1. Why use this guide?
Use this guide to find out:
- what gallantry awards were given to civilians in the 19th and 20th centuries
- how to find records relating to civilian recipients of gallantry awards
- how to find records of policy relating to the award of gallantry medals
The civilian awards in this guide include those given to merchant seamen and police officers.
2. Essential information
Awards of medals were announced in the official government newspaper the London Gazette, available on The Gazette website.
Citations and recommendations are sometimes included in the Gazettes but are rarely found in the documents held at The National Archives.
3. Examples of award
The main civilian gallantry awards in the 19th and early 20th centuries were:
- Albert Medal - for merchant seamen, the Royal Navy and later firemen, miners, railwaymen, the army, and others
- Edward Medal - for miners, quarrymen and later dock workers and railwaymen
- Sea Gallantry Medal - for merchant seamen
- Empire Gallantry Medal - from 1922 for meritorious service - primarily for civilians but also for the military in certain circumstances
- British Empire Medal - from 1922 for meritorious service - primarily for civilians but also for the military in certain circumstances
- George Cross - from 1940 for meritorious service, replacing the Empire Gallantry Medal and later the Edward Medal and Albert Medal - primarily for civilians but also for the military in certain circumstances
- George Medal - from 1940 for meritorious service - primarily for civilians but also for the military in certain circumstances
- Queen's Gallantry Medal - from 1974 for meritorious service
4. Using our catalogue to find records
For tips on searching the catalogue, use the help page.
Look for mentions in this guide of:
- department references such as HO (Home Office) or BT (Board of Trade)
- record series references such as HO 45 or BT 261
These will help you to focus your search for relevant records using the advanced search option in our catalogue.
Our catalogue contains descriptions of our records. Very few of the records described in this guide are available online.
Alternatively, you can pay for research.
5. The records
5.1 Records of individual awards
The table below shows the main record seriesA grouping of records held by The National Archives, based on common function or subject. for civilian awards.
Use the advanced search option in our catalogue to search for records. The information in the table will help you to focus your search and produce more helpful results.
When searching, you may need to use abbreviations for medals - so, for example, to search for the George Cross you may need to enter GC as your keyword. Try searching in both ways.
For general tips on searching the catalogue, use the help page.
|Record series||Date range||Search tips|
|HO 45 Home Office Registered papers||1839-1979||Try searching our catalogue by name, but if this is unsuccessful search using keywords 'award' or 'medal' and enter a date range|
|PREM 2 Prime Minister's Office: Honours lists and papers||1915-1967||Search our catalogue using keywords 'honours', 'birthday' or 'new year' and enter a date range|
|MT 9 Marine Harbours and Wrecks||1854-1969||Search our catalogue with combinations of a name (note that initials are sometimes used instead of full first names), a date range and keywords 'code 6', 'award' and/or 'medal'. Some records can be downloaded - to find them, use a wildcardsubstitute a keyword, or parts of it, with an asterisk so that the search looks for variants of a word search within MT 9 and select 'online collections only'|
|BT 261 Gallantry at Sea Awards for the Merchant Navy.||1856-1981||Browse these files or search by year. Some records can be downloaded.|
|T 335 Second World War Merchant Navy Awards Files||1939-1947||Search our catalogue by name of the individual recipient and by name of ship|
|T 336 Second World War Civil Defence Awards Files||1938-1950||Search our catalogue by year|
|AIR 2 recommendations for all the awards of the military George Cross, George Medal and British Empire Medal in this period||1941-1946||Search our catalogue with some or all of the following: the recipient's surname, the name of the award (eg OBE - try with and without fullstops), 'Code B 30'|
|HO 250 Inter-departmental committee on Civil Defence Gallantry Awards including firemen, policemen and air raid precautions wardens||1940-1949||The catalogue has no names in the record descriptions. You can either search our catalogue within HO 250 for a file from a specific year or browse the 110 files to find a particular year.|
|WO 373/66-70 Non-combatant gallantry awards.||1940-1948||Search our catalogue within WO 373 by name of person or award. Some records can be downloaded. The awards include the George Cross, George Medal, Order of the British Empire, British Empire Medal, and the King's/Queen's Commendation for Brave Conduct. |
5.2 Policy records
For policy files on medals, search our catalogue using the medal title or its abbreviation.
To focus your results, use the advanced search option and search within one or more of the record series below.
Where codes are quoted, use these as keywords in your search.
- AIR 1 - Air Ministry: Air Historical Branch
- HO 45 - Home Office: Registered papers
- AIR 2 code 30 - Air Ministry and Ministry of Defence
- WO 32 code 50 - War Office registered files
- ADM 1 code 85 - Admiralty correspondence and papers
- MT 9 code 6 - Board of Trade and Ministry of Transport
- ADM 116 code 85 - Admiralty: Record Office cases
- T 300 - Treasury and Civil Service Department: Ceremonial Branch
- T 333 - Treasury:Ceremonial Branch
6. Police gallantry awards
The following medals have been awarded specifically to police officers for gallantry:
- King's Police Medal (later the King's Police and Fire Services Medal, and now the Queen's Police Medal)
- Constabulary Medal (Ireland)
- African Police Medal (later the Colonial Police Medal)
The table in section 8 explains how to search for relevant records.
7. Foreign awards and British awards to foreigners
These were handled by the Treaty Department of the Foreign Office but only a limited number of files survive.
For 1906-1951, you will need to consult the Index to Foreign Office correspondence, available in the reading rooms at The National Archives in Kew
8. Alphabetical table of gallantry medals
The table below refers to awards granted before the changes in the honours and awards system of 1993. All the series shown contain some information on individuals.
Try searching the catalogue using the medal name (or abbreviation) and/or the recipient's name (written as 'Albert medal AND Smith' or 'Edward medal AND Thomas Brown' for example), but if this isn't successful, use the table below to identify specific record series to browse or search within.
The London Gazette is available online via The Gazette website.
Search for Colonial and Dominion Gazettes using the tips in our research guide on newspapers.
|Type of medal||Series references||Gazette entry|
|African Police Medal||CO 523||Colonial Gazettes|
|Albert Medal||BT 97; MT 9 code 6; ADM 171; HO 45; WO 327; BT 261; HO 144|
|British Empire Medal||ADM 1 code 85; ADM 116 code 85; AIR 2 code 30; MT 9 code 6; ADM 171; HO 250; WO 373||London Gazette|
|Colonial Police Medal||London and Colonial Gazettes|
|Constabulary Medal||HO 184; HO 45|
|Edward Medal||HO 45; CO 523; HO 178||London Gazette|
|Empire Gallantry Medal||ADM 1 code 85; ADM 116 code 85; AIR 2 code 30; MT 9 code 6; ADM 171; HO 250||London Gazette|
|George Cross||AIR 2 code 30; PREM 2; MT 9 code 6; WO 32 code 50AP; WO 330; HO 250||London Gazette|
|George Medal||AIR 2 code 30; PREM 2; MT 9 code 6; Admiralty ADM 1 code 85; WO 330; HO 250||London Gazette|
|King's Medal for Service in the Cause of Freedom||Eden's circular despatch T3530/206/372 of 17 March 1945, called for recommendations for the award of British honours to foreigners for war service. Brief citations are in T 339|
|King's Police and Fire Services Medal, & King's and Queen's Police Medal||MEPO 2; MEPO 7; CO 523; HO 45; HO 178||Colonial & Dominian Gazettes|
|New Zealand Cross||CO 212||New Zealand Gazette|
|Queen's Fire Service Medal||London Gazette|
|Queen's Gallantry Medal||London Gazette|
|Sea Gallantry Medal||MT 9 code 6; Parliamentary papers; BT 261||London Gazette|
9. Further reading
Some or all of the recommended publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives' Bookshop. Alternatively, search The National Archives' Library to see what is available to consult at Kew.
- William Spencer, Medals: the researcher's guide (The National Archives, 2006)
- Seedie's list of awards to the Merchant Navy for World War II (Tisbury: Ripleys Registers, 1997)
- Seedie's roll of naval honours and awards, 1939-1959 (Tisbury: Ripleys Registers, 1999)
- Peter J Farmery, Police gallantry: The King's Police Medal, the King's Police and Fire Service Medal and the Queen's Police Medal for Gallantry, 1908-1978 (New South Wales, 1995)