Decorations & Medals

The UK Honours System 

It was during the Crimean War that the Government came under pressure from the House of Commons and the Press to recognise the individual acts of gallantry being performed by the soldiers of the British Army. While the Order of the Bath had been used to recognise acts of gallantry by officers of field rank or above, no official awards for gallantry existed until the introduction of the Distinguished Conduct Medal in 1854 by Queen Victoria. By late 1914 it became apparent that the existing awards need to be supplemented by new awards. Since then, the Honours System relies on the concept that ‘The Sovereign is the fount of all honour’ and the State has rewarded the service of its military personnel with a vast catalogue of Orders, Decorations, Medals and Commendations as a means of recognising service of outstanding merit and courage beyond the normal demands of duty. Notifications of the award of all gallantry medals are always published in the London Gazette.

The Honours System makes provision for the forfeiture of Orders and Medals where the holder of an honour or medal has brought the honours system into disrepute, through criminal or other inappropriate behaviour. However it is directed that gallantry medals and awards, including the MiD, QCB and QCBA, may never be forfeited.

Sgt Charlie Boyce receives his DCM from Field Marshal Montgomery

The honours and awards system has been changed several times over the years, the most significant overhaul came following the review of military honours during 1992. The review sought to remove the differentiation in gallantry awards whereby officers and soldiers received different awards, apart from at the highest level where the Victoria Cross was awarded irrespective of rank. Published in 1993, the review discontinued the award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (CGM) from September 1993. These awards were replaced by the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross (CGC) as the single Level 2 operational decoration for all ranks. The CGC also replaced the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) when the award was for gallantry, however the DSO may still be awarded for outstanding leadership in the field.

At the third level, the Air Force Medal (AFM), Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM), Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) and Military Medal (MM) were also discontinued from September 1993. All military awards for gallantry at the third level now comprise of the Air Force Cross (AFC), Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) and the Military Cross (MC).

These pages provide a brief history of the British and Commonwealth gallantry medals at Level 2 and Level 3 and includes the Royal Warrants where these are available. Also included are several illustrative citations for each award and these will be changed on a regular basis. If you wish us to display your own citation or that of a relative, please let us know.

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