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British Honours are awarded on merit for exceptional gallantry, achievement or service. Her Majesty the Queen chooses the recipients on the advice of the Prime Minister, who in turn receives nominations for honours from government departments and from members of the public.
As well as being eligible for the Military Divisions of civilian honours, members of the Armed Forces are also eligible for decorations and medals for gallantry and distinguished service. Nominations for these awards are recommended to Her Majesty by the military command chain via the Ministry of Defence. Lists of recipients of honours are published periodically in the official Crown newspaper, the London Gazette.
How Military Honours are awarded
Recommendations for honours and awards for acts of gallantry or for meritorious service are made by commanding officers. The commanding officer writes a citation nominating the individual, and this recommendation is then passed up the military chain of command for consideration.
In the case of honours awarded for acts of gallantry on military operations (known as "operational honours"), the theatre commander is able to judge each citation against others in his command and to comment on them. From there, the citations that are endorsed are passed to the overall operational commander, for example the Chief of Joint Operations at Permanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood, Middlesex, for further comparison and comment before being passed to the MOD's Armed Forces Operational Awards Committee.
This committee, which is chaired by the Defence Services Secretary, includes the Naval, Military and Air Secretaries and the Deputy Chief of Joint Operations – all two-star officers who will have had considerable operational experience themselves - and recommends which awards should be made and in what quantity. These recommendations are then endorsed by the MOD Services Honours Committee before being submitted to Her Majesty The Queen through the Secretary of State for Defence for her approval.
There is an additional step for recommendations of the two highest awards – the Victoria Cross and the George Cross. VC recommendations are endorsed by the VC Committee comprising the Permanent Under Secretary and Service Chiefs of Staff. Those for the George Cross are endorsed by members of the George Cross Military Committee, which is a sub-committee of the Honours and Decorations Committee.
For State awards, a similar system is used through national command chains for State awards at the Queen’s Birthday and New Years Honours Lists. At any time during this staffing chain recommendations may be upgraded or downgraded to ensure that awards are made at the correct level. Currently, the MOD usually publishes lists of operational awards every six months, in the Spring and Autumn.
The system for the award of Decorations and other Honours to Service personnel underwent a major revision in 1993, when the practice of having, in some categories of award, different medals for Officers and Other Ranks was discontinued. Thus for example the Military Medal is no longer awarded to Other Ranks, who instead are now eligible for the Military Cross which had previously been reserved for Officers and Warrant Officers.
Most of the awards, save only for membership of Orders, can be given posthumously. Where a medal is won by an individual more than once, the second and subsequent awards are denoted by a Bar worn on the medal ribbon. Thus the phrase "DFC and Bar " (sometimes shortened to DFC*) denotes the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross twice to the same individual.
Types of Honours and Awards
Honours that may be conferred or awarded to members of the Armed Forces by the Sovereign are:
Orders: The Military Divisions of the Orders of the Bath and the British Empire (eg CB, OBE, etc); The Distinguished Service Order (DSO).
Decorations: VC, GC, CGC, RRC, DSC, MC, DFC, AFC, ARRC.
Medals for Gallantry or Distinguished Service: GM, QGM, QVRM.
Other Medals: General Service Medal 1962, the Operational Service Medal and medals for specific campaigns, including multinational medals; MSM; ACSM; Awards for Long and Efficient Service in the Regular, Volunteer Reserve or Cadet Forces (eg LS&GC, VRSM, CFM).
Commendations: Public commendation in the London Gazette by order of the Sovereign includes Mention in Despatches, Queen’s Commendations for Bravery and for Bravery in the Air, or for Valuable Service. This is part of the State system of Honours and Awards. Other commendations promulgated by Commanders-in–Chief and Commanders are not part of the State system but play an important role in recognising gallant and meritorious service.
Awards for Gallantry
Victoria Cross (VC) and George Cross (GC)
The Victoria Cross ranks with the George Cross as the nation's highest award for gallantry.
The first British medal to be created for bravery, the Victoria Cross was instituted in 1856, with the first recipients being personnel honoured for their gallantry during the Crimean War. The bronze Cross, which bears the inscription "For Valour", is cast from the metal of Russian guns captured at Sevastopol during the Crimean campaign. It is awarded "for most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy."
The George Cross ranks with the Victoria Cross as the nation's highest award for gallantry, and was instituted in 1940 to recognise actions of supreme gallantry in circumstances for which the Victoria Cross was not appropriate.
Thus, it may be awarded to civilians, as well as members of the Armed Forces for acts of gallantry not in the presence of the enemy, including, for example, military explosive ordnance disposal personnel. It was also famously awarded to the Island of Malta for its collective gallantry during the Second World War. It is awarded "for acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger."
Distinguished Service Order (DSO), Conspicuous Gallantry Cross (CGC) and George Medal (GM)
The Distinguished Service Order was instituted in 1886, and recognises outstanding leadership during active operations. It is awarded "for distinguished services during active operations against the enemy."
During its history, the DSO has also been used on occasion to recognise individual acts of gallantry, but since 1993 the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross has been awarded in such circumstances. The Conspicuous Gallantry Cross is awarded "in recognition of an act or acts of conspicuous gallantry during active operations against the enemy."
The George Medal, like the George Cross, was instituted in 1940 and can be awarded both to civilians and to military personnel for acts of bravery not in the face of the enemy. The GM is awarded "for acts of great bravery."
Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), Military Cross (MC) and Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC)
The Distinguished Service Cross, Military Cross and Distinguished Flying Cross recognise acts of bravery during combat operations respectively at sea, on land and in the air. The Distinguished Service Cross was instituted in 1901, the Military Cross in 1914, and the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1918. They are awarded "for gallantry during active operations against the enemy."
Air Force Cross (AFC) and Queen's Gallantry Medal (QGM)
The Air Force Cross was instituted in 1918. It is awarded "for gallantry while flying but not on active operations against the enemy." The Queen's Gallantry Medal can be awarded to civilians or military personnel. It was instituted in 1974. It is awarded "for exemplary acts of bravery."
Mention in Despatches (MiD), Queen's Commendation for Bravery (QCB), and Queen's Commendation for Bravery in the Air (QCBA)
The Mention in Despatches is the oldest form of recognition of gallantry within the UK Armed Forces. Since 1993, the Mention in Despatches has been reserved for gallantry during active operations. The Queen's Commendation for Bravery and Queen's Commendation for Bravery in the Air are similarly awarded to mark specific acts of gallantry.
Awards for Meritorious Service
Order of the Bath (Military Division)
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath (Military Division) comprises three classes: the Knight Grand Cross (GCB), the Knight Commander (KCB), and the Companion (CB). The Order of the Bath was instituted in 1725 by King George I.
For more information on the Order see the Buckingham Palace website
Order of the British Empire (Military Division)
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire was instituted in 1917. As with the Civil Division, the Military Division of the Order comprises five classes: Knights and Dames Grand Cross (GBE), Knights and Dames Commanders (KBE and DBE), Commanders (CBE), Officers (OBE) and Members (MBE).
Royal Red Cross 1st Class (RRC) and Royal Red Cross 2nd Class (ARRC)
The Royal Red Cross is only awarded to members of the Nursing Services. It consists of two classes. Recipients of the Royal Red Cross 1st Class are known as Members, while recipients of the 2nd Class are known as Associates.
The Royal Red Cross is awarded "for exceptional devotion and competency in the performance of actual nursing duties."
The ARRC is awarded "for special devotion and competency in the performance of actual nursing duties."
Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service
The Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service recognises meritorious service during, or in support of, operations.