By Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC
As I have detailed in another section, my passion for bravery dates back to my childhood. By the time I had reached my thirties, I was more financially secure and able to fulfil my boyhood ambition of owning a VC. The opportunity I had been waiting for finally appeared in the summer of 1986, just after I had turned forty. There had been some publicity in the newspapers about the VC awarded to Leading Seaman James Magennis, a Royal Navy diver and submariner, at the end of the Second World War. On a warm summer’s day – 3 July 1986 – I successfully bid at Sotheby’s auction for Magennis’s gallantry and service medals. I had secured the VC for a hammer price of £29,000 (plus a buyers’ premium and VAT on that premium).
Until that point, I had never intended to own more than one VC, but there and then I knew that my fascination with this subject was not going to end with ownership of James Magennis VC. I decided quite spontaneously that collecting VCs would be a hobby that I would pursue and enjoy for the rest of my life. I – and I suspect many other collectors – treasure medals because they are the tangible mementoes of an individual’s service and bravery.
Since 1986, the collection has been built up honourably, sensitively and patiently. It has also been amassed with a firm sense of commercial reality as to what the medals are worth. A trust was established many years ago to look after and protect the medals. There is no ‘ambulance chasing’ or going in pursuit of medals that are not on the market. The only medals in the collection are those that either the recipients, their families or collectors wanted to sell. They have been bought at public auctions or as the result of someone wanting to sell them privately.
As my VC collection grew, to become the largest in the world, I became increasingly determined to put it on public display so that the decorations could be enjoyed by a wider audience. In the summer of 2008, I announced that I had made a £5 million donation to enable my VC collection, and the VCs and George Crosses (GCs) already in the care of the Imperial War Museum, to go on public display in a gallery bearing my name.
The gallery was opened in November 2010 by HRH The Princess Royal. My VC collection now stands at more than 230 decorations and includes awards from all the major conflicts from the Crimean War to recent operations. The collection also includes the unique and iconic VC and Bar, or double VC, of the Great War awarded to Captain Noel Chavasse, an Army medic.
Perhaps inevitably, I am drawn to some VCs more than others. For example, I have a special interest in the fighter aces of the First World War, those men who received their awards for the legendary defence of Rorke’s Drift during the Zulu War and the heroics of the British forces during the Falklands War (which led to the award of two VCs).
All images Copyright Lord Ashcroft Medal Collection and IWM.
* For a longer account of how Lord Ashcroft amassed
his VC collection read his book, Victoria Cross Heroes