After not being able to hand out the honors in person since 2020, Queen Elizabeth held her first investiture ceremony in two years to honor the UK’s COVID-19 healthcare workers.
The monarch was joined by Prince Charles at Windsor Castle on Tuesday where they presented the George Cross to representatives of the National Health Service from across the four countries that comprise the United Kingdom. This honor was bestowed in commemoration of their hard work and service to others throughout the coronavirus pandemic. The queen also met personally with four frontline workers and their corresponding Chief Executives of the NHS from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. For the event, the queen sported her fresh haircut and wore a white dress decorated with bright pink and green flowers and was photographed standing without the use of her walking cane, which she has become increasingly reliant on in recent months due to ongoing mobility issues.
The George Cross is traditionally given in recognition of “acts of the greatest heroism or the most courage in circumstances of extreme danger.” It was first instituted in September 1940 by King George VI during the height of The Blitz, and is the highest non-military order that can be bestowed on a civilian. On July 5, Queen Elizabeth announced the NHS would be receiving the honor in a handwritten letter shared on the royal family’s 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 wrote. “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 ceremony honoring the NHS marks only the second time in the entirety of the George Cross’s history that the honor has been presented to an organization or group of people. That last time was when the queen bestowed it on the Royal Ulster Constabulary in 1999 for their action in Northern Ireland during The Troubles. And prior to that, it was awarded to the island of Malta in 1942 for its heroism during the Siege of Malta during World War II. While the monarch has not personally hosted the investiture ceremonies over the last two years, a number of royal family members have stepped in. The last time the queen attended was when she knighted Captain Sir Thomas Moore for raising over $40 million for the NHS by walking 100 laps in his backyard during the coronavirus lockdown.
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