Later this year we will be living on the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of what became known as The Great War, the War to End War - World War I. I am surprised by just how much interest is being shown across the country even now, several months ahead of the actual anniversary. The BBC has already aired the first two of four programmes about the war and last night they showed the first of two programmes about Royal Cousins at War. I had forgotten - or maybe I never knew - that our own King George V, Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm and Russia's Tsar Nicholas were all grandsons of our Queen Victoria and therefore cousins. And as if that were not enough, the Sunday Telegraph has been publishing a monthly supplement dedicated to commemorating the war for some time now.
I did find that Jeremy Paxman's programmes (the series of four above) - at least, the only two to have been shown so far - were perhaps a little superficial although there were attempts to make the matter more personal. He interviewed a lady who, as a child, lived in a coastal town when it was bombarded by the German navy and another lady produced photographs of uncles killed in the battle of the Somme. But I suppose it would be impossible to deal with such a large matter in any real depth during the course of four hour-long programmes.
The Telegraph supplements do try to dig a little deeper with more in-depth features. These
supplements are being sponsored by Lord Ashcroft who has assembled a large collection of Victoria Crosses. In each issue of the supplement we read the story behind two or three of the awards made during World War I.
The Victoria Cross (VC) is Britain's highest military award for valour in the face of the enemy. The medal is a typical example of British understatement being a dull bronze suspended on a plain crimson ribbon. Since its inception in 1856, it has been awarded some 1357 times with three recipients receiving a second award (a bar).
It was originally believed that the medal were cast from Russian cannons captured in the Crimea although it now seems that the guns were actually of Chinese origin. There remains only 358 oz (10 kg), stored in a vault maintained by 15 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps at Donnington, Telford.
It can only be removed under armed guard. It is estimated that
approximately 80 to 85 more VCs could be cast from this source. A single
company of jewellers, Hancocks of London, has been responsible for the production of every VC awarded since its inception.
And there you have it - more information you didn't really want.