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Guide reference: Military Records Information 77
Last updated: 10 March 2008

1. Why use this guide?

This guide will help you find records of awards to personnel in the armed services for acts of bravery or meritorious service from 1854 to 1990.

For civilian gallantry awards read the research guide Civilian gallantry medals. For campaign medals please read the research guide British Army campaign and service medals.

2. Essential information

2.1 How do I access the records?

Depending on the time period and type of award, surviving gallantry awards can be accessed either online, as microfilm or viewed as original documents at The National Archives.
Often the only record that survives is a public announcement in the London Gazette (ZJ 1), available on The Gazette website.

2.2 Type of gallantry award records

Awards to British nationals often survive as a public announcement in the official government newspaper the London Gazette (ZJ 1). Depending on the award, a record of a citation or a recommendation may also survive. A citation or recommendation may sometimes survive in the service records of each armed service.

A citation is a brief official statement of why a medal was awarded (taken from the recommendation).  A recommendation is usually a fuller statement supplied by a superior, usually a commanding officer. 


Occasionally actual citations are published in the London Gazette  (ZJ 1 or online), but not always at the same date as the announcement.

3. How to find a public announcement for an award

In most cases, the best place to start is the London Gazette on The Gazette website. Search by name, service number, time period and award online. You need to know roughly when the award was announced or 'gazetted'. Almost all gallantry awards are published in the London Gazette or, where appropriate, in its colonial or dominion equivalent. 


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 may need to be consulted to get round this time lag.

4. How to find a recommendation or citation for an award

Check published sources before you start a search for citations or recommendations as they may provide exact document references and additional information. Consult the further reading section of this guide.

4.1 British Army (1854-1990)

The majority of awards for gallantry fall in the department code WO. Refer to the table below.

4.2 Royal Flying Corps (RFC), Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and Royal Air Force (RAF) (1914-1985)

The majority of the recommendations for RAF, RNAS or RFC for the period 1914-1918 are in AIR 1

Surviving recommendations from 1939 are in series AIR 2. They are arranged by old Air Ministry file reference number, not name. It will be a speculative search to identify a full document reference in AIR 2 without the old file reference. Contact the Ministry of Defence who may be able to supply you with the file reference.

During the Second World War, some members of the Royal Air Force received army awards which may be found in the department code WO.

Gallantry awards to RFC and RAF personnel, administered by the War Office are in the department code WO and DEFE.

During the Second World War some members of the merchant navy and RAF received naval awards. Search for these records in the department code ADM.

4.3 Royal Navy and Royal Marines (1854-1982)

Surviving recommendations are in series ADM 1 (accessed by using the index in series ADM 12) and ADM 116.


Awards to Royal Navy personnel and Royal Marine officers are in the 'honours sheets' in ADM 171/78-88. They give name, rank, award or honour, date of the London Gazette, and service with dates.


Royal Marines and Royal Navy who received army awards are in records which begin which begin with the department code WO and DEFE. Fleet Air Arm personnel who received RAF awards are in RAF records which begin with the department code AIR.

5. Table for gallantry or meritorious service (1854 -1993)

Consult the following table by award. All the series listed in the table below contain some information on individuals.


Depending on the circumstances of the award, you may be searching across different department codes such as WO, ADM, AIR or DEFE and occasionally PREM or HO to find an entry of a citation or recommendation. Read 4.1 - 4.3 for more guidance.

Gallantry medal or award Record series
Air Force Cross London Gazette (ZJ 1) online. See also series AIR 1, AIR 2 or AIR 30
Air Force Medal London Gazette (ZJ 1) online. See also AIR 1AIR 2AIR 30 or  HO 144.
British Empire Medal London Gazette (ZJ 1) online. Recommendations (WO 373) online (1939-1990). See also series ADM 1, ADM 116, ADM 171AIR 2, MT 9 or PREM 2.
Conspicuous Gallantry Medal London Gazette (ZJ 1) online. See also series ADM 1 code 85, ADM 116, ADM 171/75, AIR 2 or AIR 30.
Conspicuous Service Cross (later known as DSC) London Gazette (ZJ 1) online. See also series ADM 1, ADM 116, ADM 171 or AIR 1.
Distinguished Conduct Medal London Gazette (ZJ 1) online. Citations are given in full in the London Gazette, except for DCMs awarded among the King's Birthday Honours. Recommendations (WO 373) online (1939-1990).
See also series ADM 171, AIR 1, PMG 34, PMG 36, WO 3, WO 32 or WO 146.
Distinguished Flying Cross London Gazette (ZJ 1) online. See also series AIR 1, AIR 2 or AIR 30.
Distinguished Flying Medal London Gazette (ZJ 1) online. See also series ADM 1 Code 85, ADM 116 Code 85, AIR 1, AIR 2 or AIR 30.
Distinguished Service Cross London Gazette (ZJ 1) online. Recommendations (WO 373) online (1939-1990). See also series ADM 1ADM 116ADM 137, ADM 171or AIR 1.
Distinguished Service Medal Citations are given in full in the London Gazette (ZJ 1 or online) except for DSMs awarded among the King's birthday honours. See also ADM 1, ADM 116, ADM 171/75, ADM 137 or AIR 1.
Distinguished Service Order London Gazette (ZJ 1) online. Recommendations (WO 373) online (1939-1990). 
The register of the DSO are in series WO 390. Extracts from pre-publication copies of announcements of awards are in series WO 389.
See also ADM 1, ADM 116, ADM 171, AIR 1, AIR 2, AIR 30 or WO 32.
Empire Gallantry Medal London Gazette (ZJ 1) online. See also series ADM 1, ADM 116, ADM 171, AIR 2, HO 250 or MT 9.
George Cross London Gazette (ZJ 1) online. Recommendations (WO 373) online (1939-1990).  See also series AIR 2, HO 250, MT 9, PREM 2, WO 32 or WO 330.
George Medal London Gazette (ZJ 1) online. Recommendations (WO 373) online (1939-1990).  See also series ADM 1, AIR 2, HO 250, MT 9, PREM 2 or WO 330.
Indian Distinguished Service Medal Recommendations (WO 373) online (1939-1990). 
Indian Order of Merit Recommendations (WO 373) online (1939-1990). 
King's African Rifles DCM CO 445 and CO 534. See also gazettes for the colonies of East Africa.
Read The African DCM by J Arnold for more information.
Mentions in Despatches London Gazette (ZJ 1) online.
Search for Mention in Dispatches (WO 372/24) online (1914-1920). No records of citations are known to survive.
Recommendations (WO 373) online (1939-1990).
See also series ADM 1, ADM 116 or AIR 2.
Meritorious Service Medal London Gazette (ZJ 1) online. Citations are very occasionally given in full. Meritorious Service Medal (WO 372/24) online (1914-1920).
See also series AIR 1AIR 30, PMG 34, PMG 36, WO 23, WO 32, WO 101 or the colonial and dominion gazettes.
Military Cross London Gazette (ZJ 1) online. Recommendations (WO 373) online (1939-1990).  See also series AIR 1, WO 32 or WO 389 online (indexed by WO 389/9-24).
Military Medal London Gazette (ZJ 1) online.  Usually, announcements in the London Gazette are the only surviving record for the First World War. Citations are very occasionally given in full.
Military medal (WO 372/23) online (1914-1920).
Recommendations (WO 373) online (1939-1990). 
See also series ADM 171AIR 1, WO 32 or WO 326.
New Zealand Cross CO 212 or WO 32.
Order of the Bath, Military Division London Gazette (ZJ 1) online. Recommendations (WO 373) online (1939-1990). See also series AIR 2, ADM 171, WO 104 or WO 32.
Order of the British Empire Recommendations (WO 373) online (1939-1990).
Queen's Gallantry Medal London Gazette (ZJ 1) online. Recommendations (WO 373) online (1939-1990).
Royal Red Cross London Gazette (ZJ 1) onlineRecommendations (WO 373) online (1939-1990). See also series AIR 2 code 30, AIR 30, WO 145 or WO 32 code 50.
Sea Gallantry Medal ADM 1 or BT 261.
Victoria Cross London Gazette (ZJ 1) online.
Recommendations (WO 373) online (1939-1990). 
Victoria Cross register (WO 98/8) online.
For an alphabetical list of recipients of the Victoria Cross, August 1914 - October 1920 see WO 98/6. See also 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.
West African Frontier Force DCM CO 445. See also the gazettes for the colonies of West Africa.
Read The African DCM by J Arnold for more information.

6. Foreign awards and British awards to foreigners (1854)

Not all files survive. Before 1906, reports are in series FO 83. After 1906 they are in series FO 372. Locate files using the Foreign Office correspondence indexes at The National Archives.

Many foreign awards to Britons, and British awards to foreigners, for the period from 1946 to the present are searchable by name and award in the recommendations (WO 373) online.

7. Regulations and policy files (from 1854)

Regulations governing the award of medals are in army orders in series WO 123 and WO 293, in Fleet Orders in series ADM 182 and Defence Council Instructions in series DEFE 45 and DEFE 46. See also series AIR 72.

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. Search Discovery, our catalogue by the medal title or its abbreviation to see if there are any policy files. 

8. 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'.

9. Replacing and claiming medals

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

10. Further reading

Some or all of the publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives' bookshop. Alternatively, search The National Archives' library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew. 


William Spencer, Medals: the Researcher's guide (Kew, 2006)

Victoria Cross and other awards issued with Army Orders...

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

Christopher K Bate and Martin G Smith, For Bravery in the field recipients of the Military Medal, 1919-1939, 1939-1945, 1945-1991 (1991)

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

John D Clarke, Gallantry Medals and Decorations of the World (Barnsley, 2001)

O' Moore Creagh and EM Humphris, The Distinguished Service Order 1886-1923 (London, 1978)

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

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, 2008)

William Spencer, Air Force records for Family Historians (TNA, 2008)

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 (Honiton: Token Publishing, 2009)

Michael Maton, honour: the recipents of foreign awards (Honiton: Token Publishing 2013)

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

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

Guide reference: Military Records Information 77

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