The George Cross was instituted by Royal Warrant on the 24th September 1940. King George VI had been greatly moved by the fortitude and courage displayed by many civilians and by those engaged in bomb and mine disposal duties during the Blitz, and wanted these outstanding acts of bravery to be suitably recognised. Several awards already existed for which civilians were eligible and which could also be given to servicemen and women for acts of great heroism performed in circumstances other than battle. These awards included the Empire Gallantry Medal, the Albert Medals for Saving Life on Land and at Sea and the Edward Medals for Mines and Industry, but none matched the distinction of the Victoria Cross. The King, with his advisors, decided to create a new decoration which would be equivalent in status with the VC.
The Empire Gallantry Medal was abolished and surviving holders, together with those who had won it posthumously since the outbreak of war, had their medals exchanged for the George Cross. Awards of the Albert and Edwards Medals continued, but by the early 1970’s it was acknowledged that there was little public appreciation of their importance. No further awards were made, and in 1971 it was announced that surviving holders of these medals would have their awards translated to the George Cross. The George Cross was designed by Percy Metcalfe, CVO, RDI. and is made of silver by the Royal Mint.
The colour of the ribbon is officially described as ‘Garter’ blue. The inscription on the obverse is: “For Gallantry”. The recipient’s title, full name, rank and, where appropriate, unit, are inscribed on the reverse of the cross together with the date. The date inscribed on the GC is the date of the award and not the date, or dates, of the deed. Between 1940 and 1972, when the last George Cross awarded to an Australian was presented, 14 Crosses were awarded, 5 of this total going to civilians. This total does not include substitutions of the George Cross for the Albert Medal and the Edward Medal carried out in 1971.