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Home - UK Medals - Gallantry

Introduction

This section deal with those gallantry medals that were won during the two world wars: 1914-18 and 1939-45 and subsequent conflicts.

The civilian gallantry medals are also covered by pages included in this section. Whilst primarily intended to award gallantry by non-military personnel, they can be awarded to military personnel where no pure-military equivalent award is applicable.

Civilian Bravery

Until the establishment of the government's own gallantry awards for saving life, it was left entirely to private individuals and companies to provide their own recognition to those people who risked their own life to save other people. The first Government issued award to commemorate people who risked their life to save others was the Sea Gallantry (Foreign Services) Medal in 1841. This was followed by the Sea Gallantry Medal in 1854 and the Albert Medal in 1866.

The following table shows the currently existing civilian gallantry awards, in their order of precedence.

  • George Cross
  • George Medal
  • Queen's Police Medal (only awarded to Police Officers)
  • Queen's Fire Service Medal (only awarded to Fire Service Officers)
  • Queen's Gallantry Medal
  • Sea Gallantry Medal

The George Cross, George Medal and Queen's Gallantry Medal can be awarded to military personnel when the acts of gallantry fall outside the warrant for a military gallantry award.

The following table illustrates the relationship between the military gallantry awards and their civilian equivalent. However, it should be noted that military personnel can be awarded the civilian equivalent if their act falls outside the warrant for the relevant military award.

Military Award   Civilian Award
Victoria Cross   George Cross
Conspicuous Gallantry Cross   George Medal
Distinguished Service Cross

Military Cross

Distinguished Flying Cross  

Queen's Gallantry Medal
- Allied Subjects' Medal
- King's Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom
- King's Medal for Service in the Cause of Freedom
Sea Gallantry Medal Sea Gallantry Medal
Mentioned-in-Despatches

Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service  

Queen's Commendation for Bravery

Queen's Commendation for Bravery in the Air

Allied Subjects' Medal

In November 1920, it was decided that deeds such as assisting escaped British POWs, would be recognised by the award of a medal. This 36-mm diameter silver or bronze medal, was suspended from a red ribbon; the ribbon has a blue centre with stripes of yellow, black and white on either side of this central stripe (the French and Belgian national colours). The obverse side has the effigy of King George V. The reverse side has the female figure of humanity offering a resting soldier a cup.

A total of 56 silver and 247 bronze medals were issued in the period 1920 to 1922.

King's Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom

On 23 August 1945 the King's Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom was introduced. This 36-mm diameter silver medal was introduced to recognise the acts of courage performed by foreign civilians or military personnel, in the furtherance of the British and Commonwealth cause during World War Two.

The obverse side has an effigy of King George VI, whilst the reversie side has the text "King's Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom". The ribbon is white with two narrow blue stripes in the centre and wide red stripes along each edge.

Altogether 3200 medals were issued.

King's Medal for Service in the Cause of Freedom

The King's Medal for Service in the Cause of Freedomwas introduced on 23 August 1945. Whereas the "King's Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom" was intended to recognise acts of gallantry, this medal was intended to recognise less hazardous activities such as fund-raising for the Allied cause.

This 36-mm silver medal was worn from a white ribbon, that had a central red stripe flanked by blue stripes. The obverse side had an effigy of King George VI, with the reverse side displayed a medival warrior receiving norishment.

Altogether 2490 medals were issued.

Military Gallantry Awards

The following table list the military gallantry medals for each service. These are the entitlements that applied during the two world wars and up to 1993.

NAVY

NAVY

ARMY

ARMY

RAF (Oper)

RAF (Oper)

RAF (Non Oper)

RAF (Non Oper)

Officer

Other Ranks

Officer

Other Ranks

Officer

Other Ranks

Officer

Other Ranks

VC

VC

VC

VC

VC

VC

-

-

DSO

CGM (Navy)

DSO

DCM

DSO

CGM (RAF)

AFC

AFM

DSC

DSM

MC

MM

DFC

DFM

-

-

MID

MID

MID

MID

MID

MID

-

-

The Royal Air Force was created as a separate service on 1 April 1918. Before this date, air force personnel were either members of the Royal Flying Corps RFC (part of the Army and eligible for Army awards) or the Royal Naval Air Service RNAS (part of the Royal Navy and eligible for Navy awards).

It was possible for personnel from one service to win a gallantry medal from another service. For example, an Army soldier who was serving abroad a Royal Navy ship could win a Royal Navy award. This situation occurred with the posthumous award of a CGM (Navy) to Staff Sergeant James Prescott, Corps of Royal Engineers.

On 22nd May 1982 Staff Sergeant Prescott under the command of another NCO of 49 Engineer Explosives Disposal Squadron Royal Engineers were carrying out explosive ordnance disposal duties in the Falkland Islands. They were tasked to deal with an unexploded bomb in the boiler room of HMS ARGONAUT. Another unexploded bomb lay in a flooded missile magazine nearby. Working in extraordinarily cramped conditions and in very unfamiliar surroundings Staff Sergeant Prescott and the other NCO successfully remotely rendered safe the bomb which was later removed from the ship. This action enabled the damage to the boiler room to be repaired, so that HMS ARGONAUT regained propulsion and was able to manoeuvre defensively in further air attacks.

On 23rd May 1982 Staff Sergeant Prescott and the NCO were tasked to neutralise two unexploded bombs in HMS ANTELOPE. The first bomb examined could not be approached until extensive clearance of debris had taken place. They therefore set about rendering safe the second bomb which was situated near the centre of the ship. The bomb had been slightly damaged and was assessed as being in a dangerous condition. They tried three times to render the bomb safe using a remote method, having to approach the bomb after each attempt to adjust the equipment, but on each occasion, the fuse could not be withdrawn. After a fourth attempt, which involved using a small charge, the bomb unexpectedly exploded. The blast was considerable. Despite a blast route of open doors and hatches up through the ship, the fully clipped steel door at the forward end of the passageway, where the bomb disposal team was standing, was completely blow off and nearly bent double. Staff Sergeant Prescott died instantly.

In 1993, the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross (CGC) was introduced. This medal replaces the DSO (when awarded for gallantry), the DCM, CGM (Navy) and CGM (RAF). The intension was to remove the distinction between officer and other ranks; concentrating on the act of gallantry performed without regard to the recipient's rank (which has always been the case with the Victoria Cross).

Also following the 1993 review, the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM), Military Medal (MM), Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM) and Air Force Medal (AFM) have all been discontinued.

The 1993 UK military gallantry award system is reflected in the following table.

NAVY

ARMY

RAF (Oper)

RAF (Non Operational)

All Ranks

All Ranks

All Ranks

All Ranks

VC

VC

VC

-

CGC*

CGC*

CGC*

AFC

DSC

MC

DFC

-

MID

MID

MID

-

*The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) can be awarded for "Leadership Qualities" by all ranks. It is not awarded posthumously.

Once a service person has won an award, and they went on to perform another act of bravery they could be award the same medal again. For the second and any subsequent award of the same medal, they would receive a bar to wear across the ribbon of the first gallantry medal. For example, if a soldier had a CGC and Bar, he had won 'two' CGCs and would wear a metal bar across the ribbon of his first CGC.

All awards of these medals are published in the London Gazette. Large reference libraries, such as The Guildhall Library, City of London, have copies of the London Gazette newspaper on microfilm. You would need to consult the index to locate the relevant microfilm roll. Some of these awards list just the recipient's service details (number, rank, name, unit). Other entries have citations which provide details about the acts performed.

The Mention-in-Despatches (MID) was awarded for acts which were judged of sufficient merit to be officially mentioned in the despatches sent by the officer, commanding a theatre of operation, back to the War Office in London. The War Office is the forerunner of the current UK Ministry of Defence.

The MID is a gallantry award. It is now the longest continuous British gallantry award for military personnel, and can be awarded posthumously (as it was in the Sierra Leone operation to Bombardier Brad Tinnion).

Distinguished Service Order (DSO)

The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) was instituted in 1886. Following various 19th Century campaigns, it was realised that no adequate award for distinguished service was available to junior officers apart from the VC and, in the case of Majors and above, the CB. Since 1886 the basic design has remained the same apart from the obverse central crown and the reverse royal cypher, which changes with each sovereign. It is not awarded to civilians, although officers of the Merchant Navy can qualify during time of war. The DSO is open to junior officers of all three services.

Following the 1993 review this medal is now awarded for leadership services; its gallantry purpose now being in the remit of the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross (CGC). The DSO is now open to all ranks and as with other orders it can't be awarded posthumously.

Conspicuous Gallantry Cross (CGC)

The CGC is a cross (maximum width of 36 millimetres) imposed on a wreath of laurel, with the royal crown in a circular panel in the centre. The medal is suspended from a white (with blue edges and red centre stripe) ribbon.

The first recipient of the CGC was in 1995. It was awarded to Corporal Wayne Mills (Duke of Wellington's Regiment) for gallantry in Bosnia while serving with the UN Peacekeeping Force.

The CGC resulted from the 1993 review of gallantry medals below the Victoria Cross. It was decided to remove the factor of a recipient's rank influencing the medal awarded. To this end, the CGC replaced the DSO (when awarded for gallantry), the DCM and both types of CGM (Naval and RAF).

Royal Navy (RN) Medals

This section describes the gallantry medals which are applicable to the Royal Navy, including the Royal Marines. These are the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (CGM), Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) and Distinguished Service Medal (DSM).

Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (CGM)

The CGM was instituted in 1855 as a reward for gallantry for the Royal Navy. The first issues was made to recipients for gallantry in the Baltic and Crimea. After a lull of some 18 years, the medal was re-instituted in 1874 with a batch of awards for Ashantee. From this date the medal was issued with the following obverses: Victoria, Edward VII, George V and George VI. About 50 of the second Victoria issue were awarded, with 2 Edward VII medals, 110 George V issues, and 72 George VI issues. There is only one instance of someone winning a bar to his CGM.

In 1943 the CGM was extended to the RAF to recognise gallantry whilst flying in operations against the enemy. A total of 103 RAF CGMs were awarded during World War Two.

From 1901, nearly all CGMs have citations in the London Gazette.

Following the 1993 review this medal has been replaced by the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross.

Distinguished Service Cross (DSC)

Instituted in June 1901 as reward for Warrant and Subordinate officers of the Royal Navy. In October 1914, the rules on eligibility were changed to so that all officers were eligible for the DSC. In 1931 the Merchant Navy officers were eligible in certain situations. From 1940, the year of its award is engraved on the lower part of the cross.

During World War One approximately 1700 DSCs were awarded, with about 90 first bars and 10 second bars. In World War Two, approximately 4500 DSCs were awarded, with 430 first and 44 second bars. One medal was issued with three bars; the equivalent of being awarded the DSC four times.

Since 1993, this medal can be awarded to all qualifying Royal Navy ranks.

Distinguished Service Medal (DSM)

Instituted in October 1914 to supplement the CGM, and was to be awarded for act of bravery which were deemed not sufficient for the award of the CGM.During World War Two, eligibility was extended to Army and RAF personnel serving on board ship, and to the Merchant and Dominion Navies.

All DSMs are issued named to the recipient, the details are impressed (World War I), engraved or impressed (World War II) around the medal's rim.4,100 DSMs were issued during World War I, with 67 first bars and 2 second bars. In World War II, approximately 7,100 DSMs were issued, with 152 first bars and 3 second bars. One DSM was issued with 3 bars. About 50 DSMs were issued, during World War II, to the Maritime Royal Artillery, and 23 to the RAF.

Although awards are just listed in the London Gazette, with no citations, a complete list of all recipients has been produced by W.H. Fevyer and published by J.B. Hayward and Son in two volumes.

Following the 1993 review this medal has been replaced by the Distinguished Service Cross, which is now available to all ranks.

British Army Medals

This section describes the gallantry medals which are applicable to the Army. These are the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), Military Cross (MC) and Military Medal (MM). Since the 1993 review, only the MC is still applicable.

Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM)

The DCM was instituted in 1854 to recognise "distinguished, gallant and good conduct" by troops in the Crimea. All DCMs are issued named to the recipient, usually with impressed details around the medal's rim.

Nearly 25,000 DCMs were issued during World War I, compared to 1,900 for acts during World War II. The majority of World War I DCMs have citations in the London Gazette. Since 1939, DCMs are listed in the London Gazette but don't have citations.

Full details of DCMs awarded up to 1914 can be found in the book "The Distinguished Conduct Medal" by P.E. Abbott, published by J.B. Hayward & Son. DCMs awarded during World War I can be found in a similar publication by R.W. Walker, but no citations are provided.

Contrary to what may be implied by the term "Distinguished Conduct ..." it should be remembered that this medal was, for NCOs and other ranks, second only to the Victoria Cross.

Following the 1993 review this medal has been replaced by the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross.

Military Cross (MC)

The MC was instituted in December 1914 as a reward for gallantry for officers of the rank of Captain or below, and for Warrant Officers. Officers over the rank of Captain (Major and above) were eligible for the DSO. From 1940, the date of the award is engraved on the lower part of the cross.

In World War I there were 37,000 MCs awarded, with 3000 first bars, 170 second bars and 4 third bars. During World War II, approximately 10,000 MCs were awarded and 500 first bars.

All awards of the MC are listed in the London Gazette. Citations exist for the First World War awards.

Since 1993, this medal can be awarded to all qualifying Army ranks.

Military Medal (MM)

The MM was instituted in March 1916 as an award for non-officer rank of the Army for acts of bravery. In the First World War the MM was awarded to a few recipients from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. Some RAF personnel were awarded the MM during World War II. All MMs are issued named with the recipient's details impressed around the medal's rim.

During World War I, 115,000 MMs were awarded, with 5,800 first bars and 180 second bars. There was 1 award of the MM and 3 bars. World War II saw the award  of 15,000 MMs with 164 first bars and 2 second bars.

Although all MMs awarded are listed in the London Gazette, the First World War MMs don't have citations. The Second World War MMs generally do have citations.

Following the 1993 review this medal has been replaced by the Military Cross, which is now available to all ranks.

Royal Air Force (RAF) Medals

This section describes the gallantry medals which are applicable to the Royal Air Force. These are the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (CGM), Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM). These medal are only awarded for bravery in operational flying. The Air Force Cross (AFC) and Air Force Medal (AFM) were awarded for bravery in non-operational flying.

The Conspicuous Gallantry Medal for the Royal Air Force is identical to the Royal Navy CGM, except the colour of the ribbon worn with the medal.

Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC)

The DFC was instituted in 1918 as an award to officers and warrant officers who displayed courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations.

During World War I, a total of  approximately 1,100 DFCs were awarded, with 70 first bars and 3 second bars. During World War II, approximately 20,000 DFCs were awarded (the most of any award), with approximately 1,500 first bars and 42 second bars. Second World War DFCs have the year of issue engraved on the reverse of the bottom section of the cross.

Citations are generally available in the London Gazette for the Second World War DFCs. Some of the First World War DFCs also have citations.

Since 1993, this medal can be awarded to all qualifying RAF ranks.

Air Force Cross (AFC)

The AFC was instituted in June 1918 as an award to officers and warrant officers for courage or devotion to duty while flying, though not in active operations against the enemy. It was not officially named (as other officer's medals).

During World War I, approximately 680 were awarded. During World War II, approximately 2,000.

Generally there are no citations in the London Gazette, although there can be indications of the nature of the recipient's service which lead to the AFC being awarded.

Since 1993, this medal can be awarded to all qualifying RAF ranks.

Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM)

The DFM was instituted together with the DFC in 1918, and was awarded to NCOs and men for bravery whilst flying on operations against the enemy. All DFMs were named with the recipient's details around the rim of the medal. The World War One medals had the details impressed. The Second World War DFMs had the details engraved.

During World War I, approximately 105 DFMs were awarded, with 2 first award bars. During World War II, approximately 6,000 DFMs were awarded, with 60 first award bars and 2 second award bars.

All the DFM awards are listed in the London Gazette. A few of the First World War entries have a citation. The majority of Second World War DFM awards have citations.

Following the 1993 review this medal has been replaced by the Distinguished Flying Cross, which is now available to all ranks.

Air Force Medal (AFM)

The AFM was instituted, with the AFC, in June 1918, and was awarded to NCOs and men for courage or devotion to duty whilst flying, though not in active operations against the enemy. All AFMs are name: large capitals during World War One or engraved during World War Two.

Approximately 120 AFMs and 2 bars were issued during World War One, and 259 AFMs issued during World War Two.

The vast majority of AFMs are listed in the London Gazette with no citation.

Following the 1993 review this medal has been replaced by the Air Force Cross, which is now available to all ranks.

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