Lord Ashcroft Gallery
The Lord Ashcroft Gallery is situated at the Imperial War Museum London. It houses the Extraordinary Heroes exhibition containing Lord Ashcroft’s unrivalled collection of Victoria Crosses (VCs), the largest in the world. Lord Ashcroft’s VC collection now totals more than 200 such decorations and he also has a much smaller collection of George Crosses (GCs).
Many of the awards, which range from the Crimean War (1854-6) to modern conflicts, are on public display for the first time and all are displayed alongside the VCs and GCs already in the care of the museum. The VC is Britain and the Commonwealth’s premier award for extreme gallantry in the face of the enemy, while the GC is Britain’s most prestigious decoration for gallantry not in the face of the enemy. Visitors to the gallery can discover the personal stories behind each medal group in a state-of-the-art new space filled with interactive touch-screens, multimedia platforms and original interpretation.
The gallery was opened by HRH The Princess Royal in November 2010. It cost more than £5 million, which was entirely funded by Lord Ashcroft because he wanted his VC collection to be enjoyed by a much wider public. Admission to the gallery is free. To mark the opening of the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, the IWM commissioned significant new works for its collections. Among them is a portrait by Don McCullin, the acclaimed war photographer, of Private Johnson Beharry, who was awarded the VC in March 2005 for two outstanding acts of bravery in Iraq.
The VCs and GCs featured in the gallery are arranged using seven different human qualities – leadership, sacrifice, aggression, skill, initiative, endurance, and boldness – encouraging visitors to examine an individual’s reaction to the difficult decisions behind their feat of bravery. The gallery aims to intrigue, inspire and amaze by re-telling forgotten stories of bravery that show how, when faced with extreme situations, some people can do the most extraordinary things.
At the time of the gallery’s opening, Diane Lees, the Director-General of the IWM, said: ‘The Imperial War Museum is delighted to be opening this new gallery which will ensure Lord Ashcroft’s remarkable collection of VCs has a public home. Our mission is to enrich people’s understanding of war and its impact on ordinary people, so we are very grateful to Lord Ashcroft for enabling us to share the stories of some extraordinary heroes through these medals.’
Lord Ashcroft, an international businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster, said: ‘My fascination with bravery, and in particular the Victoria Cross, goes back to my childhood, so I’m thrilled to make possible a new gallery at the Imperial War Museum which will help audiences of all ages discover some of the most gallant actions in history. The museum’s reputation for helping people understand the experience of modern conflicts is unrivalled, and I’m confident that members of the public will be inspired and motivated by the exceptional courage of the ordinary men, women and children featured in the outstanding exhibition.’
* For more information on the Extraordinary Heroes exhibition at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery visit: www.iwm.org.uk/heroes