft VC Collection, the world's largest collection of VC medals. Lord Ashcroft was the founder of the collection, which holds these prestigious awards in trust.
The aim of the teaching pack is to introduce children, particularly those aged 11 to 18, to the merits of the VC and it has already become a valuable learning tool in schools. The packs have been sent out to all schools in the UK - completely free of charge. It means well over 5,000 schools have been sent the teaching aid. Lord Ashcroft hopes this tool will widen the awareness of the VC and the courageous men who have been awarded the medal.
The packs consist of an introductory letter to the head teacher and the heads of three key departments along with a 40-page booklet and a DVD. The booklet outlines how the VC came into existence more than 150 years ago and how it has developed. It also tells some of the remarkable stories of gallantry which resulted in medals being awarded. The DVD, called Victoria Cross Heroes, contains the three programmes from the channel Five series first shown in 2006 The series came out in conjunction with Lord Ashcroft's book Victoria Cross Heroes, which was first published in the same year to mark the 150th anniversary of the VC. The book contains a foreword by HRH The Prince of Wales, who has also contributed the introduction to the television series.
Prince Charles shares Lord Ashcroft's enthusiasm for the VC and the fact that it is egalitarian: awarded to men of all ranks and social classes, of all religions (and no religion), and to people of varied ethnic origin. The Prince believes that the VC represents the "qualities that we British hold most dear: loyalty, duty, sacrifice, care for others, a great good humour and a deep humility."
It will seem incredible to many school children that the youngest winner of the VC was Andrew Fitzgibbon, who was just fifteen and working as a hospital apprentice when he earned the award at the storming of the North Taku Fort in China in 1860. He tended two wounded men under heavy fire, and while doing so was seriously wounded himself. However, he survived and lived for a further twenty three years. If Fitzgibbon were alive today, he would probably be studying for his GCSEs. Yet nearly 150 years ago he was displaying quite exceptional bravery despite his tender years. In his book Victoria Cross Heroes, Lord Ashcroft wrote of Fitzgibbon: "Today, even fighting for your country at fifteen seems amazing, but winning a VC at such an age an astonishing."
There are two other stories in Victoria Cross Heroes of teenage boys showing unbelievable courage for which they were posthumously awarded the VC. Private George Peachment was just 18 when he died in September 1915 at the Battle of Loos during the First World War. He had refused to leave the side of his Company Commander, Capt. Dubs, who had been seriously wounded and was lying in No Man's Land. Peachment gave no thought for his own safety but instead was determined to comfort the wounded officer. However, as he knelt in the open, Peachment was wounded first by a bomb and then, fatally, by a rifle bullet. Capt Dubs, who in fact survived his injuries, later wrote to Peachment's mother telling her: 'he lost his life trying to help me and no man could have been braver than he was...Your son died the finest death than man can die, he showed the greatest gallantry a man can show; and I hope these facts may help you in your sad loss, together with the fact that he was spared all pain and suffering.' Peachment's VC is part of The Ashcroft VC Collection and the full story of his bravery is told in the book, Victoria Cross Heroes.
Jack Cornwell, who served in the Royal Navy during the First World War, was just 16 when he lost his life in May 1916. He was a first-class boy sailor on HMS Chester when it came up against the German High Seas Fleet near Jutland. During heavy fighting, Cornwell was seriously injured, but he remained standing, awaiting orders, until the fighting was over. He died two days later and went to a pauper's grave. News spread of his bravery, however, and the public demanded he was given a more fitting send-off. As a result, he was reinterred and given an impressive funeral. His mother later received a letter saying her son had been awarded the VC. After the war ended, the Daily Telegraph of 26 November 1919 carried a story about Cornwell. The paper said: 'The story was in the minds of the whole Empire how a boy showed what a boy could do in the way of making history, and giving an example of how English boys should live and how English boys should die.' Cornwell's VC is not part of The Ashcroft Collection, but his story is told vividly in the Victoria Cross Heroes book and DVD.
Now for the first time the 40-page booklet which is part of the teaching pack is available online.
Over the coming months and years, the Victoria Cross Heroes website - including the Schools resources page - will grow and develop. The ultimate aim is to turn this into the definitive website for those who are interested in the VC - the first place on the internet that adults and children alike will turn to if they want to know more about this wonderful and historic award.