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Canadian Orders, Awards, Decorations and Medals

During the Great War medals and decorations provided soldiers with recognition for their service, bravery and merit. The awarding of medals and decorations served as positive reinforcement for those who were suffering the tragedies of war. For most soldiers, however, service was about duty, not commendation.

Medals were given for both service and bravery. The most common were service medals, such as the British War Medal 1914-1920 and the Victory Medal 1914-1919 with the vast majority of C.E.F. members receiving both. Decorations and select commendations honoured soldier for acts of bravery on the battlefield or for distinguished service.

There were also distinct decorations for both naval, airforce and nursing personnel, such as the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Royal Red Cross respectively.

As the war continued, new medals were struck and commendations were issued more frequently. Some soldiers felt this diluted the recognition of effort required to be recognized with a decoration, however decorations such as the Victoria Cross remained exceedingly rare, awarded only for the most distinguished acts of heroism, valour and sacrifice.

This page is part of an ongoing project to include descriptions of Awards and Decorations issued to Canadian soldiers during the Great War and is currently in the process of being developed.

For more information regarding Canadian Orders, Awards, Decorations and Medals please follow the links provided to the Library and Archives Canada medal and citation registry database and Veteran Affairs Canada's medal and decoration index.

Albert Medal (A.M.)

Nicknamed the "civilian VC" in recognition of the general esteem held towards this medal, the Albert Medal was a British medal awarded to recognize the saving of a life. The risk of the recipient's death had to be greater than his chances of survival, and for the gold award the risk had to be exceptional. This medal was replaced with the George Cross in 1949.

There was only one Albert Medal issued to a Canadian soldier during the Great War.

Air Force Cross (A.F.C.)

Awarded to an officer or Warrant Officer for an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying, but not while in active operations against an enemy.

There were a total of 70 Air Force Crosses awarded to Canadian airmen during the Great War.

Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB)

The Order of the Bath was founded in 1725. The Most Honourable And Ancient Order Of The Bath was presented for service of the highest calibre. The order has a civil and a military division with three levels in each division: Knight Grand Cross (GCB); Knight Commander (KCB); and Companion (CB). The first two levels confer knighthood, and since 1935, have not been available to anyone with Canadian Citizenship. The Companion level was presented to members of the armed forces for their service in the Second World War and one was presented to a Canadian soldier who fought in Korea.

There have been a total of 166 Companion of the Order of the Bath's issued to Canadians; 22 civil and 144 military.

Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George

Membership of the Order of St Michael and St George, was instituted in 1818 and is conferred on subjects of the Crown of the United Kingdom who may hold, or have held high and confidential offices. It was awarded to servicemen who rendered extraordinary or important non-military service in a foreign country, and was also given for important or loyal service in relation to foreign and Commonwealth affairs.

Croix de Guerre (Belgium)

The Belgian Croix de Guerre (or War Cross) was instituted on 25 October 1915 as a means of formally recognizing acts of heroism performed by individuals belonging to the Allied powers during the First World War. The medal could only be earned by foreign nationals for acts of heroism conducted while on Belgian soil. The medal was awarded by differing levels of command; depending upon the awarding command level the appurtenance worn on the ribbon differed. A bronze palm indicated that the medal was awarded by the army; the presence of a bronze lion that the medal was awarded by a regiment; and a gold lion denoted that the medal was issued by land forces.

The medal was also awarded to recognize a period amounting to three years of front-line service in Belgium, which included volunteers above the age of 40 with at least 18 months service in a combat unit.

Croix de Guerre (France)

The French Croix de Guerre was instituted on 8 April 1915 by the French Government to recognize acts of bravery in the face of the enemy mentioned specifically in despatches.

Open to soldiers, sailors and airmen of all ranks, and of any Allied army, a number of varying Croix de Guerre were awarded depending on the source of commendation: bronze medals were awarded by the army; silver medals and stars were awarded by divisions; silver-gilt medals were awarded by corps; and bronze stars were awarded by a regiments or brigades.

Further acts of bravery resulted in the the award of additional insignia to be worn on the ribbon of the medal. Recipients of five bronze insignia were automatically entitled to a silver medal.

Recipients of the Legion d'Honneur and Medaille Militaire were automatically eligible to receive the Croix de Guerre. Foreign nationals were similarly eligible to receive the Croix de Guerre, as were individual units.

Distinguished Conduct Medal (D.C.M.)

The Distinguished Conduct Medal was awarded to Warrant Officers, non-commissioned officers (NCOs), and men, serving in any of the English sovereign's military forces for distinguished conduct in the field. The Distinguished Conduct Medal was created on December 4, 1854 for service in the Crimean War. It is the second highest award for gallantry in action after the Victoria Cross for all military ranks below commissioned officers.

A silver bar with laurels on it is awarded for a subsequent act or acts of distinguished conduct in the field. The current reigning monarch appears on the medal.

A total of 2,132 awards of the DCM have been made to Canadian Army and RCAF personnel, plus 38 first bars and 1 second bar.

Distinguished Flying Cross (D.F.C.)

This silver cross is awarded to officers and Warrant Officers for an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty performed whilst flying in active operations against the enemy. A straight silver bar with an eagle in the centre is awarded for further acts. The award was established on the birthday of King George V, June 3, 1918.

Canadians were awarded a total of 4,460 single medals, 256 first bars and 6 second bars.

Distinguished Flying Medal (D.F.M.)

This medal is awarded to non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and men for an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty performed whilst flying in active operations against the enemy. The Distinguished Flying Medal was created on June 3, 1918.

A total of 556 DFMs were awarded to Canadians for their service in the Great War, although not all of them were in RCAF squadrons.

Distinguished Service Cross (D.S.C.)

Originally named the Conspicuous Service Cross until October 1914, the Distinguished Service Cross was awarded to naval personnel, from Warrant Officer to Lieutenant, for the performance of meritorious or distinguished services before the enemy.

Member of the Royal Victorian Order (M.V.O.)

This Order is bestowed as the personal gift of the reigning monarch for service to the crown. Established by Queen Victoria on April 21, 1896, the Royal Victorian Order rewards extraordinary, important or personal services performed for the Sovereign or the Royal Family. It is administered by the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood at St. James's Palace in London, England. In Canada, the three lower levels of the Order (Commander, Lieutenant and Member) are part of the Canadian Honours System and information is available at the Chancellery of Honours at Rideau Hall. For more information, please see here.

Mentioned in Dispatches

Mentioned in Dispatches (MID) is a military award for gallantry or otherwise commendable service. The award is relatively common, does not confer a medal and is relatively low in the order of precedence.

British Meritorious Service Medal

The medal was awarded to Warrant Officers and senior NCOs (Sergeant or above), who were discharged after 21 years service (18 if disabled), and had earned the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.

There were 275 medals issued to Canadians for service and 1430 for gallantry.

Military Cross (M.C.)

The Military Cross is awarded to commissioned officers of the substantive rank of Captain or below or Warrant Officers for distinguished and meritorious services in battle. The MC was established in December, 1915. In 1920, the terms were altered to clearly state the award was for gallant and distinguished services in action and that naval and air force officers could be awarded the cross for gallant and distinguished services on the ground.

Canadians have been awarded a total of 3,727 MCs, with 324 first bars and 18 second bars.

Military Medal (M.M.)

King George V instituted the Military Medal in 1916 to meet the demand for medals generated by the Great War. It was 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. A silver, laureled bar is awarded for a subsequent act or acts of bravery and devotion under fire.

Canadians have received 13,654 Military Medals, plus 848 first bars and 38 second bars

Royal Red Cross Class 2

The award is made to a fully trained nurse or assistant nurse, probationer, or V.A.D. nursing member, who, belonging to one of the officially recognized nursing services, has shown special devotion and competency in the performance of nursing duties, over a continuous and long period, or who has performed some very exceptional act of bravery and devotion at her post of duty. Up to five percent of the total establishment of nurses could receive the ARRC. Associates may be elevated to Member as vacancies arise.

There were 446 Royal Red Cross Class 2 medals issued to Canadian nurses.

Victoria Cross (V.C.)

The Victoria Cross is the highest award for valour that a Canadian soldier can receive. It is issued "For most conspicuous bravery or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice in the presence of the enemy". The Victoria Cross has been awarded to 94 Canadians, 70 of which were for service during the Great War.

The Victoria Cross was founded by Royal Warrant January 29, 1856 to recognize the bravery of those who were then fighting the Crimean War. It was available to all soldiers and "neither rank, nor long service, nor wounds, nor any other circumstance or condition whatsoever, save the merit of conspicuous bravery" could make one eligible.