This article is organised as follows:


2.0     Introduction

This part of the article outlines the operational honours process, the organisations involved in the process, and some of the general principles in the establishment and giving of awards. It also highlights the levels of awards and civilian acts of gallantry.

2.1     The Operational Honours Process

Following acts of gallantry or meritorious service, recommendations for honours and awards are made by commanding officers, which are then passed up the 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 their 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 in Northwood for further comparison before being passed to the MOD Armed Forces Operational Awards Committee (Section 2.5).

Recommendations by this committee are then considered and endorsed by the HD Committee, which is chaired by the 2nd Permanent Under-Secretary (PUS), before being submitted to Her Majesty, The Queen through the Defence Secretary 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 PUS and the Service Chiefs of Staff. Those for the George Cross are endorsed by members of the George Cross Military Committee, which is a sub-committee for the Honours and Decorations Committee.

A similar system is used through national command chains for the State awards at the Queen’s Birthday and New Year 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. The system ensures that consistent standards are applied to ensure there is no diminution of the value of awards. 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 practise of having in some categories of award, different medals for commissioned officers and other ranks were discontinued. For example, the Military Medal is no longer awarded to non-commissioned ranks, who instead are now eligible for the Military Cross which had previously been reserved for officers and warrant officers.

All awards, except for membership of Orders, can be given posthumously.

Where a medal is worn by an individual more than once, the second and subsequent awards are denoted by a Bar worn on the medal ribbon. Thus the phrase VC and Bar (sometimes shortened to VC*) denotes the award of the Victoria Cross twice to the same individual.

2.2     UK Medals Office

The Ministry of Defence Medal Office (MODMO), part of Defence Business Services (DBS), is located at Imjin Barracks in Innsworth, Gloucester. MODMO is responsible for issuing medals, authorised by the reigning monarch, to:

  • Currently serving members of the armed forces (both Regular and Reserve);
  • Veterans (both Regular and Reserve); and
  • MOD employees.

Members of other services, such as the fire, police or prison service, are required to contact their organisations’ Human Resources department in the first instance.

MODMO issues approximately 18,000 medals per year (around 1,500 medals per month).

2.3     Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood

The Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood is a small office within the Royal Household of The Sovereign of the UK, established in 1902 by King Edward VII (The London Gazette, 1904, p.2113).

The Central Chancery is located at St James’s Palace, London, and is responsible for the administration of orders of chivalry and some aspects of honours in general. It does not deal with nominations or decisions on appointments, but rather administers the appointment procedures and investitures, and provides the insignia.

2.4     The HD Committee

Officially termed the Inter-Departmental Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals, The HD Committee is the principal Government body concerned with Honours awards and medals. The HD Committee is composed of:

  • The Cabinet Secretary (chairperson);
  • The Private Secretary to the Queen;
  • Permanent Secretary, Prime Minister’s Office;
  • Permanent Secretary; Ministry of Defence;
  • Defence Services Secretary, Ministry of Defence;
  • Permanent Secretary, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • Permanent Secretary, Home Office;
  • Secretary of the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood;
  • Head of Honours and Appointments Secretariat; and
  • Ceremonial Officer of the Cabinet Office (Secretary).

The HD Committee provides the mechanism for consideration of all matters relating to UK honours, awards and medals, and the committee is the only channel through which proposals for additions to, or changes in, the system, including proposals affecting Armed Forces awards specifically, may be submitted to The Sovereign.

2.5     Armed Forces Operational Awards Committee

The Armed Forces Operational Awards Committee (AFOAC) recommends which awards should be made and in what quantity. Its members include:

  • The Defence Services Secretary (Chairperson);
  • The Naval, Army and Air Secretaries; and
  • The Deputy Chief of Joint Operations.

2.6     MOD Operational Review Board

The MOD Operational Review Board (MOD ORB) sits bi-annually to assess, against operations, the requirement for the award of:

  • Operational Allowance (OA): The board assesses the level of risk experienced by personnel deployed on operations and then makes recommendations for OA based on operational locations.
  • Medallic Recognition (MR): The board assesses the level of risk and rigour experienced by personnel deployed on operations and then makes recommendations for MR.

The Operational Medals Working Group (OMWG) works in support of the MOD ORB as the collective Defence and single Service medals subject matter experts. The OMWG scrutinises all MR recommendations which are then presented to the MOD ORB. When the MOD ORB endorses such recommendations, they are forwarded to the Defence Services Secretary, for Chiefs of Staff agreement. If agreed, supported recommendations are then considered by the Inter-Departmental Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals (the HD Committee) and, if agreed, are submitted to The Sovereign for approval.

2.7     Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issues guidance on the award of foreign medals and medals awarded by international organisations.

2.8     The Five Year Principle

The principle of the ‘Five Year Rule’ prevents the consideration of nominations for Honours and Awards where these are intended to recognise events that took place many years previously. The rule is not law but rather represents the custom of successive governments since WW2 when applications are received for the belated or retrospective recognition for events that took place many years earlier.

This policy is believed to date from June 1946 when His Majesty King George VI approved the advice of the HD Committee to institute a number of Campaign Stars and Medals for service In the War. Having instituted these awards, it was agreed that no further WW2 Medals or Stars would be considered. A similar decision was taken that no further recommendations for gallantry awards arising from service during the War would be considered after 1950 (i.e. after five years). This principle has continued to be applied since WW2.

The rationale behind the rule is that those in authority now cannot put themselves in the position of those who would have had the responsibility for assessing events at the time. This ruling remains in force today and the modem HD Committee has indicated on a number of occasions that it will not review its policy that there can be no retrospective recognition of events that took place many years previously.

However; there was one notable exception to this. The review, in 2003, of the Canal Zone Medal (for service in the Suez Emergency 1951 to 1954). This case was unique as there was no conclusive evidence that the case for a medal had ever been considered by those in command at the time. The case for a Canal Zone Clasp for the General Service Medal 1962 was subsequently approved, as an exception, by The Sovereign in September 2003. At the time, the HD Committee indicated that the retrospective institution of the ‘Canal Zone’ Clasp was not to be regarded as a precedent.

2.9     The Double Medal Principle

The double medalling rule is well founded in the inter-Allied agreement of 1942, which prevented the acceptance of foreign orders/decorations by British personnel who had already received a British award for the same service. This principle has been applied up to the present day.

Double medalling with campaign medals was first addressed at the end of the First World War, resulting in the ‘Inter-Allied Victory Medal’ and an agreement for no reciprocal exchange of national campaign medals. There was no similar medal at the close of the Second World War but the UK took stringent steps to prevent the award of Stars and Medals to Allied personnel who were to receive their own country’s equivalents and did not permit acceptance of Allied campaign medals other than by Supreme Commanders.

Any precedents cited for the double medalling of UK troops with campaign medals tends to stem from the 19th Century – when the UK government allowed troops who were already receiving Queen’s medals for Egypt/Sudan to receive another from the Khedive of Egypt, which at the time the Government had found impossible to refuse for diplomatic reasons.

However, a more recent precedent was for the Korean War (1950 to 1953) when both the UK and United Nations (UN) issued medals that were permitted for wear by UK personnel. This overlap is understood to have been largely due to the UK and UN failing to consult on their intentions to strike a medal, but may also have been as a mark of courtesy by the Government to the still relatively new United Nations organisation.

Since Korea, the UK policy of not accepting a second medal has hardened and, for example, at the end of the first Gulf War, when both a grateful Kuwait and Saudi Arabia offered medals, personnel were permitted to ‘accept but not wear’ these medals (i.e. receive as a keepsake).

This policy continues for those who have served in Afghanistan under North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) command who are awarded the International Stabilisation Force (ISAF) medal by NATO in duplication of the UK’s own Operational Service Medal Afghanistan.

2.10     Risk and Rigour Principle

The procedures for considering the institution of a British award for the Armed Forces have been followed for many years, with only minor changes. In the case of campaign service or an emergency situation, the process starts if the Commander-in-Chief at the time considers that a medal for service in the particular theatre is justified. Timeliness is of great importance in order for the passage of time not to influence the relative merit, or otherwise, of the operation and to ensure the decisions are taken by those that best understand the situation as it occurs, Equally, proposals for a new medal should not be initiated too early before the nature of the campaign/operational service has become apparent.

With this in mind, the main factors that should be considered in the overall criteria for a proposal in any particular operational situation are:

  • The risk and danger to life.
  • The style and force of the enemy, adversary or opponent.
  • The physical and mental stress and rigours that had to be experienced by individuals, and the numbers of individuals and/or units involved or committed to the operation.
  • The extent to which climate, weather and terrain factors affected the operational situation.
  • The restrictions, limitations and difficulty in implementing the operation.
  • The time (stated in number of days) and the number of air sorties (which may have a Limit on how many on any one day) that should count towards eligibility.
  • The geographical boundaries within which eligibility will count (this does not have to accord with the officially defined operational area).

On receipt of the proposal, the MOD will, in the case of an award for specific operations, advise the single-Service Chiefs of Staff whether it appears that in principle:

  • An award is operationally justified;
  • An award is not operationally justified; or
  • It is not possible to reach a decision on an operational justification for the present but the matter should be kept under review.

If the single-Service Chiefs of Staff:

  • Consider that the proposed award cannot for the time being be supported, the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) will inform the appropriate Commander that it is not possible to proceed with the proposal at present, but the matter will be kept under review. The MOD will arrange for the matter to be reviewed at appropriate intervals until it is possible to reach a decision on the justification, when the procedures outlined above will be followed.
  • Support an award in principle, the CDS will instruct the Defence Services Secretary to have a formal proposal prepared by the initiating Commander. The initiating Headquarters will then staff the proposal, including the detailed criteria and conditions of award, to the Front Line Commands before being returned to the Defence Services Secretary. The purpose of staffing to the Front Line Commands is to ensure that all who might be eligible have been included. The proposal is then considered by the AFOAC for endorsement after which it is passed for consideration by the Chiefs of Staff.

Once the proposed award has been agreed, the endorsement of the Secretary of State for Defence will be sought before it is forwarded to the Secretary of the HD Committee for the Committee’s consideration and, if agreed, put to the Sovereign for approval.

2.11     Award Levels/Headings

As per the Army Dress Regulations (All Ranks) (February 2017), awards can be placed in one of four levels (Part 13 Sect 3 B-1):

  • Level One: Victoria Cross and George Cross.
  • Level Two: Distinguished Service Order, Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, Military Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Force Cross, Distinguished Conduct Medal, Military Medal, and Medal for Meritorious Service.
  • Level Three: Order of the British Empire and British Empire Medal (no longer awarded post 1993).
  • Level Four: Mention in Despatches and Queen’s Commendations.

Version 5 of JSP 761(Honours and Awards in the Armed Forces), dated October 2016 (p. 1A-1 to 1A-2), states the Distinguished Service Cross, Military Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross, and Air Force Cross are all Level 3 awards.

As per the Queen’s Regulations for the British Army (Amendment 32, July 2013) awards can also be grouped under four broad headings as outlined in Table 1.

Table 1: UK Orders, Decorations, & Awards
Level Group Awards
1 These awards may be recommended for gallant & distinguished services in an operational area
  • Victoria Cross [1]
  • Companion of the Order of the Bath.
  • Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
  • Distinguished Service Order [1].
  • Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
  • Member of the Order of the British Empire.
  • Conspicuous Gallantry Cross [1].
  • Royal Red Cross (Class I) [1, 2].
  • Distinguished Service Cross [1].
  • Military Cross [1].
  • Distinguished Flying Cross [1].
  • Royal Red Cross (Class II)
  • Mention in Despatches
  • Queen’s Commendation for Bravery
  • Queen’s Commendation for Bravery in the Air
  • Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service.
These awards may be recommended for non-operational gallantry not in active operations against the enemy
  • George Cross [1].
  • Royal Red Cross (Class 1) [1, 2].
  • Air Force Cross [1].
  • Royal Red Cross (Class 2)
  • George Medal [1].
  • Queen’s Gallantry Medal [1].
  • Queen’s Commendation for Bravery
  • Queen’s Commendation for Bravery in the Air.
2 Awards for inclusion in either the New Year Honours List or the Sovereign’s Birthday Honours List
  • Order of the Bath.
  • Order of the British Empire.
  • Royal Red Cross.
  • Queen’s Volunteer Reserves Medal.
3 Medals for meritorious service or for long service and good conduct
  • The Meritorious Service Medal (common to all three Services).
  • The Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (each Service has its own medal constituted under a separate set of regulations).
4 Medals for service in a specified operation or operational area.


  1. The holder of the award may be recommended for the award of a bar (or additional bar) for further gallant or distinguished service.
  2. Posthumous Awards:
    1. All Service gallantry awards may be awarded posthumously except for the Distinguished Service Order.
    2. However, the Royal Red Cross may only be awarded posthumously for acts of gallantry.
    3. Persons recommended for awards other than those mentioned in points a. & b. above must be known to be alive at the time the recommendation is forwarded to the Ministry of Defence.
  3. In addition, Level Four awards (Mentions in Despatch and Queen’s Commendations) may be awarded.
  4. Awards granted by certain civilian societies are officially recognised and may be worn in uniform.
  5. A recommendation may be submitted to the Royal Humane Society for an award for saving or attempting to save life.

The reader should not confuse the level of an award or its group and its order of wear/precedence (Part Eight), which may be different. For example the George Cross appears in Group Two but is a Level One award, second only in precedence to the Victoria Cross. The awards below are not listed in the official ‘order of precedence’, the letters in brackets are put after a person’s surname to show their award.

2.12     Civilian Acts of Gallantry

Acts of gallantry by civilians (whether Crown servants or not) which appear to attain a standard meriting recognition should be reported through the same channels as recommendations for Service personnel.

If the act of gallantry is not considered to be of a sufficiently high standard to justify a State award, a Defence Council letter of appreciation may be recommended.

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