The Victoria Cross was established in 1856, during the Crimean War. The VC is the most highly coveted and highly valued decoration which a British serviceman might be awarded for a performing a single act of valor and devotion to their country in the presence of an enemy. Bars were awarded for subsequent acts of valor. Until 1942, VC medallions were made from the bronze of cannons captured in the Crimean War.
The escalation of the First World War after the deadlock of 1914 led the British military to recognize the need for a more definitive hierarchy of awards for gallantry in action.
The Military Cross (MC) and the
Military Medal (MM) were created to recognize the gallantry of junior officers in the field. The two were awarded for "gallantry in the field," the only difference being that the MC was for officers (although not above the rank of captain), and the MM for other ranks. In both cases, additional awards are indicated by silver bars worn over the ribbon. At first, recipients of the Military Cross were not allowed to use the letters MC after their names to indicate their award, but this restriction was later withdrawn.
The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) dates back to 1886, during the reign of Queen Victoria. The award is generally not given to officers below the rank of Captain. In terms of gallantry awards, The DSO ranks below the Victoria Cross and above the Military Cross, in order of precedence. It is almost always awarded for gallantry in action. There were 8,981 awards for the First World War.
The Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) was the Royal Navy's equivalent of the Military Cross. It was created in 1901 to recognize NCOs, and was called the Conspicuous Service Cross, but in WWI eligibility was extended to junior naval officers below the rank of Lieutenant-Commander. There were 1,983 awarded during the First World War.
The Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and
Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM), like the MC and MM, were awarded to officers and enlisted men respectively. These were the first awards of the new Royal Air Force, which was formed from the Royal Flying Corps as a separate entity in 1918. These awards were made for "valour, courage or devotion to duty performed whilst flying in active operations against the enemy." They could not be awarded for non-combat achievements or heroism.
Air Force Cross (AFC) and
Air Force Medal (AFM) were instituted as the non-combat versions of the above awards, and as such they were awarded in much smaller numbers than their combat counterparts. In the period 1918-1919, there were 1079 DFCs awarded, and only 679 AFCs. DFM and AFM, for enlisted men and NCOs, were even rarer. Only 104 of the former and 102 of the latter were awarded for the same period.
1914 Star. Established in 1917 for award to all those of the British and Indian Expeditionary Forces who actually served in France or Belgium between 5 August 1914 and 22 November 1914. The start was available to officers, men, civil medical personnel, nurses and others employed in military hospitals in Belgium or France. The star was given to naval and marine units which served ashore, but not to naval personnel which remained afloat. The 1914 Star is sometimes referred to as the "Mons Star," though this is a misnomer since the star is for service in all of France or Belgium during the dates cited above, and not limited to those who participated in the "Battle of Mons."
1914-1915 Star was sanctioned in December 1918, and nearly
identical in design to the 1914 Star. It was awarded to all personnel
who served in a any theater of war against the enemy, even those
who served at sea, between 5 August 1914 and 31 December 1915.
Those already in possession of the 1914 Star were not eligible
for the 1914-1915 Star. This medal is always issued with the British
War Medal and the Victory Medal.
British War Medal. Authorized on 29 July 1919, the British War Medal was awarded to all ranks who rendered service to His Majesty's Forces between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918, or who had served in a theatre of war. Those who had enlisted in the O.M.F.C. in the United Kingdom and had not served in a theatre of war were not entitled to this medal. The requirements for RAF personnel were the same as for the army. Naval personnel were required to have 28 days of mobilized service or to have lost their lives before this period of service was complete.
The Merchantile Marine Medal. Established in July 1919, the medal was awarded to those who received the British War Medal and also served at sea on at least one voyage through a danger zone. The medal was also awarded to those who had served at sea for not less than six months between 4 August 1914 and 11 November 1918. This could include licensed pilots, crews of pilotage, crews of lighthouse authority vessels, and post office ships.
The Albert Medals. Established in 1866 as life-saving medals, came in four variations, going through rules changes in 1877, 1905 and 1917.
The Albert Medal in Gold, hung from a blue ribbon with four narrow white stripes, was a 'first class' award for 'extreme or heroic daring' in saving life at sea. A 'second class' variation, named simply The Albert Medal, had its bronze medallion hung from a blue ribbon with two broad white stripes, was for saving life at sea that didn't quite qualify as 'extreme or heroic daring.'
Two "land" varitaions were also created for saving life on land. The land versions followed the same criteria but had red ribbons with white stripes. As a life-saving medal, this was not limited to war-time awards or combat action, but Albert Medals were awarded during the war. Awards were discontinued in 1971, with the George Cross taking its place.
Inter-Allied Victory Medal, was agreed to by all allies in March 1919. All medals were to be almost identical to obviate the need to exchange allied medals and each was patterned after a French medal of 1870. The medal was authorized in Britain on 1 September 1919.The medal was awarded to all ranks of the fighting forces, to civilians under contract, and others employed with military hospitals who actually served on the establishment of a unit in a theatre of war between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918 (inclusive). It was also awarded to members of the British Naval mission to Russia 1919 - 1920 and for mine clearance in the North Sea between 11 November 1918 and 30 November 1919. This medal was never issued alone and was always issued with the British War Medal. A multiple-leaved emblem is worn on this medal when it was awarded for WWI for those "Mentioned-in-Despatches."
The medals pictured on this page are from Veterans Affairs Canada. Text provided by Tim Tezer, Veterans Affairs Canada and Micheal Shackelford.