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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 May, 2003, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK
Queen honours heroes
The Queen at the ceremony
The Queen met VC and GC holders

The Queen has paid special tribute to the civilian and military heroes who hold Britain's highest awards for bravery.

She unveiled the first national memorial to holders of the Victoria and George Crosses at a service at Westminster Abbey in London.

The stone, inscribed with the words "Remember Their Valour and Gallantry" will be placed near the Tomb Of The Unknown Warrior in the abbey.

The service was conducted by Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, who said the holders' bravery "does not deny the reality of fear but is moved and energised by a vision".


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"It is always courage that is exercised in one way or another for the sake of others, to make something possible for others, not for personal gain or glory," he added.

About 34 of the 44 living holders of the medals were in the congregation of 1,600, including all five living British VC holders and others from across the Commonwealth.

Among them was Bill Speakman, who was seriously injured leading a series of death-defying charges while under attack during the Korean War in 1951.

He told the BBC he felt the medal was for all his comrades.

Bill Speakman, Victoria Cross holder
Bill Speakman said his VC is for all his comrades

"There were other people with me, right alongside me at the same time, so we mustn't forget those guys. I remember them always," he said.

"It was a long, long time ago, in the 1950s, but I still feel a great fondness for them and I carry the medal for them."

'Incredible courage'

Also present was Jim Beaton, the Royal Protection Officer who was awarded the George Cross after being shot while saving Princess Anne from abduction in 1974, and remains modest about his bravery.

"She was driving up the Mall when a chap tried to get in front of her and kidnap her. Basically he started shooting at her and I got between him and her and eventually he got caught," he said.

Jim Beaton
Jim Beaton was awarded a GC for saving Princess Anne

Didy Graham, of the Victoria and George Cross Association, said the memorial would enable the dwindling band of living holders to be remembered forever.

"Future generations will be questioning about what they all mean and will be able to go and read or look up about them.

"And they in turn will be inspired by these examples of incredible, incredible courage and bravery."

Some of the holders said the commemoration of their valour had come "not before time".

"It is magnificent but it could have been done before now," said John Cruickshank, 83, a former pilot who won the VC during the World War II.


Fellow VC Keith Payne, an Australian and Vietnam veteran, said: "It's a little overdue but it's an appropriate time with the world situation so uncertain at the moment."

The Victoria Cross is the highest award for gallantry that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. It is given only for great acts of bravery in times of extreme danger.

VC: Highest award for gallantry that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces
GC: Awarded primarily to civilians and ranks second only to the Victoria Cross

It has been bestowed 1,354 times since Queen Victoria instituted it in 1856.

Only 11 have been awarded since 1946 - the last two occasions were to Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Jones and Sergeant Ian McKay, who both died in the Falklands war in 1982.

The George Cross, instituted by the Queen's father, George VI, during the World War II, is awarded primarily to civilians and ranks second only to the Victoria Cross.

A total of 155 GCs have been awarded, 82 posthumously.

The most recent was awarded in 1999 to the entire Royal Ulster Constabulary, which was then renamed the Police Force of Northern Ireland.

Victoria Cross hero dies
29 May 00  |  UK News
RUC awarded George Cross
23 Nov 99  |  Northern Ireland

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