The military medal, a symbol of valor, sacrifice, and unwavering dedication, holds a special place in the hearts of those who have served their nations with honor and distinction
It all began in the 4th century BC with one of the most successful military commanders in history – Alexander the Great. In recognition of his military support, Alexander sent the Hebrew High Priest Jonathan a number of honorary awards such as golden buttons which were to be awarded to his troops. This is the first known example of a military medal being awarded.
Jumping forward a few centuries, from the late middle ages (1307 – 1485 AD) kings and other influential individuals such as wealthy merchants would commission personal medals. These medals, usually a coin shaped disc with their portrait on the front and an emblem on the reverse, were presented to friends, supporters or other men of influence.
Over the centuries which followed, honours such as medals have become an integral part of the military and social system. Medals are now a tangible recognition of virtues important in military life such as heroism, self sacrifice and bravery. And like most things ceremonial, a complicated system of categories, hierarchies and traditions has emerged around medals.
Dozens of medals, but only one act to reward
There are many different medals available to both the civilian and military population. When considering which honor should be awarded, a number of considerations are made.
The first is whether the intention is to acknowledge a specific action or simply the presence of an individual at a particular event. Gallantry awards are appropriate for the former category whilst a campaign medal is appropriate for the latter.
Further considerations are taken into account if the award is to recognise an act of gallantry. Specifically, the award given will depend on…
- How extreme the act of gallantry was
- Whether the act was undertaken in the presence of an enemy
- Whether the act was undertaken on land, at sea or in the air
The hierarchy of gallantry
In addition to the above considerations, there is a strict hierarchy applied to awards for gallantry (and the order in which they should be worn which can be found on our order of wear page). In short, the level of award depends on the level of bravery shown.
For gallantry in the presence of the enemy the relative importance of different awards in descending order is:
- The Victoria Cross
- The Distinguished Service Order and The Conspicuous Gallantry Cross
- The Distinguished Service Cross, the Military Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross
These honors are typically restricted to military personnel. However, for the civilian population and military personnel undertaking acts of gallantry not in the face of the enemy three alternative awards are available:
- The George Cross
- The George Medal
- The Queen’s Gallantry Medal and the Air Force Cross
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