What was a “mention”?
The “mention in despatches” is the most junior form of recognition that was announced in the London Gazette.
The Commanders-in-Chief of each theatre of war infrequently submitted a despatch to the War Office, outlining the events since the previous despatch and listing those men who had been nominated as worthy of a mention.
Originally there was no award as such, the literal mention of the individual in the despatch being deemed sufficient. However, it was decided during the Great War that an oak leaf emblem could be worn with the ribbon of the Victory Medal, denoting the mention.
The mentioned man also received a certificate carrying his service details and a reference to the despatch in which he was mentioned. No complete index or register of those who were mentioned exists, although the National Archives has a partial list. All are listed in the London Gazette. The mention did not entitle the man to use the letters MID after his name for official purposes, although this form is seen from time to time.
Signs that a soldier had been mentioned
The “mention” often appears on a man’s campaign medal index card but is rather disguised.
Look out for a code (now largely meaningless) that includes “Emblems”, “Emb” or “Em”
Not all “mentions” appear in this way in the medal index cards or rolls.
Another way is from medals or photographs of them. If they show a bronze oak leaf affixed to the ribbon of the Victory Medal, then the man had been mentioned in despatches.
Records and evidence of a mention
The London Gazette
The “mention” appeared in the London Gazette, which is now online and searchable.
In most cases only the men’s name, rank, number and regiment/unit appears. That was the mention.
The list was preceded by a statement that tells us which field commander’s despatch had included the man for a mention. In the vast majority of cases the man is not named within the text of the despatch, although senior officers are sometimes included.
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 a mention.
The soldier was issued with a certificate.
“Mentions” sometimes 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 Adjutant of the Division 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 despatch.
National Archives index to “mentions”
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.