Anthony Crean QC is one of the leading planning silks in the UK. He was awarded the prestigious title of Silk of the Year in all categories of practice outside London in 2015 by The Legal 500. He was also one of the key driving forces behind the creation of The Sebastopol Project. On Courage: Stories of Victoria Cross and George Cross Holders has recently been published by Little, Brown. We asked him a few questions about the inspiration behind the book.
Tell us about On Courage. Where did the idea for the book come from?
The book tells the story of twenty-eight different occasions in which the Victoria Cross and George Cross have been awarded to soldiers and civilians for outstanding acts of bravery in situations of almost certain death. On some occasions it has lead sadly to the death of the recipient, but in all of them we see the power and majesty of the human spirit rising above the most savage and cruel situations as these individuals risk their lives to save other people. Jane Harrison, for example, was a very young air hostess who died in the flames of a burning plane to save as many passengers as she could. It was difficult to find a title that would embrace such a wide variety of honourable stories, so we decided to opt for a title that suggests a philosophical reflection on the diverse nature of bravery.
Why did you feel that now was the right time for a book such as this?
Dame Katherine Grainger says in her introduction that there are very few people in the public eye who offer inspiration and impel the watcher or listener to feel admiration. In short, there are very few people in positions of prominence who can be described as inspirational. The people described in this book fill that gap magnificently and their stories act as a reminder to the wider public of human beings’ capacity for greatness
Each story is introduced by a well-known public figure. How did these celebrities become involved in the book?
The celebrities are a self-selecting group of individuals who are outstanding in their field and, simply, have big hearts and wanted to help.
We deliberately aimed for the widest group possible so that everyone seeing the book might feel some vicarious association with it via one of the personalities. It is unusual that Baroness Hale, The President of the Supreme Court, appears in the same book as Sir Ken Dodd, Bill Beaumont and Miranda Hart (and vice versa) but all of them found an ideal position within the book to present the virtues of the person whose story they introduce.
Proceeds from the book go to two charities. How did you come to chose these particular associations?
The Victoria Cross and George Cross Association has an outreach programme in which they seek to educate young people about the virtues promoted in this book; courage, fortitude, self-reliance, selflessness, ambition, strength and kindness. These are universal virtues which have a prominent place in all cultures and we feet it is important to help introduce them to a new generation. The revelation of these virtues in real situations helps to better foster an understanding of them and in this regard, we feel the work of the VC and GC Association is very meaningful.
Combat Stress is a forces charity that helps servicemen and women deal with trauma-related mental health problems. It does not have a wide public profile and struggles for money but it carries out work of enormous importance and makes a real and tangible difference to the lives of people it seeks to help. In our opinion, it is crucial to help the charity as much as possible to gain the support and recognition it deserves and to undergo its Cinderella transformation.
Why did the Trustees who commissioned the book choose to use the working name of The Sebastopol Project?
We chose “Sebastopol” because the captured Russian Cannon from The Siege of Sebastopol, during the Crimean War, has provided the metal from which every Victoria Cross has been made. It is a “Project” because we want to continue to promote the aims of the Charity. We hope that the book captures the public’s attention so that it will be the first of many varied products that will inspire future events and conversations.