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"Thin Red Line of 'eroes..."

British Military Decorations in the Victorian Age

by John Gannon

The rule of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) encompassed the period where Great Britain rose in the Post-Napoleonic world from being merely another European Power to being the first true political and military Superpower since the Roman Empire. The Victorian Age was marked by British expansion and domination around the globe, and in the realm of Victorian Science Fiction, off the globe as well. The primary instrument of British Foreign policy at this time was her military, both army and navy. The most common reward for military men was the award of medals, decorations, and orders that acknowledged both their personal courage and their areas of service. For Victorian-era game characters with military careers or backgrounds, a listing of medals and decorations that their characters may have accumulated becomes a wonderful aid in helping to establish that particular characters history and personality traits (perhaps the character picked up malaria while in Burma, or became a student or follower of Islam while serving in the Sudan...)

Attempting to list the entire range of medals and decorations awarded during Victoria's reign (a period of some 64 years -- longer than the life spans of many characters) would make this a long, scholarly document rather than a reasonably sized article. Therefore, I have chosen to concentrate on the period 1860-1890 as the majority of Victorian Age Science Fiction falls within this time frame. The lists below describe the medals, decorations, and awards historically available during this period. I have also included some examples of fictional awards, using the Space: 1889 game setting as a background. Naturally, awards can be created or discarded, depending upon the circumstances of each particular campaign or game setting.

The Medals are broken down by categories -- Gallantry, Campaign, and Service Medals. Fictitious Awards that I have created are noted by the use of Italics, while Campaign Medals relevant to the period of 1860-1890 are indicated in Bold. Campaign Medals listed in normal text would be found on the uniforms of anyone with 30+ years service as of 1889, or will be issued on the dates indicated for those dated after 1889. The dates for the medals are listed in British style (Date: Month: Year). As a final note, all medals are listed in their order of precedence.

Gallantry Awards

Victoria Cross. Established by Queen Victoria 29.1.1856. (VC)
The Victoria Cross is the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. . As stated in the Royal Warrant, "It is ordained that the Cross shall only be awarded 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." Note that during the Victorian Era, there are two different ribbons for the VC, Crimson for the Army and Blue for the Navy.

Meritorious Service Medal. Established by Queen Victoria 1845 (MSM)
Known for many years as "The Sergeant's Medal", it was originally awarded with an annuity, though such practice ceased around 1854. After 1854 the award was available to officers and non-officers for "exceptional, outstanding service, not in a time of war."

Distinguished Conduct Medal. Established by Queen Victoria 4.12.1854. (DCM)
The DCM was awarded to Enlisted Ranks, 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 Enlisted Ranks and was also available to navy personnel for distinguished conduct in the field.

Distinguished Service Order. Established by Queen Victoria 6.9.1886. (DSO)
The order was established for rewarding individual instances of meritorious or distinguished service in war. This is a military order for officers only.

Conspicuous Gallantry Medal. Established by Queen Victoria 1855/1874 (CGM)
Originally awarded in 1855 to Naval ratings in the Eastern Campaign. It lapsed until re-instituted in 1874 for all naval personnel for gallantry in operaitons against the enemy.

Aerial Service Cross. Established by Queen Victoria 3.6.1878 (ASC)
The cross is awarded to officers and enlisted men for acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty performed whilst flying in active operations. Each bar is engraved with the name of the particular action, or duty vessel at the time of award. The date of the award is engraved on the reverse of the bar.

Campaign Medals

Canadahar 1842 (Awarded for the First Afghan War)
Cabul 1842 (Awarded for the First Afghan War)
Ghuzness,Cabul 1842 (Awarded for the First Afghan War)
Candahar, Ghuznee, Cabul 1842 (Awarded for the First Afghan War)
Jellalabad 1842 (Awarded for the First Afghan War)
Defence of Kelat-I-Ghilize 1842 (Awarded for the First Afghan War)

China 1842

Meeanee 1843
Hyderabad 1843
Meeanee-Hyderabad 1843

Punniar Star 1843 (Awarded for the Gwalior Campaign)
Maharajpoor Star 1843 (Awarded for the Gwalior Campaign)

Sutlej 1845-46.
Moodkee 1845
Ferozeshuhur 1845
Aliwal 1846
Sobraon 1846

New Zealand 1845-47

Punjab 1848-49.

South Africa 1834-35/1846-47/1850-53 (Awarded for the Kaffir Wars)
Identical Medal issued for each campaign with a different date bar.

Baltic 1854-55. (Awarded to RN & RM Service in the Baltic during the Crimean War)

Crimean War Medal 1854-56. (Awarded for the Crimean War)
Bars:    Alma
Azoff (Awarded to navy personnel for operations in the Sea of Azoff in 1885)

Turkish Crimea Medal (Presented by Turkish government to British, French, and Sardinian
soldiers who fought in the Crimean War. Ranks In Precedence after the LSGC Medal)

India General Service Medal (IGS) 1854.(Issued for the period 1849-1895, a total of 23 bars
were awarded for campaigns that stretched over a 41 year period. I have listed 16 of the bars below that occur up to 1890.)
Bars:    Pegu 1852-53 (Awarded for the Burmese War of 1852-53)
Persia 1856-57
North West Frontier 1849-68
Umbeyla 1863
Bhootan 1864-66
Looshai 1871-72
Perak 1875-76
Jowaki 1877-78
Naga 1879-80
Burma 1885-7
Sikkim 1888 (Awarded for the Skikkim Expedition)
Hazara 1888
Burma 1887-89 (Awarded for the Third Burma War)
Chin-Lushai 1889-90
Burma 1889-92
Lushai 1889-92

Indian Mutiny 1857-58.
Delhi (May-Sept 1857)
Defence of Lucknow (June-Sept 1857)
Relief of Lucknow (Nov 1857)
Lucknow (Nov 1857-Mar 1858)
Central India (Jan - June 1858)

China 1857-60 (Awarded for the Third China War)
Fatshan 1857
Canton 1857
Taku Forts 1858
Taku Forts 1860
Pekin 1860

New Zealand. 1861-66 (Awarded for the Maori War)
Identical to the New Zealand 1845-47 Medal, excpet for the change of dates.

Canada General Service 1866-70
Fenian Raid 1866
Fenian Raid 1870
Red River 1870

Abyssinia 1867-70 (Awarded for The Abyssinian War)

Ashantee 1873-74 (Awarded for the Second Ashanti War)

South Africa 1877-79
6 Bars:
1879 (Awarded for the Zulu War of 1879)

Aerial General Service Medal (Awarded for participation in Aerial Vessel Operations)
Parhoon 1878 (Awarded for First War of Parhoon Succession)

Shastapsh 1884 (Awarded for "Punishment" of Shastapsh)
Sudan 1884-85 (Awarded for the Sudan Campaign)
Mylarkt 1886 (Awarded for enouncter with SMLS HAMBURG)
Fenian Ram 1887 (Awarded for encounter with FENIAN RAM)
Barrovaar 1888 (Awarded to RN & RM personnel for the Kraag Raid)
Oenotria 1889 (Awarded for the Oenotrian War)

Afghanistan 1878-80 (Awarded for the Second Afghan War)
6 Bars:
Ali Musjid
Peiwar Kotal
Ahmed Khel

Kabul to Kandahar Star (Awarded for the Second Afghan War, but only to troops who participated in the 318 mile forced march from Kabul to Kandahar.)

Mars General Service Medal 1878 (Awarded for service on Mars from 1872)
Gorovaan 1878 (Awarded for First War of Parhoon Succession)

Parhoon 1880 (Awarded for Second War of Parhoon Succession)
Shastapsh 1887 (Awarded for the Shastapsh Expedition)

Cape of Good Hope General Service 1880-97
Transkei (Sep 1880-May 1881)
Basutoland (Sep 1880-April 1881)
Bechuanaland (Dec 1886-July 1897)

Venus General Service Medal (Awarded for Service on Venus from 1880)

Egypt 1882-89
13 Bars:
Alexandria (11 Jul 1882)
Tel-el-Kebir (13 Sep 1882)
El-Teb (29 Feb 1884) (Awarded for the Sudan 1884-85)
Tamaii (13 Mar 1884) (Awarded for the Sudan 1884-85)
El-Teb-Tamaii (Awarded for the Sudan 1884-85)
Suakin 1884 (Awarded for the Sudan 1884-85)
The Nile (1884-85) (Awarded for the Sudan 1884-85)
Abu-Klea (17 Jan 1885) (Awarded for the Sudan 1884-85)
Kirbekan (10 Feb 1885) (Awarded for the Sudan 1884-85)
Suakin 1885 (Awarded for the Sudan 1884-85)
Tofrek (22 Mar 1885)
Gemaizah (20 Dec 1888)
Toski (3 Dec 1889)

Khedives Bronze Star 1882/1884/1884-6. (Awarded for the Sudan Campaign)
Three different issues of this medal, each issue with one of the above dates inscribed upon it.

Northwest Canada 1885. (Awarded for the Northwest Rebellion)
Fish Creek

East & West Africa Medal 1887-1900
While a total of 21 bars will be issued for this medal, for the purposes of this article, only two fall
within the period of this article and will be listed.
Witu 1890

Oenotria War Medal 1889

Service Decorations

Queen's Jubilee 1887 (Worn after the Gallantry Awards and before the Campagin Medals)

Long Service Good Conduct (LSGC) Awarded for 20+ years service in the British Army. Ranks in precedence before the RN LSGC Medal by order of Queen Victoria.

Royal Navy (RN LSGC) Awarded for 20+ years service in the Royal Navy

Awarding Medals

How to award medals and decorations to players and important NPCs? Drawing on the Space: 1889 system as a guideline, it shows that the award of the military honour "Mentioned In Dispatches" would garner One Renown Point. The award of the Distinguished Service Order or Distinguished Conduct Medal would garner two Renown Points, and the Victoria Cross would be worth four Renown Points. I would include here that the Meritorious Service Medal would be worth three Renown Points, while the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal and the Aerial Service Cross would garner two Renown Points.

Campaign Medals can simply be assigned to a character based upon their length of military service and which unit or branch of the military they chose to serve in. Characters with long service in India might have only the India General Service Medal, but with multiple bars, while another soldier would have three or four different medals, but each medal would have no bars, or perhaps only one bar each.

Generating awards should be based upon the needs of the campagin itself. While most of the existing historical gallantry awards are usually more than sufficient to handle the actions of player characters, special awards, campaign medals and what not, can and should be tailored to meet the specific needs of each game setting.

However they end up distributed, the use of medals and decorations by your military originated characters will help to define and detail each particular one, be they a private or a general, soldier or sailor.

Posted Monday, 04-May-2009 19:52:45 EDT

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