FOR the first time in history, 17 of the 18 Victoria Crosses awarded to Lancashire Fusiliers during the First World War have been united as part of a special exhibition.

During the four-year conflict, the Lancashire Fusiliers won 18 Victoria Crosses (VCs) — more than any other British infantry regiment.

The 18th VC medal, which belonged to Bertram Best Dunkley, is still missing despite an international search to try and locate it earlier in the year. It is believed to still be in the UK, probably in private ownership following a private sale through Spinks Auction House, London, in 1986, but its exact location has not been confirmed.

However, all 18 of the recipients' stories, and 17 VCs have been brought together in a new '18 for 18' exhibition at Bury's Fusilier Museum.

It features the story of war hero Joel Halliwell, who was aged 33 when he enlisted to fight for his country, joining the 11th Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers.

Lance Corporal Halliwell was captured by the Germans in May 1918 and remained a prisoner with them for a short time before he managed to escape.

On his return, seeing many wounded comrades lying on the ground, he mounted a stray German horse which he rode back and forth through heavy enemy gunfire, picking up wounded men and bringing them back to safety.

He repeated this some 10 times until his horse received a severe wound. He later returned on foot, carrying water to the wounded.

He was sent home with a leg injury on September 7, 1918. Four days later, he was presented with the VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace. The medals are the highest recognition for gallantry 'in the face of the enemy' that can be awarded to members of the British and Commonwealth armed forces.

Lance Corporal Halliwell's granddaughter was one of three relatives who travelled to visit the new exhibition in Bury last Friday.

Joanne Bliss, aged 47 from Dundee Lane, Ramsbottom, said: "As we approached the building, we saw a massive photo of the VCs and the 18 for 18 signage on the front facade.

"It was really emotional as we saw my grandfather's photo.

"Unfortunately I did not get to meet him because he died in 1958.

"To think what he did for his country, and how he put his own life at risk to save the lives of soldiers in no man's land is incredible. We are really proud and really emotional."

She added: "The exhibition is wonderful. These are local men. It makes it more personal, particularly as we are coming to 100 years since the end of the First World War.

"It think it is really important to honour these men."

The museum has five of the VCs in its collection, and eight have been loaned from Lord Ashcroft’s private collection. A further three of the medals remain with the families of the VC winners and have been privately loaned to the museum for the exhibition.

Brian Gorski, chairman of The Fusilier Museum, said: “We are delighted to open this exciting exhibition to commemorate the 100 year anniversary since the end of the First World War.

"It will be the first time in history that all of the VCs have been together in one place so it’s a really important piece of history for the museum and the town of Bury. We are of course disappointed that we haven’t managed to find the missing 18th medal but we are determined to find it and reunite it with the others in this once in a lifetime exhibition."

18 for 18, which has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, is open until December 13, 2018.