Valour Reconsidered: Inquiries into the Victoria Cross and Other Awards for Extreme Bravery.


246 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-1-896941-47-9
DDC 355.1'342





Reviewed by Tim Cook

Tim Cook is the transport archivist at the Government Archives and
Records Disposition Division, National Archives of Canada, and the
author of No Place to Run: The Canadian Corps and Gas Warfare in the
First World War.


The Victoria Cross is the most recognized decoration for bravery in the Commonwealth countries. Since the first medals were struck in 1856, only 94 Canadians have been awarded the prestigious gallantry award.


Hugh Halliday, a multi-published historian, has dug deep into archives in Canada and around the world to explore not only the history of the Victoria Cross, but the attempt by service personnel, civilians, politicians, and royalty in times of war and peace to measure uncommon valour. Most of Halliday’s case studies are drawn from Canadian sources, but there are examples from Britain and other Commonwealth countries. The book is unbalanced in this sense, and the author should have focused on the Canadians alone, or included more information on British and Commonwealth Victoria Cross winners, for as it stands these comparisons are often little more than a series of short biographies. The author also misses the opportunity to examine in detail the nature of the hero: how is it defined over time and how has it changed? Halliday does provide some tantalizing glimpses into the constructed nature of the hero, primarily through the evolving reasons for why the Victoria Cross was awarded, but there is much more to be said on the issue.


Halliday is at his strongest when analyzing the history behind the awarding of the medal, which he has uncovered through deep archival research. His revelations of bureaucratic fighting and favour-trading that often led to the awarding of the Victor Cross, or its downgrading to lesser honors or medals, at times verges on myth-busting. Powerful patrons, lobbying unit commanders bent on raising the reputation of a unit, the need for an inspiring leader in a time of desperation, even the wording of recommending citations have shaped the assessment of whether a brave man (and they have all been men) merited the prestigious medal. That the Victoria Cross was not solely awarded on acts of bravery should not be surprising since the medal was created by individuals and is administered by them, but it may take some of the sheen off the Victoria Cross in the eyes of some. It shouldn’t, and while some of the cases for awarding this highest of medals might be questionable, most recipients exhibited uncommon valour on the battlefield, in the air, and on the oceans.


Valour Reconsidered raises some uncomfortable issues about the Victoria Cross, but one can still only come to the conclusion that this worldwide recognized medal remains an award like no other.


Halliday, Hugh A., “Valour Reconsidered: Inquiries into the Victoria Cross and Other Awards for Extreme Bravery.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024,