Gallantry Medals and Orders
It is only since the Victorian era that awards for gallantry or meritorious service have been awarded on a more regular and liberal basis. Before this various distinctions were bestowed. Apart from the highest orders of chivalry, the Order of the Bath was the most frequently bestowed order (see Orders). During the Crimean war the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and the Victoria Cross (VC) were instituted.
Sometimes men and women perform acts of gallantry that go way beyond the normal call of duty. Usually these people are awarded some token of merit and the highest award for the British Forces is the Victoria Cross. These medals are extremely scarce and can fetch up to GBP £ 230,000 (Ref. Spink and Son, Lot 1, Sale 4004, Sgt N C Jackson). The enclosed table (Entitlement to Gallantry Awards) indicates which awards were available to each branch of the Forces and the enclosed page, Civilian Gallantry Awards, details awards for non-military personnel.
There are a host of awards below the Victoria Cross and these include the George Cross, Distinguished Service Order, the Military Cross, the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the Military Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal.
Depending upon the level of the award different details may be discovered. Victoria Cross details are separate to those for lesser awards. The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and the Military Cross (MC) were issued to Officers. The Military Medal (MM), the Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) and the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) were given to NCOs and other ranks.
There are indexes for each of these awards and it is possible to search the index. Also, most of the awards are published in the London Gazette. However, it is unusual to find the citation for the more junior of the awards. Citations are very occasionally given in full in the Gazette e.g. some nursing sisters who received the Military Medal. There is nothing in the index cards to indicate whether or not a citation appears in full. No other records of citations for the World War 1 MM & MSM are known to survive in official custody.
Men who performed something exceptional, but insufficient for a gallantry award, were often awarded a "Mention in Despatches" (MiD). Men who were awarded a MiD were allowed to wear an oak leaf on their medal ribbon. The index to MiDs for World War 1 show the surname, initials, unit, rank and number of the individual. They also refer to the London Gazette date in which the mention appeared. In a few cases, people mentioned in despatches were not entered in the index. No records of citations for First World War MiDs are known to survive.
For Second World War gallantry medals, the first place to look is the London Gazette. Awards of gallantry medals were announced in the Gazette. During World War 2 some members of the RN, the RAF, the RM and the Home Guard received Army awards. Sometimes members of the Merchant Navy and the RAF got naval awards and Fleet Air Arm received RAF awards. Hence records for all three branches of the Forces need to be examined.
For post-1946 gallantry awards the London Gazette should be searched for the announcement of the award. However, some of the files for post-1946 awards are still closed and therefore not accessible to the public.