News, Heritage | 13 May 2024

Missing Victoria Crosses returned to Chelmsford Museum

Two Victoria Crosses reported missing from Chelmsford Museum have been recovered. The medals were returned anonymously to the museum and have now been independently verified as the originals.


The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration for valour in the British armed forces and the two VCs are part of the Essex Regiment collection, which is housed at Chelmsford Museum. They were awarded to Sergeant William McWheeney in 1857, for his service during the Siege of Sevastopol, and to Lieutenant Francis Parsons posthumously in 1900, for acts of bravery during the Battle of Paardeberg.


The museum publicly announced that the medals were missing in February, after a routine inspection and subsequent search by museum staff confirmed they could not be located. At the time of this announcement, the museum said it was keeping an open mind about whether the medals might be missing within its own collections. However, their anonymous return confirms that the VCs had been taken from the museum. Essex Police is looking into the circumstances surrounding the medals’ reappearance.


The descendants of Sergeant McWheeney and Lieutenant Parsons have been informed of this latest development, and once initial enquiries into their return are complete, the original crosses will replace replicas currently on display in the Essex Regiment Museum gallery.


Marc De’ath, Chelmsford City Culture Services Manager said: 

“We are extremely relieved to have these Victoria Crosses back at Chelmsford Museum. These medals represent extraordinary acts of bravery carried out by Sergeant McWheeney and Lieutenant Parsons and they mean so much to their descendants and to our armed forces community.


“Although there has been a happy ending to this story, their removal should not have happened. We have learned valuable lessons already from this incident and remain committed to improving the management of our collections at Chelmsford Museum. This will continue to be a key priority for our curatorial team in the months and years to come so that nothing like it happens again.”


“Whilst we understand the interest in this news and that many people will be eager to find out exactly what happened, we would encourage patience as the police conduct their inquiries into the return of the medals. I would again urge anyone with information that may be relevant to please get in touch with the police.”


Dennis Vincent, Chair of the Essex Regiment Museum Trust said: 

“The Essex Regiment Museum Trust is thrilled to see these historically and culturally significant artefacts returned to our collection. There have only ever been 1,358 Victoria Crosses awarded since their inception in 1856, and they are so much more than a small bronze cross; they represent the most inspiring and selfless actions by military personnel. I very much look forward to them being proudly displayed once more, allowing visitors to better understand, and admire them, and most importantly, to reflect on the sacrifices made by Sergeant McWheeney, Lieutenant Parsons and so many other men and women of the Essex Regiment.”

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