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King's Commendation for Brave Conduct (1916-1952)

KCB badge

Awarded by United Kingdom and Commonwealth
Type Medal
Eligibility All
Awarded for Gallantry entailing risk to life and meriting national recognition
Status Superseded in February 1952.
Established 1916
First awarded 15 December 1916
Last awarded 12 February 1952
Next (higher) British Empire Medal
Equivalent Mention in Despatches

During World War I it was recognized that there was no suitable award to recognize acts of bravery by civilians such as the seamen of the British Merchant Navy that did not merit a specific gallantry medal, and for acts of gallantry during which the person performing the act lost their life (only the Victoria Cross could be awarded posthumously at that time). The formal introduction of “Commendations” was the solution approved by King George V and was a system re-introduced in 1939 by King George VI when it was referred to as the “King’s Commendation" for brave conduct before being officially titled the "King's Commendation for Brave Conduct". In 1952 the honour was renamed the “Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct” which was itself replaced in 1994 by the Queen's Commendation for Bravery. Unlike many awards for bravery, there is no entitlement to append post-nominal letters after a recipient's name.[1]


British awards are normally instituted by Royal Warrant published in the London Gazette within which are specified the description of the award, persons eligible to receive it, circumstances in which it is to be awarded, and all associated conditions. There are apparently no such terms of reference for the “Kings Commendation”, it was a prompt wartime solution to a problem encountered during World War I. The Commendation (later known as the "King's [or Queen's] Commendation for Brave Conduct") exists to officially acknowledge worthy acts by civilians and members of the military in non-warlike circumstances during a time of war, or in peacetime where the action could not otherwise be recognised by an existing award. As a Commendation could be made posthumously it was a versatile solution to enable official recognition of bravery in all circumstances. Awards were formally published in the London Gazette and a personal certificate presented.[2]


Certificate of a Kings Commendation awarded posthumously to a merchant seaman.

  • Between 1916 and 1943 there was no physical award other than a card certificate presented to the recipient. An example of a World War II "King's Commendation" certificate (left) gives the details of the recipient and the date of the London Gazette announcement.[3]
  • From 1943 a small red cardboard box was presented usually containing two gold and red coloured plastic pin-backed badges bearing the design of a sword in a wreath, surmounted by a crown. Boxes containing a single badge are known. The badge was 38mm long by 20mm wide and was designed by George Kruger Gray, CBE.[4]

    Laurel leaf on ribbon of Defence Medal

Oakleaf on ribbon of War Medal 1939-1945

Civil Insignia (left) and Military (right) the leaves being attached to the ribbon of the Defence Medal or War Medal if held by the recipient or directly to tunic or jacket if no medals had been awarded.

  • The insignia can be found in several variations and were worn as shown here (right) on the appropriate medal ribbons.
  • Some recipients received multiple "King's Commendations", for example Captain E.G.B. Martin, O.B.E.[6] of the Merchant Navy who received the award three times, on 23 October 1942,[7] 27 August 1943,[8] and finally Posthumously on 22 June 1945,[9] in addition to an Order of the British Empire (Officer) Civil Division on 2 June 1944.[10]

Evolution of the award

  • During World War I the “Commendation” was the primary reward for gallantry by merchant seamen of the British “Mercantile Marine” (later known as the British Merchant Navy) and it was apparently uniquely awarded to the officers and men of the “Mercantile Marine”.
  • The first list of awards was published in the London Gazette on 22 December 1916, where it stated that the King had (quote) “received an expression of Commendation for their services”. The list of officers and men appeared under a header “To be Commended for good service”. The merchant seamen had recently been in action with u-boats or mines.[11]
  • The first posthumous award appeared in a list of “Commendations” announced in the London Gazette on 15 May 1917,[12] it was to Captain Peter MacLachlan of the steamship “Bellorado” who had been killed in a gun battle with a u-boat UC-22 on 27–28 February 1917.[13]
  • The last “Commendation” awarded for service in World War I was announced in the London Gazette on 10 July 1919 to Able Seaman James Anderson of the steamship “Petunia” which had been torpedoed and sunk.[14]
  • The practice of awarding “Commendations” fell into disuse after this award and it was not until the outbreak of World War II that it was reinstated by King George VI when it became widely known as a “King’s Commendation” but did not actually have that title in the London Gazette until the war had ended.
  • The first awards for World War II were announced in the London Gazette on 15 December 1939,[15] where the names of officers and men of the Merchant Navy ships “Mopan”, “Lochgoil” and “Goodwood” were published following “an expression of commendation of their good services” in action with u-boats and mines.
  • Multiple civilian awards appeared in the London Gazette on 30 September 1940 alongside awards of the recently instituted George Medal, the majority were firefighters,[16] and many more followed in the lists of “Commendations” on 4 October 1940 where the first awards to female recipients appeared, .[17] they were Miss Elizabeth Connie Lyle an Air Raid Warden of Newhaven Edinburgh and Miss Violet Morgan a Nurse from Weymouth.
  • The first Posthumous awards appeared amongst the “Commendations” in the London Gazette on 8 October 1940 when three British Merchant Navy seamen killed when the ocean liner Lancastria was bombed during the Dunkirk evacuation operations in June 1940 were listed, Richard Garonwy Roberts, John Hill and James Duncan.[18]
  • The last awards of “King’s Commendations for Brave Conduct” appeared in the London Gazette on 12 February 1952,[19] just six days after King George VI had died. The next award announced in the London Gazette, on 14 March 1952,[20] had the title amended to the "Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct".


During World War II the scope of the “Commendation” system was stretched far beyond the original concept as it became a reward for gallantry both in the face of the enemy, away from the front and in non-warlike circumstances. In many cases the award became a “lower level” George Cross (previously the Albert Medal and Edward Medal) as the George Medal and British Empire Medal could not then be awarded posthumously and no other award existed.

  • In World War I about 420 “Commendations” were awarded, some posthumously, apparently all to men of the British “Mercantile Marine” (later known as the British Merchant Navy).
  • In World War II 2,568 “Commendations” were awarded to men of the British Merchant Navy, many posthumously.[21]
  • and reportedly almost 2,000 were awarded to a broad spectrum of recipients such as policemen, firefighters and other civilians.

Circumstances of awards

A firefighters 1941 certificate and medal with Laurel leaf

Examples of awards were those to:

  • Engineer-Commander Robert John Anderson, Royal Navy, awarded a "Commendation" in June 1941 for his bravery during the "Blitz" on Coventry in April 1941.[22]
  • John Jarvis, Deputy Depot Ambulance Officer, ARP Casualty Service, Norfolk, awarded a "Commendation" in July 1941 for his bravery in rescue operations after an aircraft crashed and caught fire.[23]
  • Ernest William Meaby, Cadet, Air Training Corps, a school boy awarded a "Commendation" in February 1943 for risking his life to rescue the occupants of a crashed aircraft.[24]
  • John William Fegan, Mining Surveyor, Adowsena Gold Mine, Gold Coast, Africa, awarded a "Commendation" for his bravery when an accident occurred in the mine.[25]
  • Edwin Ernest Wing, a Warden Lincoln, Lincolnshire, Civil Defence received a “Commendation” in January 1944 for rescuing children from a burning house.[26]
  • John Morrison Ruthven, Chief Refrigeration Engineer, s.s. "Clan Macarthur", Merchant Navy awarded a Posthumous "Commendation" in February 1944 for remaining aboard his sinking ship trying to rescue trapped seamen.[27][28]
  • William Henry Shingleton, Leading Compressor Driver, Dover Harbour Board, awarded a "Commendation" in June 1944 for rescuing men who had strayed into a minefield.[29]
  • Mabel Ashley, Policewoman, County Borough of Tynemouth1 Police, was awarded a King's Commendation for Brave Conduct for her services when effecting the arrest of a dangerous criminal.[30]


  • Abbott, Peter (1981). British Gallantry Awards. Nimrod Dix & Co. ISBN 0902633740. 
  • Slader, John (1988). The Red Duster at War. William Kimber. ISBN 0718306791. 
  • Scarlett, R. J. (1992). Under Hazardous Circumstances. Naval & Military. ISBN 0948130490. 


  1. Abbott (1981), Mentions & Commendations
  2. Abbott (1981), p.301-302
  3. Abbott (1981), p.301
  4. Imperial War Museum – Kings Commendation
  5. Imperial War Museum – Kings Commendation
  6. CWGC details - EGB Martin
  7. "No. 35760". 23 October 1942. 
  8. "No. 36151". 27 August 1943. 
  9. "No. 37149". 22 June 1945. 
  10. "No. 36547". 2 June 1944. 
  11. "No. 29877". 22 December 1916. 
  12. "No. 13091". 15 May 1917. 
  13. CWGC details – Peter MacLachlan
  14. "No. 31445". 8 July 1919. 
  15. "No. 34754". 15 December 1939. 
  16. "No. 34956". 27 September 1940. 
  17. "No. 34960". 4 October 1940. 
  18. "No. 34963". 8 October 1940. 
  19. "No. 39465". 12 February 1952. 
  20. "No. 39491". 14 March 1952. 
  21. Slader (1988), p.305
  22. "No. 35181". 3 June 1941. 
  23. "No. 35233". 29 July 1941. 
  24. "No. 35901". 9 February 1943. 
  25. "No. 35955". 23 March 1943. 
  26. "No. 36338". 18 January 1944. 
  27. Scarlett (1992), p.33
  28. "No. 36391". 18 February 1944. 
  29. "No. 36582". 23 June 1944. 
  30. "No. 38429". 12 October 1948. 

See also

Category:Recipients of the Queen's Commendations for Brave Conduct

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