Lord Ashcroft Gallery

As someone who has built up the largest collection of Victoria Crosses in the world - well over a tenth of those in existence - Lord Ashcroft decided some time ago that he wanted to do something unique to bring the merits of the award and its recipients to a wider audience. It was for this reason that he announced in 2008 that he was donating £5 million so that a new gallery could be built at the Imperial War Museum in London.

The new gallery will house the Extraordinary Heroes exhibition containing the world's largest collection of Victoria Crosses (VCs), which has been established by Lord Ashcroft since 1986. The 164 awards, which range from the Crimean to the Falklands wars, will go on public display for the first time 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 and the Commonwealth's most prestigious civil decoration. Visitors to the Lord Ashcroft Gallery's Extraordinary Heroes exhibition will discover the personal stories behind each decoration in a state-of-the-art new space filled with interactive touch-screens, multimedia platforms and original interpretation.

Alongside the precious award groups in the gallery will be 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, 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 will be the diving suit worn by Acting Leading Seaman 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 decoration awarded to Magennis was the first VC acquired by Lord Ashcroft.

The 243 VC and GC decorations featured in the gallery will be 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 his or her 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.

The Lord Ashcroft Gallery opens to the public on 12 November 2010. Admission is free. For more information please visit www.iwm.org.uk/heroes.

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