1. The main places to look for gallantry awards
There are numerous published sources for gallantry awards, many of which are available at The National Archives. It is well worth checking these before starting a search, as they may give you exact references.
Almost all gallantry awards are published in the official Government newspaper, the London Gazette or, where appropriate, in its Colonial or Dominion equivalent. The National Archives has a full set of the London Gazette (ZJ 1 ), but it is also available in some major reference libraries, and is online at www.gazettes-online.co.uk. There was always a delay, often a considerable one, between the gallant deed, the actual award of a medal, and publication in the Gazette. The Gazette indexes need to be consulted to get round this time lag.
As well as the public announcement, there may survive a citation (a brief official statement of why the medal was awarded), or a recommendation (usually a fuller statement, by the commanding officer, from which the citation was written). Sometimes actual citations are published in the London Gazette, not always at the same date as the announcement. Citations for the Victoria Cross (which was for all services) were usually published in full. Citations and recommendations may survive in the records of each service, though this is not always the case.
2. Before 1914
The first gallantry awards were instituted during the Crimean War: the Distinguished Conduct Medal in 1854, and the Victoria Cross in 1856. Look in the London Gazette for the award, using the index volumes first (ZJ 1 ). The Victoria Cross register of recipients (all services) is in WO 98/3-5 and WO 98/8 . You can access WO 98/3-5 and WO 98/8 on DocumentsOnline (www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documentsonline). A few pre-1914 recommendations survive. For the Navy see ADM 1 and WO 32 . For the Army, see WO 98/2 , WO 32 and WO 108 . For the Navy, see ADM 1 and WO 32 . WO 146 comprises of submissions to the Sovereign for approval of the Distinguished Conduct Medal for the period 1855-1909.
3. First World War, 1914-1918
Gallantry awards, and mentions in dispatches, for the First World War are so numerous that the index to the London Gazette is not the place to start. Instead, there are the indexes kept by Army and Navy, now available on open access at The National Archives. These identify the issue of the London Gazette to consult.
The Victoria Cross
Army (and Royal Flying Corps) Indexes
There are different name indexes for different awards. For common names, the regiment and regimental number may be needed as well:
The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and the Military Cross (MC): Officers
The register of the DSO can be found in WO 390 . However, extracts from pre-publication copies of announcements of awards of the DSO and MC in the London Gazette were pasted into volumes, in WO 389 . These can include information removed for security reasons before publication, and annotations giving the date and place of the action for which the award was made. They are in order of the date of announcement of the award. A name index for those who were awarded the DSO and MC between 1915 and 1938 is in WO 389/9-24 .
Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) index: other ranks and NCOs
The cards show the surname, initials, unit, rank and number of the individual. They refer by date to the London Gazette issue in which the award was announced.
Citations are given in full in the London Gazette, except for DCMs awarded among the Kings Birthday Honours.
Military Medal (MM) and Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) indexes: other ranks and NCOs
The cards (in two separate indexes) show the surname, forename(s) or initials, unit, rank and number of the individual, and in some cases the theatre of war in which he was serving when he earned the medal entitlement. They also refer, either by date, or by a number, or the term "Peace Gazette" to the London Gazette issue in which the award was announced (advice is available at The National Archives). In all but a handful of cases, the Gazette gives no more information than appears on the cards.
Citations are very occasionally given in full in the Gazette (e.g. for some nursing sisters who received the MM). There is nothing on the index cards to indicate whether or not a citation appears in full. No other records of citations for either of these medals are known to survive in official custody: recipients were told to look after their own copy, as it was unique.
Mentions in Despatches (MiDs) indexes
The cards for MiDs were filed (and therefore filmed) in three separate alphabetical sequences: all three may need to be checked.
The cards show the surname, initials, unit, rank and number of the individual, and refer by date and page number to the London Gazette issue in which the mention appeared. In a few cases, people mentioned in despatches were not entered in the index.
No records of citations are known to survive.
Royal Navy (and Royal Naval Air Service) and Royal Marines,
Officers only: the original card indexes, covering all awards mentioned in the "honours sheets" (ADM 171/78-88 ) are on open access at the The National Archives. They give name, rank, award or honour, date of the London Gazette, and service with dates.
Other ranks: there is an index for the Distinguished Service Medal and the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal in ADM 171/75 .
4. Second World War, 1939-1945
Awards of gallantry medals continue to be published in the London Gazette, which is the first place to look. The indexes are on the open shelves at the The National Archives. The London Gazette gives theatre of war as well. For officers and soldiers who were awarded a gallantry medal and served in the North West Europe theatre of war, after D Day in 1944, search the Catalogue under the name of the recipient, limiting the search to WO 373.
- The Victoria Cross
Most recommendations for the VC, DSO, MC, DCM and MM (and a very few Mentions in Despatches) are in WO 373 (from 1938). The London Gazette date, and the theatre of war, is needed to find them.
During the Second World War, some members of the RN, the RAF, the RM and the Home Guard received Army awards.
- Royal Navy and Royal Marines
During the Second World War, some members of the Merchant Navy and the RAF received naval awards.
Royal Marines who received Army awards should be looked for in the Army records.
Fleet Air Arm personnel who received RAF awards should also be looked for in the RAF records.
- Royal Air Force
For detailed information on RAF gallantry awards, see W Spencer, Air Force Records for Family Historians (Kew, 2000). During the Second World War, awards were:
immediate (for single acts of bravery).
non-immediate (normally given at the conclusion of a tour of duty of between 25 and 30 operations).
Announcements of awards are in the London Gazette (ZJ 1 ) and are found by consulting the Gazette indexes. Surviving recommendations are in AIR 2 . Those for the Victoria Cross are in AIR 2 (for 1939-1942); in AIR 2/5010 (for 1943-1944) and in AIR 2/5867 (for 1944-1946).
5. Gallantry Awards from 1946
For announcements of awards, look in the London Gazette, using its indexes (ZJ 1 ).
- Royal Navy
Recommendations are in AIR 2 . Some are still closed.
6. Further information
For a list of gallantry medals with records in The National Archives (and which services and ranks were eligible for them), see the Research Guide British Armed Services: Gallantry Medals, Further Information. For more information on gallantry medals , see P E Abbott and J M A Tamplin, British Gallantry Awards (London, 1981). For more detailed advice, see:
- S Fowler and W Spencer, Army Records for Family Historians (Kew, 1998)
- W Spencer, Army Service Records of the First World War (Richmond, 2001)
- W Spencer, Air Force Records For Family Historians (Kew, 2000).
7. Replacing and Claiming Medals
Medals issued before 1920 are no longer replaced. Those issued after 1920 may be replaced, and enquirers should write to:
AFPAA, (JPAC), Ministry of Defence, RAF Innsworth, Gloucester, GL3 1HW.
8. The National Archives' Library Bibliography
- Victoria Cross and other awards issued with Army Orders...
- Peter Edward Abbott, Recipients of the Distinguished Conduct Medal, 1855-1909 (London, 1975)
- P E Abbott and J M A Tamplin, British gallantry awards (London, 1981)
- Christopher K Bate, For bravery in the field recipients of the Military Medal, 1919-1939, 1939-1945, 1945-1991 (1991)
- John D Clarke, Gallantry medals and decorations of the world (Barnsley, 2001)
- O' Moore Creagh, The Distinguished Service Order 1886-1923 (London, 1978)
- Simon Fowler and William Spencer, Army Records for Family Historians (2nd edn, PRO Readers' Guide, II, 1998)
- Phil McDermott, For conspicuous gallantry: the register of the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, 1855-1992 (Uckfield, 1995)
- Philip McDermott, For Distinguished Conduct in the Field: the register of the Distinguished Conduct Medal 1920-1992 (Polstead, 1994)
- Ian McInnes, The meritorious service medal: the immediate awards 1916-1928 (Dallington, 1992)
- William Spencer, Army service records of the First World War (Public Record Office Readers' Guide, IXX, 2001) - Available to buy
- William Spencer, Medals: the researcher's guide (Kew, 2006) - Available to buy
- William Spencer, Air Force records for family historians (Public Record Office Readers' Guide, XXI, 2000) - Available to buy
- Rob W Walker, Recipients of the Distinguished Conduct Medal, 1914-1920 (Birmingham, 1981)
- War Office, List of the recipients of the Victoria Cross (1953)