The centenary of the Military Medal

The Military Medal was created 100 years ago to reward services rendered during World War 1.

The founding warrant of 25 March 1916 allowed the medal to be awarded to ‘non-Military medalcommissioned officers and men for individual or associated acts of bravery on the recommendation of a Commander-in-Chief in the Field’ (Gazette supplement 29535) and provided that the recipients’ names should be published in The London Gazette.

The medal completed a three-tier structure of army decorations, with the Victoria Cross (for all ranks) at the highest level; then the Distinguished Service Order (for officers) and Distinguished Conduct Medal (other ranks); and finally, the Military Cross and Military Medal.

World War 1

The first award of the Military Medal related to work performed in connection with the bombardment of the Yorkshire coast during the early months of the war, and was announced on 7 April 1916, when Sergeant Mallin of the Welsh Regiment was noticed ‘for gallantry and distinguished service on the occasion of the attack on the Hartlepools by a German Fleet on the 16th December, 1914’ (Gazette supplement 29538).

More significant numbers of medals were included in the 1916 Birthday honours lists (Gazette supplement 29608), when around 1,200 men were noticed. The home distribution was typical of what followed, with more than 100 medals for the Royal Engineers and Field Artillery, and smaller numbers for units such as the London Regiment and the Northumberland Fusiliers. A few women also earned the MM, beginning with Lady Dorothie Feilding of the Munro Motor Ambulance, who was invested by the King at Windsor Castle in September 1916 (Gazette supplement 29731).

All commanders-in-chief and corps commanders were authorised to make immediate awards, and some 120,000 Military Medals (including bars for additional acts) were gazetted in connection with the war.

One soldier was honoured for four acts of bravery. Ernest Corey of the Australian Infantry Battalion worked as a stretcher bearer, and his Military Medal was gazetted in July 1917 (Gazette supplement 30188). This was followed by a bar in 1918 (Gazette supplement 30476) for efforts during an assault on Polygon Wood, and second and third bars in March and June 1919 for helping wounded at Peronne and for bravery during an attack on the Hindenburg Line (Gazette supplement 31227 and 31405).

Most awards were notified without details about the circumstances in which the medal was gained, beyond occasional reference to the theatre involved. This lack of information was mentioned in parliament in 1917, when the government said that ‘the awards are too numerous to admit of publication of services’. This approach was maintained during the war, so researchers need to rely on other sources to determine how medals were earned.

Rare exceptions to the ‘no citation’ rule arose, mainly involving women, such as the grant to Elizabeth Cross of Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps, who received her Military Medal:

‘For gallantry and devotion to duty during an enemy air raid. Whilst in charge of a camp a bomb fell, killing several women and wounding others. She was knocked down, but immediately got up, and, after obtaining assistance, worked with the doctor amongst the killed and wounded while the raid was still in progress.’ (Gazette supplement 30959)

Medals awarded

The majority of medals were earned in the principal theatre of the war in France and Flanders, and included soldiers from Australia, Canada and New Zealand, but generally excluded Indian units, for whom a separate scheme of honours existed.

Details about the number of immediate awards were published in The Gazette at the time of the Birthday lists of 1918-19 and the New Year list of 1919. The figures, which are summarised below, illustrate (a) the dominance of European operations and (b) the distribution of awards below the level of the Victoria Cross, with the percentage of Military Medals averaging 73 per cent across the six theatres:







% MM

France and Flanders




























East Africa





















The recipient’s details were impressed around the edge of the Military Medal, which was usually joined by one or more of the WW1 stars and medals. No standard warrant or similar document was issued with the medal, but some awards were accompanied by local notices, as in the case of John Price, whose ‘courageous conduct’ certificate was signed by his divisional commander, Major-General John Ponsonby:

‘The General Officer commanding the 40th Division has been pleased to mention in Divisional Routine Orders the courageous conduct of:- No. 42439, Private J. Price, Yorkshire Regiment. To whom the Military Medal has been awarded by the Corps Commander, under authority granted by His Majesty the King, for devotion to duty and courage displayed during active operations against the enemy on 23rd, 24th and 25th November, 1917.’

The operations on the Cambrai front in northern France were described in Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig’s despatch, which recorded the work done by Price’s division:

‘At 10.30 a.m the 40th Division attacked Bourlon Wood, and after four-and-a-half hours of hard fighting, in which tanks again rendered valuable assistance to our infantry, captured the whole of the wood and entered Bourlon Village. Here hostile counter-attacks prevented our further progress, and though the village was at one time reported to have been taken by us, this proved later to be erroneous.... This struggle for Bourlon resulted in several days of fiercely contested fighting, in which English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish battalions, together with dismounted cavalry, performed most gallant service and inflicted heavy loss on the enemy.’ (Gazette supplement 30554)

Price’s honour was gazetted in March 1918 (Gazette supplement 30573), a few days after Haig’s despatch, and in due course he received the silver medal, which showed King George V’s effigy on the obverse, and the words ‘For bravery in the field’ within a laurel wreath, and with the royal cypher, on the reverse. The medal’s riband was dark blue, with three white and two crimson stripes alternating in the centre.

Some of Price’s colleagues received further honours, and more than 30 WW1 Victoria Crosses were conferred on holders of the Military Medal, including William Coltman of the North Staffordshire Regiment, who is believed to be the war’s most highly decorated soldier. Coltman earned his Military Medal in March 1917 (Gazette supplement 30001) and gained a bar to the Military Medal and the Distinguished Conduct Medal for evacuating wounded under shell fire. His VC recognised gallantry as a stretcher bearer when he carried comrades to safety, and his bar to the DCM was gained for aiding wounded men under heavy fire.

After the war

The Military Medal continued to be awarded after the war, with more than 300 medals being approved between the Armistice and the start of World War 2. Operations in India and Palestine dominated the inter-war period, but with occasional actions in less well-known locations, such as the services rendered by Private Burugi of the Sudanese Camel Corps in the Nuba Mountains Province (Gazette issue 33248).

The 1939-45 conflict witnessed changes in policy relating to honours, resulting in a more limited distribution of certain decorations, including the Military Medal, and leading to the grant of about a tenth of the number from WW1, just over 15,000 in total.

During the present reign, the Military Medal recognised services performed in operations in places such as Kenya, Malaya, Northern Ireland and the South Atlantic. The decoration is, however, no longer awarded, as important changes to service awards were introduced in 1993, when the existing rank-based system was amended to allow the Military Cross to be conferred on personnel of all ranks. This led to the effective end of the Military Medal, after less than 80 years.

About the author

Russell Malloch is a member of the Orders and Medals Research Society and an authority on British honours.

See also: The National Archives blog