How to research an award of the Military Medal (MM)

What was the Military Medal?

The Military Medal was introduced by a Royal Warrant dated 25 March 1916 which was published in the London Gazette of 5 April 1916. The text of the Warrant reads,

War Office,

5th April, 1916.

ROYAL WARRANT INSTITUTING A NEW MEDAL ENTITLED “THE MILITARY MEDAL.”

GEORGE THE FIFTH, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India, To all to whom these Presents shall come Greeting:

WHEREAS We are desirous of signifying Our appreciation of acts of gallantry and devotion to duty performed by non-commissioned officers and men of Our Army in the Field We do by these Presents for Us Our heirs and successors institute and create a silver medal to be awarded to non-commissioned officers and men for individual or associated acts of bravery on the recommendation of a Commander-in-Chief in the Field:

  • Firstly.—It is ordained that the medal shall be designated ” The Military Medal.”
  • Secondly.—It is ordained that the Military Medal shall bear on the obverse the Royal Effigy, and on the reverse the words ” For bravery in the Field,” encircled by a wreath surmounted by the Royal Cipher and a Crown.
  • Thirdly.—It is ordained that the names of those upon whom We may be pleased to confer the Military Medal shall be published in the London Gazette, and that a Register thereof shall be kept in the Office of Our Principal Secretary of State for War.
  • Fourthly.—It is ordained that the Military Medal shall be worn immediately before all war medals and shall be worn on the left breast pendent from a ribbon of one inch and one quarter in width, which shall be in colour dark blue having in the centre three white and two crimson stripes alternating.
  • Lastly.—It is ordained that in cases where non-commissioned officers and men who have been awarded the Military Medal shall be recommended by a Commander-in-Chief in the Field for further acts of bravery, a Bar may be added to the medal already conferred.
The reverse face the King George V MM. With thanks to Jim Grundy for the use of this image.

The reverse face the King George V MM. With thanks to Jim Grundy for the use of this image.

The MM was only for non-commissioned officers and men, and was “junior” to the Distinguished Conduct Medal. More than 115,000 MMs were awarded during the Great War. Over 5,700 Bars were awarded: there is just one instance of a man who carried out four acts of recognised bravery and was awarded the MM and three Bars.

No complete original index or register of those who were mentioned exists in the public domain, although the National Archives has a partial index. All awards are listed in the London Gazette.

Signs that a soldier had been awarded the MM

The “MM” often appears on a man’s campaign medal index card but his is not true in every case.

mm_mic_with

Here is an example of a campaign medal index card where the award of the MM is mentioned. There appears to be a tendency for this detail to have been added to cards of men who qualified for the campaign medals known as the 1914 or 1914-15 Star.

mm_mic_without

No MM is shown on this campaign medal index card, yet John Turnbull Ritchie was awarded the MM. Note that he did not qualify for the 1914 or 1914-15 Star. In other words, absence of the “MM” notation from the index card (or the original roll to which it refers) is not a good guide to whether the man was awarded the MM.

The National Archives microfilmed set of index cards to MMs listed in the London Gazette is incomplete: if a soldier is listed then he did get the MM, but of he is not included it does not mean that he did not.

mm_tna_index

This is John Turnbull Ritchie’s index card, confirming the award and telling us which edition of the London Gazette listed him as a recipient.

Another way is from medals or photographs of the man in uniform: look out for the riband of the MM on the left side of his chest. The three white vertical stripes on the riband usually show up well in black and white images, while the red and blue stripes often appear as grey or black.

Records and evidence of the MM

The London Gazette

The award of the MM appeared in the London Gazette, which is now online and searchable.

In most cases only the men’s name, rank, number, regiment/unit and place of enlistment or residence appears.

mm_lg

A typical London Gazette listing of MM awards.

Throughout the war the listing in the London Gazette was around three months after the act of bravery had been carried out. This good rule of thumb however breaks down during the great Allied offensive of the summer and autumn of 1918, with many MMs for this period not being listed until well into 1919 – as in the above example.

Newspapers

Many national, regional and local newspapers reproduced the details that had appeared in the “London Gazette”. In some cases they had also received information (notably from the soldier or his family) about why he had been selected for the MM.

Citation

The MM is however not at all easy to research in terms of finding out why it was awarded in any given instance.

Citations were produced and issued to the recipients. A good example is shown below: with thanks to Alan Fisher, who placed a copy of his grandfather’s citation in the Europeana project:

Thomas Clarkson – Bravery In The Trenches, 1916

The trouble is, the citations are hard to find. Operational records are in most cases the only hope.

Operational records

The award of MMs often appear in the operational records (war diaries) of the man’s unit. Unfortunately they rarely add detail. It is also worth checking the diaries of the Adjutants of the Division and Corps under whose command the unit came, for they often include lists of such awards. Check back over the six months before the date of the listing in the London Gazette; longer if the listing was made in 1919.

mm_adj

An extract from the war diary of the Adjutant of the 2nd Division (National Archives, WO95/1311, Crown Copyright). This list is dated 2 November 1918 – but the awards only appeared in the London Gazette in mid-1919. It does at least give an indication of when the act of bravery might have been carried out, for these were “immediate” awards and approved very quickly after recommendation.

National Archives index

A card index system exists, which gives the London Gazette date and page number for each mention. It is, sadly, only partial and many men are not included. The index cards were microfiched at the Archives some years ago. Digitised versions can be found at TheGenealogist and occasionally within the campaign medal index cards at Ancestry.

Links

The British gallantry and bravery awards of the First World War

Campaign medal records

The London Gazette

Reference books

.

My review of “For bravery in the field”