After a difficult year spent battling the pandemic and rapidly adjusting to new health protocols, Queen Elizabeth bestowed one of her highest honors on the UK’s National Health Service in tribute to all of the sacrifices its staff and their families have made.
On Monday, the monarch announced that she had bestowed a George Cross on the public health organization’s staff, both past and present. The honor also happens to coincide with the NHS’s 73rd anniversary. The Queen issued a handwritten letter sent from Windsor Castle in honor of the momentous occasion, a copy of which was posted to the royal family’s official social media accounts. “It is with great pleasure, on behalf of a grateful nation, that I award the George Cross to the National Health Services of the United Kingdom,” she writes. “This award recognizes all NHS staff, past and present, across all disciplines and all four nations. Over more than seven decades, and especially in recent times, you have supported the people of our country with courage, compassion and dedication, demonstrating the highest standards of public service. You have our enduring thanks and heartfelt appreciation.”
This esteemed royal award was established during World War II as a means of recognizing “acts of the greatest heroism or of the most courage in circumstances of extreme danger,” performed by British civilians or military personnel while not in the presence of the enemy. It is awarded by the Queen on the advice of the George Cross committee and the prime minister. The George Cross can be given to both individuals and collectives and has previously been bestowed upon the island of Malta for the fortitude it displayed during WWII, as well as the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Northern Ireland’s police force, for their bravery in the face of the “Troubles”—a long period of violent conflict in Northern Ireland which ended in the late 1990s. The most recent individual to receive the honor is Dominic Troulan, a retired British Army officer and former Royal Marine, who received the George Cross in June 2017 for the brave actions he took during the 2013 Westgate shopping mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya.
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