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Meritorious Service Medal (United Kingdom)

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The Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) is a silver medal for distinguished service, or for gallantry, principally by non-commissioned officers of all of the British armed forces and of Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service.


The Meritorious Service Medal was instituted on 19 December 1845 for the British Army, to recognise meritorious service by non-commissioned officers. Recipients were also granted an annuity, the amount of which was based on rank.

During 1916–1919, army NCOs could be awarded the medal immediately for meritorious service in the field. They could also be awarded the medal for acts of non-combat gallantry. Awards for gallantry ceased after 7 September 1928, as they were honoured by the Empire Gallantry Medal.

The medal for Royal Marines was instituted in 1849, for gallantry or for distinguished service. As a gallantry medal, it was superseded by the Naval Conspicuous Gallantry Medal. As with the Army, during 1916–1919 NCOs of the Royal Marines could be awarded the medal in the field. Since 1977, the Royal Marines' medal is only awarded for long service and is identical to the Royal Navy's.

The Royal Air Force version of the medal was instituted in 1918, for meritorious service not involving flight. It was superseded in 1928 by the Empire Gallantry Medal. Awards of the medal began again in 1977 using the same criteria as the Army.

The Royal Navy's medal was instituted in 1919, for gallantry not in the face of the enemy and for meritorious service by petty officers and senior naval ratings. As a gallantry award, it was superseded by the Empire Gallantry Medal in 1928, but resumed in 1977. It is now awarded to senior NCOs in the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Women's Royal Naval Service and Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service.

The first woman to be awarded the medal was Warrant Officer Marion Dickson Mackay in 1966.


Following historic variations between the medals awarded in each of the armed forces, including slight differences in design and in the criteria for the award, the same medal is now issued for all of the services. To be awarded the MSM, an individual must have "good, faithful, valuable and meritorious service, with conduct judged to be irreproachable throughout". Other ranks must have at least twenty years service, must already hold Long Service and Good Conduct Medals, and for the Army and the Royal Air Force must have reached the equivalent rank of sergeant. Officers of any service can also be considered for the medal immediately after being commissioned, provided they meet the other criteria, but not later.

The number of MSMs awarded is limited: no more than forty-nine a year may be awarded in the Royal Navy, three in the Royal Marines, eighty-nine in the Army and sixty in the Royal Air Force, and in practice these numbers are not reached.

First World War

During the First World War, as approved by Royal Warrant on 4 October 1916, non-commissioned officers below the rank of Sergeant and men also became eligible for the award of the Meritorious Service Medal, without the annuity, for acts of gallantry in the performance of military duty, not necessarily on active service, or in saving or attempting to save the life of an officer or soldier. For acts of gallantry, however, only the Meritorious Service Medal (United Kingdom) was awarded, irrespective of the recipient's nationality, and not the various versions of Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa. Recipients were entitled to use the post-nominal letters "MSM". A Bar to the medal was instituted by Royal Warrant on 23 November 1916, that could be awarded to holders of the Meritorious Service Medal for subsequent acts of gallantry.


The medal has the sovereign's profile on one side, on the other a small crown and a wreath surrounding the inscription For Meritorious Service. The recipient's name, rank and unit is inscribed on the rim. If a sovereign is shown in naval uniform, then the medal was awarded for service at sea or with a Naval or Royal Marines unit on land. The design varied slightly by monarch, with George V having at least two effigy variations, while George VI had variations in legend.

King Edward VII

An effigy of the King in Field Marshal's uniform, facing left. Legend: EDWARDVS VII REX IMPERATOR

King George V

An effigy of the King in Field Marshal's uniform, facing left. Legend: GEORGIVS V BRITT : OMN : REX ET IND : IMP :

King George V

A crowned coinage effigy, facing left. Legend: GEORGIVS * V * D * G * BRITT * OMN REX * ET * INDIAE * IMP *

King George VI

A bareheaded effigy, facing left. One of two legends: GEORGIVS VI D : G : BR : OMN :REX ET INDIAE IMP: or GEORGIVS VI DEI GRA ; BRITT :OMN : REX FID : DEF :

Queen Elizabeth II

A bareheaded effigy of the Queen, facing right. Legend: ELIZABETH II DEI GRATIA REGINA


The medal's ribbon has had various colours:

  • Army, 1845–1916: crimson
  • Army, 1916–1917: crimson with white edges
  • Army, 1917–: crimson with white edges and a white centre stripe
  • Royal Navy: crimson with white edges and a white centre stripe
  • Royal Marines: dark blue
  • Royal Marines (award in the field, 1916–1919): crimson with white edges and a white centre stripe
  • Royal Air Force, 1918–1928: half blue half crimson with white edges and a white centre stripe
  • Royal Air Force, 1977–: crimson with white edges and a white centre stripe