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The GC Collective Awards

Although primarily intended to mark individual acts of gallantry, the George Cross has, on the express recommendation of the Sovereign, been awarded twice on a "collective" basis. The first by King George VI in 1942 to the Island of Malta and the second by Queen Elizabeth II in 1999 to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.


MALTA 1942

Flag of Malta

During the Second World War, Malta's strategic position enabled her to strike at the Axis forces in the Mediterranean, disrupting their operations in North Africa and elsewhere. The ship-repairing facilities were invaluable to the British Fleet. Malta had to be defended but the early months saw much damage as the islands' inadequate air defences comprised of three aged Gloster Gladiator biplanes which the locals immediately christened Faith, Hope and Charity. Defences were eventually upgraded with the arrival of Hurricane and Spitfire fighters.

Less than 24 hours after Italy entered the war in June 1940 the first air-raids by the Italian Air Force occurred, which then increased with the involvement of the Luftwaffe. Through 1941 and 1942, 3,000 raids occurred, towns and the industrial areas around harbours were heavily damaged and much of the population was evacuated to the island's centre. Thousands of inhabitants and British defenders were killed or injured. Malta was the most heavily bombed place on earth - proportionately (in area) more bombs fell on Malta than on the English industrial town of Coventry. As the convoys carrying precious supplies were attacked and sunk, the islanders suffered serious deprivation and disease.

As it transpired, although April 1942 was the final month of the Luftwaffe offensive, it was possibly the most difficult period of the siege so devastatingly enforced by the Axis powers. The island and its population were not to experience any relief until the final months of 1942 when supplies and aid began to reach the defenders in significant quantities.

By August 1942 the situation was desperate. The arrival of the battered remains of a convoy on the 15th August was ascribed by the inhabitants to a miracle, interceded by the Virgin, on whose Feast of the Assumption it occurred.

All over the world people had followed the resistance of the islanders and those trying to bring aid by sea and air. In April 1942 King George VI, in a dramatic and unprecedented gesture, conferred the George Cross on the tiny Mediterranean island. The award was made in a letter dated 15th April 1942 from His Majesty to the Governor of Malta, Lieutenant General Sir William Dobbie GCMG KCB DSO, which read as follows:

"To honour her brave people I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history."

The population received the honour to recognise their courage under sustained enemy attacks during World War II. Malta - Britain's "unsinkable aircraft carrier" - was of vital importance to the Allied war effort. Its people endured air raids and a naval blockade which almost saw them starved into submission.

The news of the award of the George Cross was internationally welcomed as it served in a tangible way to mark the heroism of all concerned. A depiction of the George Cross was added to the Maltese national flag soon after the award was made and the honour is still proudly borne today by the Maltese as their flag is raised outside the European Parliament Buildings in Brussels.

The George Cross was presented by Field Marshal Lord Gort VC GCB CBE DSO** MVO MC, the recently appointed Governor, to Sir George Borg MBE, Chief Justice, who accepted it on behalf of the people of Malta on the 13th of September in the ruins of the Palace Square, Valetta. The George Cross was subsequently taken to every part of the islands so the Maltese could see their award.

On his visit to Malta in December 1943, President Roosevelt read the following citation,

George Cross and Letter - click for larger picture

"In the name of the people of the United States of America I salute the Island of Malta, its people and defenders, who, in the cause of freedom and justice and decency throughout the world, have rendered valorous service far above and beyond the call of duty.

Under repeated fire from the skies, Malta stood alone but unafraid in the center of the sea, one tiny bright flame in the darkness - a beacon of hope for the clearer days which have come. Malta's bright story of human fortitude and courage will be read by posterity with wonder and with gratitude through all the ages.

What was done in this Island maintains the highest traditions of gallant men and women who from the beginning of time have lived and died to preserve civilization for all mankind."

December 7th 1943 Franklin D. Roosevelt

The George Cross and original letter from King George VI are on display in the National War Museum, Valetta.

On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the award in April 2002, 15 members of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association were invited by the Government to visit Malta for a week of celebrations.





RUC Badge and George Cross

In 1999, the Queen awarded the George Cross to the Royal Ulster Constabulary to honour the courage and dedication of Police Officers and their families during the troubles in Northern Ireland.

The award, formally agreed by the Queen, was made on the advice of Government Ministers.

Buckingham Palace announced,"The Queen has awarded the George Cross to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, to honour the courage and dedication of the officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and their families who have shared their hardships."

The citation, published on Tuesday 23rd November 1999, read as follows:

"For the past 30 years, the Royal Ulster Constabulary has been the bulwark against, and the main target of, a sustained and brutal terrorism campaign. The Force has suffered heavily in protecting both sides of the community from danger - 302 officers have been killed in the line of duty and thousands more injured, many seriously. Many officers have been ostracised by their own community and others have been forced to leave their homes in the face of threats to them and their families. As Northern Ireland reaches a turning point in its political development this award is made to recognise the collective courage and dedication to duty of all of those who have served in the Royal Ulster Constabulary and who have accepted the danger and stress this has brought to them and to their families."

Her Majesty the Queen paid her own personal tribute to the courage and sense of duty of the Royal Ulster Constabulary on 12th April 2000 when she presented the George Cross to the organisation. The Queen told 1,500 RUC officers along with civilian support staff and family members at Hillsborough Castle, County Down.

"This award is an exceptional recognition of the outstanding contribution made by the RUC to peace in Northern Ireland. It is a singular acknowledgement of the gallantry and courage shown and in all too many cases, the ultimate sacrifice paid by the members of the Constabulary during the past 30 years of terrorism and civil unrest.

I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all members of the RUC - the regular officers of all ranks, the members of the full-time and part-time Reserve, and former members who have served so loyally over the years. I salute your courage and your sense of duty. I admire your determination to maintain the rule of law, and to provide a police service for all the people during some of the most difficult times in the history of this Province.

A terrible price has been paid for this brave and resolute stand."

Her Majesty also spoke of the 'very special contribution' made by the families of officers. She said:

"They have been a constant source of support, and have had to endure fear, intimidation and, worst of all, the pain of bereavement."

She added that it was due, in no small measure, to the bravery and dedication over the years of the men and women of the Royal Ulster Constabulary that Northern Ireland was now a much more peaceful and stable place to live.

RUC George Cross

The Queen presented the award to Constable Paul Slaine, who received it on behalf of the RUC. Constable Slaine lost his legs when an IRA mortar bomb landed in his patrol car in Newry on 27th March 1992, killing his colleague Constable Colleen McMurray. The receiving party also included Constable Susan Wright and Assistant Chief Constable William Stewart MBE. He then paraded the decoration through the assembled ranks.

Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan OBE, said "Each one of us recognises the signal honour that has been bestowed on our most proud organisation".

Sir Ronnie said "I salute all those individuals, organisations, agencies and community groups without whose partnership we simply could not function". He continued, "But there is not one of us who is not reflecting today on the tremendous sacrifice of the past; on those officers whose lives were so cruelly taken; on those officers who have been so grievously injured in the course of their duty; they and their families are today, and constantly, in our thoughts.

"But", Sir Ronnie concluded, "as a policing service, we now look forward to a new and exciting future, a future we seek to build on the traditions in the past, on the wonderful foundations laid by officers in the past and being laid by officers currently serving. This most gracious award is not only therefore a recognition of outstanding past achievement, but also the most tremendous incentive to us all, now and in the years to come, to draw on our experience; to work in partnership with all of the people of Northern Ireland; to build a better future for us all and for generations to come."

On 4th November 2001, the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC became the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The George Cross is on display at the Headquarters of the PSNI, Brooklyn, 65 Knock Road, Belfast where it can be viewed by prior appointment.

Memorials The new Memorial garden was opened on 2nd September 2003.

"The Garden, which is situated at Brooklyn, 65 Knock Road, Belfast, provides a major tribute to policing in Ireland. It, in particular, marks the service and sacrifice of RUC officers and offers a unique three-dimensional experience unparalleled anywhere in the world.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary GC Garden has moved away from the traditional concept of a war memorial, adopting a more contemporary aspect and allows people to take different experiences from their visits. It includes an historical walk, featuring benches and plaques to create what designers are calling a "history timeline" marking important dates in the history of the RUC. The needs of the disabled, visually impaired, hard of hearing and other specialist groups are accommodated in the new garden.

In the more private part of the garden, a "Roll of Honour" inscribed on granite tablets, includes names of all officers who died: in service as a direct result of terrorism; in service but not directly related to terrorism; out of service but directly related to terrorism and Police Authority staff who died as a result of terrorism. Commemorative plaques also acknowledge the support given to the RUC by the Ulster Special Constabulary, the Armed Services, the Emergency Services and Support Services, and the wider Police Family.

The list of names commences on 1st June 1922 and ends on 3rd November 2001 after which the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC changed to the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

The George Cross Foundation has responsibility for the upkeep of this Garden and will also have responsibility for a new purpose built police museum, which will be erected beside the Garden."

This information comes from the RUC GC website and was supplied by Derek Mccready.

Source: Royal Ulster Constabulary GC website