Into the 21st Century

The League, still with its world-wide membership, subsequently decided at the AGM in 2000 that the revised membership criteria would also include Level 2 Commonwealth Awards. This clarification meant that Australians holding the Star of Gallantry and the Star of Courage, Canadians holding the Star for Military Valour and Star of Courage and New Zealanders recipients of the Gallantry Star and Bravery Star were entitled to membership and many took up the offer. The League also accepted those gallantry medals awarded to British troops by the Sultan of Oman where they could be determined to equate to Level 2.
After 27 years as President, Major Jim Cowley resigned at the 2001 AGM, stating that he had been privileged to have been the President since 9 September 1974 but as he crept into the 21st century and deeper into his eighties, he felt that it was due time to become the first Past President of the Gallantry Medallists’ League. He was later received by the Duke of Kent on surrendering his presidency. He was succeeded as President by Lieutenant Colonel John Williams MBE DCM who had been decorated with the award of the DCM for his actions in April 1965 during the battle of Plaman Batu in Borneo whilst serving as a Company Sergeant Major with the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment. In that action, John was blinded in the left eye by a burst of enemy shrapnel and thereafter was known by the affectionate nickname, Patch Williams. Sadly John Williams, who had previously been Secretary of the DCM League, died in January 2002 after just nine months as President. The role of President was passed to Lieutenant Colonel John Gaff GM, who was formally appointed at the AGM in April 2002. John was an Ammunition Technical Officer (ATO) in the RAOC and was decorated for his bomb disposal duties in Northern Ireland during 1974. A silver and enamelled badge of office was introduced for the President in 200(2). This badge was funded by Mrs Jo Williams who donated it to the League in memory of her late husband and Past President, Patch Williams.

The Presidents Jewel

As Level 2 awards are necessarily infrequently awarded, the membership grew older and understandably declined as deaths each year outnumbered new awards and new members. The Committee had grappled with the dwindling membership and decided in 2002 to introduce a new class of membership to boost numbers. Subsequently, Friend of the League was introduced, for those other gallantry medallists at Level 3 who wished to support the aims of the League and who had no association of their own. This boosted the membership but many Level 3 recipients felt cheated by not being allowed full membership.

The DCM League standards being laid up at the Chapel of the Royal Hospital Chelsea during the 2003 Muster.

During the 2003 Muster, the three surviving Standards of the DCM League were laid up in a ceremony in the Hospital Chapel in front of HRH The Duke of Kent, accompanied by two of the Vice Patrons, Field Marshal Lord Bramall KG GCB OBE MC, Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns GCB KCVO CBE and Major Jim Cowley. The service was led by the League Chaplain, the Reverend Ian Forrester. The Standards were borne into the Chapel by John Balding GM, Mike Knox GM and in a tribute to the League Founder, by young Bob Moyse, grandson of the founder.

It was in 2004, whilst attending a meeting of the Malaya and Borneo Veterans’ Association in Penang, Malaysia, that Peter Randall was seriously injured in a traffic accident and went into a coma from which he never recovered. Derek Harper GM was elected in July 2004 as the replacement Chairman. As a police officer with the Devon Constabulary, Derek had been decorated with the George Medal for courage, leadership and devotion to duty in extremely hazardous conditions on the occasion of the floods in Devonshire and Somerset during August 1952. During his time as Chairman, a formal Constitution was drawn up and accepted at the AGM in April 2005. Over time, Derek’s health prevented him from fully carrying out the duties of Chairman and at the 2008 AGM, it was decided that due to the disbandment of the regional Branch structure, to remove the appointment of League Chairman. John Gaff sustained the League through another period of shrinking membership and attendance and after six years in post, chose to retire as President at the 2008 AGM. Major John Balding GM, a serving Army officer at the time, was elected as the new President. Another ATO by trade, John Balding was decorated for defusing a number of new and novel explosive devices in South Armagh during 1992 that led to significant technical intelligence being gained and the arrest and conviction of a number of high profile terrorists. His priority for the League was to improve communication amongst members and one of his first tasks was to energise the League into accepting technology and getting a properly developed website to raise awareness of the League and to improve internal communication between members. His endeavours eventually resulted in the website going live at the end of 2009. One of the first uses of the website was to inform members that our Past President, Vice Patron and stalwart of the League, Jim Cowley, had passed away peacefully on 21 December 2009, aged 90.

Another major change to the structure of the League was introduced following the decision of the AGM in 2010 to open up the League and invite Level 3 award recipients to join as Life Members, thus changing the original Level 2 only membership criteria that had existed since 1931. The President outlined the reasons why he felt that the League needed to consider changing the membership categories and the members present, having listened to a long and healthy debate on the matter and taken advice and guidance from our Vice Patrons who were present, decided to support the motion. The members were content that including Level 3 recipients on an equal footing would provide a natural home for gallantry alongside the VC & GC Association and that the League would remain a select organisation despite now having a wider base to recruit potential members from. It was recognised that this decision totally altered the structure of the League from why it was originally formed in 1931 but the members felt the decision to be more than appropriate for the current situation in 2010. All Friends of the League who were gallantry medallists’ in their own right became Life Members overnight and were welcomed into the League as full and equal members.

Major Balding drove forward another important development when it became apparent that the Military Medallists’ League was facing extinction as the numbers of members had reached the point where the organisation was becoming unsustainable. After a series of meetings between the Presidents of both organisations, it was decided that subject to the approval of the AGM in 2012, the League would subsume the members of the MML into the GML. This endorsement was given at the AGM and the membership of the MML was transferred en-bloc. The MML also donated a portion of their funds to the League to offset some of the running costs arising from an increased membership.

One of the issues which the League sought to address was the fraudulent wearing of gallantry medals by people not entitled to do so. The President wrote to the Prime Minister in 2018 advising her that the  improper wearing of gallantry medals had long been a source of harm to our members and pointed out that legislation to protect valour is commonplace in many other countries. Colonel Balding strongly urged the Government to introduce the necessary legislation to ‘protect medallists and punish imposters’. The Government replied that there were no current plans to introduce legislation on this topic. 

The League secured one success when after some 15 years of patient campaigning, the order in which Orders, Decorations and Medals should be worn was officially changed and published in the London Gazette of 10 January 2019. Up to this point,  the DCM, CGM, CGM(F) and GM, (all Level 2 awards) were worn after certain Level 3 awards, (notably the Level 3 Crosses, MC, DSC, AFC, DFC). The League has campaigned since 2005 over this inconsistency in the order of wear and were delighted that this anomaly had been finally corrected.