This article is organised as follows:


5.0     Introduction

A feature of the honours system is the number of orders contained, although not all are available to members of the armed forces in recognition of purely military service. As with many other national orders around the world, some orders are divided into military and civil divisions, with divisions being denoted either by different ribbons or by differences in the badges of the order.

Members of the British armed forces can be awarded an Order of the Bath and/or an Order of the British Empire for meritorious service. There are no conditions of appointment included in the Statutes, and remains the prerogative of The Sovereign:

  • Order of the Bath (Military Division): GCB, KCB/DCB, and CB (in order of precedence).
  • Order of the British Empire (Military Division): GBE, KBE/DBE, CBE, OBE, and MBE (in order of precedence).

Repeat awards are available for both by promotion within the Order. It is usual for the level of award to be linked to the rank of the recipient, i.e. the higher the rank the higher the level of award received (JSP 761, October 2016, p.4A-1).

There are about 3,000 honours (in the civilian and military divisions) awarded annually (HoC, 2004, p.6):

  • The Prime Minister’s List: About 1,000.
  • The Diplomatic and Overseas List: About 150 submitted by the Foreign Secretary.
  • The Defence Services List: About 200 submitted by the Defence Secretary.

Recipients can be recommended for an award in the New Year and Sovereign’s Birthday Honours List.

There have been a number of reforms to the system over the years, the last extensive one in 1993, when the then Prime Minister John Major initiated various changes, notably to make it easier for the general public to nominate candidates for honours and to increase the number of those honoured for voluntary work.

5.1     Orders of the Bath

“The Order of the Bath, an honour most often nowadays conferred on senior civil servants and officers in the armed forces, is so-called because of the knightly medieval tradition of ritual bathing, but it is not truly medieval in origin, having been founded in 1725.” (HoC, 2004, p.10).

The Most Honourable Order of the Bath (Military Division) comprises three classes:

  • The Knight Grand Cross (GCB);
  • The Knight Commander (KCB)/Dame Commander (DCB); and
  • The Companion (CB).

The Order of the Bath was instituted in 1725 by King George I. The 1810s saw an “extension of the Order of the Bath for military service in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars against France…” (HoC, 2004, p.9).

5.2     Orders of the British Empire

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (Military Division) comprises five classes:

  • Knights and Dames Grand Cross (GBE);
  • Knights and Dames Commanders (KBE and DBE);
  • Commanders (CBE);
  • Officers (OBE); and
  • Members (MBE).

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire was instituted in 1917, in large part to honour civilian work during World War I.

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