Medals and Decorations
Medals and decorations provided soldiers with recognition of their length or type of service and were awarded for bravery or meritorious service. The awarding of medals and decorations could be a positive reinforcement to others in their unit or branch of service, but most felt they were doing their duty and did not serve to receive medals.
Campaign Stars and Medals
Medals could be given for both service and bravery, but the most common were the service medals, such as the British War Medal 1914-1920 and the Victory Medal 1914-1919. The vast majority of Canadian Expeditionary Force members received these two medals. Far fewer qualified for the 1914-1915 Star and even fewer for the 1914 Star.
Most medals have the regimental or equivalent number; rank, initials, surname and unit of the recipient appear in plain block capitals around the edge of the medal.
The 1914 star was awarded to all officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the British and Indian Expeditionary Forces, (including civilian medical practitioners, nursing sisters, nurses and others who were employed with military hospitals), serving in France or Belgium on the establishment of the British Expeditionary Forces between August 5, 1914 and midnight of November 22/23, 1914. The medal was not issued for service afloat. It is often called the ‘MONS STAR’.
The bar was awarded to those who served under fire or were present on duty within range of the enemy mobile artillery in France or Belgium between August 5 to November 22, 1914 and on the strength of units and formations contained in the official lists.
There were 160 awarded to 2nd Canadian Stationary Hospital members who served with the British Expeditionary Force beginning November 6, 1914. A few Canadians who were attached to British Units also received the medal.
The 1914-1915 star was awarded to all who saw service in any theatre of war against the central powers between August 5, 1914 and December 31, 1915 except those eligible for the 1914 Star. Canada considered ‘overseas’ to be service beyond the three mile limit and hence many Royal Canadian Navy small ships were entitled to this star.
There were 71,150 issued to Canadians.
British War Medal
The British War medal was awarded to all ranks of Canadian overseas military forces who came from Canada between August 5, 1914 and November 11, 1918, or who had served in a theatre of war. Those who had enlisted in the Overseas Military Forces of Canada in the United Kingdom and had not served in a theatre of war were not entitled to this medal.
The requirements for Royal Air Force personnel were the same as for the army. Naval personnel were required to have 28 days of mobilized service or to have lost their lives before this period of service was complete. Seamen of the Canadian Merchant Marine who served at sea not less than six months, and crews of Dominion Government Ships and the Canadian Mercantile Marine were also eligible. There were 427,993 issued to Canadians in the CEF.
The Victory medal was awarded to all ranks of the fighting forces, to civilians under contract, and others employed with military hospitals who actually served on the establishment of a unit in a theatre of war between August 5, 1914 and November 11, 1918 (inclusive). It was also awarded to members of the British Naval mission to Russia 1919 – 1920 and for mine clearance in the North Sea between November 11, 1918 and November 30, 1919. This medal was never issued alone and was always issued with the British War Medal.
Only the Mentioned-in-Despatches multiple-leaved emblem is worn on this medal when it was awarded for WWI. There were 351,289 medals awarded to the CEF.
Orders and Decorations
Decorations and select medals honoured soldiers for bravery on the battlefield or for distinguished service. The British Empire’s highest award for bravery was the Victoria Cross, instituted in 1856. Seventy Canadians were awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War, many of them posthumously. Other decorations and medals awarded during the war included the Distinguished Service Order, the Military Cross, the Distinguished Conduct Medal, and the Military Medal. The first two were reserved for officers, with some Warrant Officers receiving the Military Cross, and the latter two were reserved solely for non-commissioned officers and other ranks. In the case of all of these medals, a second award was recognized by the addition of a bar, worn on the ribbon.
As the war progressed, and the armies expanded rapidly, new medals were struck and they were issued more frequently. Some soldiers felt this diluted the distinguished effort required to be recognized with a decoration, but these decorations were still incredibly rare and most often awarded for heroic deeds of valour and sacrifice.
Distinguished Service Order
The Distinguished Service Order was established for rewarding individual instances of meritorious or distinguished service in war. This is a military order for officers only, and while normally given for service under fire or under conditions equivalent to service in actual combat with the enemy, it was awarded between 1914 and 1916 under circumstances which could not be regarded as under fire.
After January 1, 1917, commanders in the field were instructed to recommend this award only for those serving under fire. Prior to 1943, the order could be given only to someone Mentioned-in-Dispatches. The order is generally given to officers in command, above the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and awards to ranks below this are usually for a high degree of gallantry just short of deserving the Victoria Cross.
The Military Cross can be awarded to commissioned officers of the substantive rank of Captain or below (therefore acting and temporary Majors were eligible) or Warrant Officers for distinguished and meritorious services in battle.
The reverse is plain with the year of the award engraved on the lower arm.
Distinguished Conduct Medal
The DCM was awarded to Warrant Officers, non-commissioned officers, and men, serving in any of the sovereign’s military forces, for distinguished conduct in the field. It was thus the second highest award for gallantry in action (after the Victoria Cross) for all army ranks below commissioned officers and was available to navy and air force personnel also for distinguished conduct in the field.
A silver, laurelled bar was awarded for a subsequent act or acts of distinguished conduct in the field.
The medal is awarded to Warrant Officers, non-commissioned officers and men for individual or associated acts of bravery on the recommendation of a Commander-in-Chief in the field.
The reverse shows FOR BRAVERY IN THE FIELD in four lines, encircled by a laurel wreath and surmounted by the Royal Cypher and Imperial Crown.
The silver, laurelled bar is awarded for a subsequent act or acts of bravery and devotion under fire.
For most conspicuous bravery or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.
A bar is awarded for additional acts of bravery. Only 3 have been awarded, none to a Canadian.
The Memorial Cross (more often referred to as the Silver Cross) was first instituted by Order-in-Council 2374, dated December 1, 1919. It was awarded to mothers and widows (next of kin) of Canadian soldiers who died on active duty or whose death was consequently attributed to such duty.
The crosses were sent automatically to mothers and wives who qualified, and could be worn by the recipients anytime, even though they were not themselves veterans. The cross was engraved with the name, rank and service number of the son or husband.
*Pictures and information provided by Veterans Affairs Canada.