How to look for records of... British military gallantry medals

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

View online

How many are online?

  • None
  • Some
  • All

Order copies

We can either copy our records onto paper or deliver them to you digitally

Visit us in Kew

Visit us in Kew to see original documents or view online records for free

Pay for research

1. Why use this guide?

If you know of an individual who received a British military medal or award for an act of bravery, gallantry or for meritorious service between 1854 and c1990 and you want to find out whether a record of the award and why it was awarded exist, this guide will be of use. Among the numerous medals and awards covered by the guide are the:

  • Victoria Cross (VC)
  • Distinguished Service Order (DSO)
  • Military Cross (MC)
  • Military Medal (MM)
  • Mention in Dispatches (MiD)

For advice on civilian gallantry awards consult our Civilian gallantry medals guide. There are separate records for the award of campaign medals (awarded purely for service) – see our British Army campaign and service medals guide for advice on finding these.

2. The records of gallantry medals and awards

2.1 Public announcements

Almost all gallantry awards to British nationals are publicly announced in the official government newspaper, the London Gazette. This public announcement is often the only record that survives of an award. Announcements also appeared, where appropriate, in the colonial or dominion gazettes.

2.2 Recommendations and citations

A recommendation is a full statement, usually supplied by a commanding officer, of why a medal should be awarded to an individual.

A citation is a brief official statement, taken from the recommendation, of why a medal was awarded.

Whether a record of a citation or a recommendation survives depends, largely, on the type of award. Occasionally citations are published in the London Gazette but not always at the same date as the announcement. A citation or recommendation may sometimes survive in the service record of the individual.

2.3 Registers

For some medals there are registers and lists of recipients covering a specific war, year or range of years.

3. How to find records

Find out where to look for records of a particular medal by consulting the table below. The following general advice will also help you get started:

3.1 Online records

In some cases, to view records you will need to find document references and either order copies or visit us to view the original documents in person. The following records, however, can be viewed or downloaded online:

3.2 Basic search tips for finding original documents

You can use our catalogue to search for records. Search with the name of a medal using the advanced search to target the records of the respective record departments for each branch of the military, as follows:

  • British Army, 1854-1990 – the majority of medal records are held in WO and DEFE
  • Royal Air Force, Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service, 1914-1985 – the majority of medal records are held in AIR and, more precisely, for 1914-1918 in AIR 1, and from 1939 in AIR 2
  • Royal Navy and Royal Marines, 1854-1982 – the majority of surviving recommendations are in series ADM 1 (accessed by using the indexes and registers in series ADM 12) and ADM 116

3.3 Public announcements and published citations

In most cases, the best place to start is the London Gazette, available on The Gazette website, though for many medals a citation was not published (see the table below for medal-by-medal details). You can search the Gazette by name, service number, publication date and type of award. You will need to know roughly when the award was announced or ‘gazetted’. There was always a delay between the gallant deed, the actual award of a medal, and publication in the London Gazette. The Gazette indexes available at The National Archives can help to establish a date.

3.4 Recommendations, registers and unpublished citations

Check published sources, such as those in the further reading section of this guide, before you start a search for records of recommendations or citations as they may provide exact document references and additional information. The table below provides links to the record series most likely to contain information on individual awards.

3.5 Table of record sources for gallantry medals

Click on the London Gazette links to search the Gazette by name, service number, publication date and type of award. Click on the document series references and search by name of medal. The online records can be searched by name of recipient.

Gallantry medal or award Official announcements and, where noted, officially published citations Record series in which you may find recommendations, citations, registers or lists of medal recipients
Air Force Cross London Gazette (ZJ 1) AIR 1, AIR 2(1) or AIR 30
Air Force Medal London Gazette (ZJ 1) AIR 1, AIR 2(1), AIR 30 or HO 144
British Empire Medal London Gazette (ZJ 1) ADM 1, ADM 116, ADM 171, AIR 2(1), MT 9 or PREM 2. For 1935-1990 see the online copies of WO 373, recommendations for military honours and awards.
Conspicuous Gallantry Medal London Gazette (ZJ 1) ADM 1 code 85, ADM 116, ADM 171/75, AIR 2(1) or AIR 30
Distinguished Conduct Medal London Gazette (ZJ 1) includes citations for First World War awards ADM 171, AIR 1, PMG 34, PMG 36, WO 3, WO 32 or WO 146. For 1935-1990 see the online copies of WO 373, recommendations for military honours and awards.
Distinguished Flying Cross London Gazette (ZJ 1) includes citations for many Second World War awards AIR 1, AIR 2(1) or AIR 30
Distinguished Flying Medal London Gazette (ZJ 1) includes citations for many Second World War awards ADM 1 Code 85, ADM 116 Code 85, AIR 1, AIR 2(1) or AIR 30
Distinguished Service Cross London Gazette (ZJ 1) ADM 1, ADM 116, ADM 137, ADM 171 or AIR 1
Distinguished Service Medal London Gazette (ZJ 1) ADM 1, ADM 116, ADM 171/75, ADM 137 or AIR 1
Distinguished Service Order London Gazette (ZJ 1) includes citations for First and Second World War awards (although not for First World War New Year or Birthday Honours awards). Extracts from pre-publication copies of announcements are in series WO 389. ADM 1, ADM 116, ADM 171, AIR 1, AIR 2(1), AIR 30 or WO 32. For 1935-1990 see the online copies of WO 373, recommendations for military honours and awards. The DSO register (1886-1945), in series WO 390, is available online – browse the 13 volumes of the register by date (see section 3.1).
Empire Gallantry Medal London Gazette (ZJ 1) ADM 1ADM 116, ADM 171, AIR 2(1), HO 250 or MT 9. Please note, HO 250 is also available to view online via Ancestry (£).
George Cross London Gazette (ZJ 1) includes citations for many Second World War awards AIR 2(1), MT 9, PREM 2, WO 32 or WO 330. Search the Civil Defence Gallantry Awards (HO 250) by name on Ancestry.co.uk (£). For 1935-1990 see the online copies of WO 373, recommendations for military honours and awards.
George Medal London Gazette (ZJ 1) includes citations for many Second World War awards ADM 1, AIR 2(1), MT 9, PREM 2 or WO 330. Search the Civil Defence Gallantry Awards (HO 250) by name on Ancestry.co.uk (£). For 1935-1990 see the online copies of WO 373, recommendations for military honours and awards.
Indian Distinguished Service Medal Gazette of India, available at the British Library For 1935-1990 see the online copies of WO 373, recommendations for military honours and awards.
Indian Order of Merit Gazette of India, available at the British Library For 1935-1990 see the online copies of WO 373, recommendations for military honours and awards.
King’s African Rifles DCM See the colonial gazettes for the colonies of East Africa.
Read The African DCM by J Arnold for more information.
CO 445 and CO 534
Mentions in Despatches London Gazette (ZJ 1) ADM 1, ADM 116 or AIR 2(1). Search and download Mentions in Dispatches 1914-1920 as recorded on medal index cards (WO 372/24). For 1935-1990 see the online copies of WO 373, recommendations for military honours and awards.
Meritorious Service Medal London Gazette (ZJ 1) and colonial and dominion gazettes. AIR 1, AIR 30, PMG 34, PMG 36, WO 23, WO 32, WO 101. Search and download Meritorious Service Medal awards 1914-1920 as recorded on medal index cards (WO 372/24).
Military Cross London Gazette (ZJ 1) includes citations for First World War awards (although not New Year or Birthday Honours awards). AIR 1, WO 32 or WO 389 online (indexed by WO 389/9-24). For 1935-1990 see the online copies of WO 373, recommendations for military honours and awards.
Military Medal London Gazette (ZJ 1). Usually, announcements in the London Gazette are the only surviving record for the First World War. Citations are very occasionally given in full – usually for women only. ADM 171, AIR 1, WO 32 or WO 326. Search and download awards of the Military Medal 1914-1920 as recorded on medal index cards (WO 372/23). For 1935-1990 see the online copies of WO 373, recommendations for military honours and awards.
New Zealand Cross CO 212 or WO 32
Order of the Bath, Military Division London Gazette (ZJ 1) AIR 2(1), ADM 171, WO 104 or WO 32. For 1935-1990 see the online copies of WO 373, recommendations for military honours and awards.
Order of the British Empire For 1935-1990 see the online copies of WO 373, recommendations for military honours and awards.
Queen’s Gallantry Medal London Gazette (ZJ 1) For 1935-1990 see the online copies of WO 373, recommendations for military honours and awards.
Royal Red Cross London Gazette (ZJ 1) AIR 2 code 30, AIR 30, WO 145 or WO 32 code 50. For 1935-1990 see the online copies of WO 373, recommendations for military honours and awards.
Sea Gallantry Medal ADM 1 or BT 261
Victoria Cross London Gazette (ZJ 1) includes citations for First and Second World War awards ADM 116, ADM 171, AIR 1, AIR 2/5010 (for 1943-1944), AIR 2/5867 (for 1944-1946), AIR 30, CAB 10, PMG 35 or WO 32. For 1935-1990 see the online copies of WO 373, recommendations for military honours and awards. Consult the Victoria Cross register (WO 98/8) online or the alphabetical list of recipients of the Victoria Cross, August 1914 – October 1920 in WO 98/6.
West African Frontier Force DCM See the colonial gazettes for the colonies of West Africa.
Read The African DCM by J Arnold for more information.
CO 445

Footnotes: (1) Recommendations in AIR 2 are arranged by old Air Ministry file reference number, not name. Contact the Ministry of Defence who may be able to supply you with the file reference.

Bear in mind that medals issued by the British Army were not awarded exclusively to British Army soldiers – they could be awarded to personnel from the other armed services too. During the Second World War, for example, some members of the Royal Air Force received British Army awards. The same is true of the Royal Navy and RAF, so that, for example, a number of airmen of the Fleet Air Arm, a branch of the Royal Navy, received RAF awards.

4. Foreign awards to Britons and British awards to foreign servicemen and women (from 1854)

4.1 Announcements

These awards tend to be announced in the London Gazette under the heading ‘Foreign Orders’.

For draft versions of London Gazette announcements 1914-1928 browse WO 388 by reference. Some of these pre-publication announcements are annotated. The documents in this series (WO 388) are arranged by country. WO 388/6 to 15, including indexes in WO 388/8 to 15, are available to download online (you can download the indexes free of charge).

4.2 Recommendations

Military awards exchanged between British and foreign armies from 1946 onwards are searchable by name and award in the recommendations (WO 373) online. These can include those not appearing in the London Gazette.

4.3 Lists

You can find some lists of Foreign Awards within FO 83 (before 1906) and FO 372 (after 1906). Locate files containing these lists using the Foreign Office correspondence indexes at The National Archives. It is thought that these lists are not comprehensive.

5. Regulations and policy files (from 1854)

In general, you can search our catalogue by the medal name or its abbreviation to see if there are any policy files. There are some specific series which document the regulations governing the award of medals. They are:

For policy files on medals, see series ADM 1 code 85, ADM 116 code 85, AIR 1, AIR 2, HO 45 code 30, MT 9 code 6, T 300 and T 333 and WO 32 code 50.

6. The design and manufacture of medals (1805-1986)

Orders for gallantry medals (especially in the 19th century) may be accompanied by details of recipients and of the action that led to the award. Try series MINT 16, MINT 20, MINT 24 and MINT 25. Search our catalogue with key words such as ‘awards’ or ‘decorations’.

7. Replacing and claiming medals

Contact the Ministry of Defence for campaign and other medals issued after 1939. Medals issued before 1939 can no longer be replaced.

8. Further reading and other resources

Online resources

Major military awards of the First World War, available from The Gazette website.

The Ministry of Defence’s British armed forces medals booklet, available from GOV.UK. Lists the medals awarded for service in the British armed forces, accompanied by an image for each medal.

Lists of Victoria Cross recipients announced in The Gazette for the First World War in 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918 and 1919.

A list of Victoria Cross recipients announced in The Gazette during and after the Second World War

Books

All of the publications below are available in The National Archives’ library for consultation at our building in Kew. Some may be available to buy from The National Archives’ bookshop.

Peter Edward Abbott, Recipients of the Distinguished Conduct Medal, 1855-1909 (London, 1975)

Peter Edwards Abbott and John Michael Allen Tamplin, British Gallantry Awards (London, 1981)

Christopher K Bate and Martin G Smith, 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 and EM Humphris, The Distinguished Service Order 1886-1923: A Complete Record of the Recipients of the Distinguished Service Order from its Institution in 1886, to the 12th June 1923, with Descriptions of the Deeds and Services for which the Award was Given and with Many Biographical and Other Details (London, 1978)

Michael Maton, Honour the Air Forces: Honours and Awards to the RAF and Dominion Air Forces during the Second World War (Honiton: Token Publishing, 2004)

Michael Maton, Honour the Armies: Honours and Awards to the British and Dominion Armies during the Second World War (Honiton: Token Publishing, 2006)

Michael Maton, Honour the Officers: Honours Awards to British, Dominion and Colonial Officers during World War I (Honiton: Token Publishing, 2009)

Michael Maton, Honour The Recipents of Foreign Awards (Honiton: Token Publishing 2013)

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 (TNA, 2001 & 2008)

William Spencer, Army Records for Family Historians (3nd edn, The National Archives, 2008)

William Spencer, Air Force Records: A Guide for Family Historians (TNA, 2008)

William Spencer, Medals: The Researcher’s Guide (Kew, 2006)

Rob W Walker, Recipients of the Distinguished Conduct Medal, 1914-1920 (Birmingham, 1981)

List of the Recipients of the Victoria Cross (War Office, 1953)

Victoria Cross and other awards issued with Army Orders…

Guide reference: Military Records Information 77