Heroes of the Skies

Lord Ashcroft Gallery

In November 2010 the Lord Ashcroft Gallery Extraordinary Heroes Exhibition opened at the Imperial War Museum in London. The gallery, made possible by Lord Ashcroft's donation of £5million to the Imperial War Museum, houses Lord Ashcroft's collection of Victoria Crosses (VC), the largest in the world. The awards, which range from the Crimean to the Falklands Wars, are on public display alongside 48 VCs and 31 George Crosses (GCs) already held by 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 civil decoration.

Visitors to the Lord Ashcroft Gallery Extraordinary Heroes Exhibition can discover the personal stories behind each medal in a state-of-the-art new space filled with interactive touch-screens, multimedia platforms and original interpretation.

Alongside the precious medal groups the gallery has many objects on display for the first time. They include the extensively damaged backpack worn by Lance Corporal Matt Croucher GC. In Afghanistan in 2008, during a covert patrol of a Taliban bomb factory, Matt Croucher threw himself onto a grenade smothering its explosion. This quick, decisive action saved the lives of his comrades and thanks to the pack he too, remarkably, escaped with few injuries. Also on display for the first time in years is the diving suit worn by James Magennis in his VC action. Magennis overcame exhaustion and danger to make several dives in the Johore Straits to place limpet mines on a target in 1945. The first VC acquired by Lord Ashcroft was awarded to Magennis.

The 241 VCs and GCs featured in the gallery are arranged by seven different 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 Lord Ashcroft 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 extraordinary things.

Admission to the Lord Ashcroft Gallery Extraordinary Heroes Exhibition is free.