Distinguished Service Order (DSO)

Instituted on 6th September, 1886 by Queen Victoria in a Royal Warrant the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) is a military decoration of the United Kingdom, and formerly of other parts of the Commonwealth. The first DSOs were awarded on 25th November, 1886 for meritorious or distinguished service by officers of the armed forces during wartime, typically during actual combat against the enemy.

In terms of prestige the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) was regarded as somewhat lesser than a Victoria Cross and recipients were also entitled to use the post-nominals letters DSO after their name with each awarded being announced in the London Gazette.

The Distinguished Service Order was a military order, until recently for officers only, and normally given for service under fire or under conditions equivalent to service in actual combat with the enemy, although it was awarded between 1914 and 1916 under circumstances which could not be regarded as under fire (often to staff officers, which caused resentment among front-line officers). After 1st January 1917, commanders and officers in the field were issued guidance stating that the award was reserved for distinguished conduct under enemy fire. Prior to 1943, the order could be given only to someone specifically Mentioned in Despatches by the Commander-in-Chief.

During the First World War, 8,981 DSOs were awarded, each award being announced in The London Gazette together with its accompanying citation.

The order is generally given to officers in command, above the rank of captain. A number of more junior officers were awarded the DSO, and this was often regarded as an acknowledgement that the officer had only just missed out on the award of the Victoria Cross. In September 1942, the regulations were relaxed to permit the award of the DSO to officers of the Merchant Navy who had performed acts of gallantry in the presence of the enemy.

After a review in 1993 of the gallantry awards system changes were made to the DSO which is now awarded for “Leadership and Command” only- theoretically to all ranks (it is not awarded posthumously). It has now been replaced by the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross as a reward for Gallantry.


Materials:   The majority of the British medals and clasps are made of solid silver, though some were issue in bronze versions, mainly to Indian non-combatants.  The majority of the British campaign awards are circular, usually 36mm in diameter.

Ribbons:    Medals are worn suspended from their own specific ribbons. These were first made of silk but cotton was increasingly used as the nineteenth century developed.  Their own colours often have a symbolic significance: the equal stripes of the ‘1939 to 1945 Star,’ for example, are dark blue to represent the service of the Royal and Merchant Navies, red, to represent that of the Armies and light blue to represent that of Air Forces.

Ribbon width can vary slightly though it is generally 32mm wide.

Ribbon – Wide central stripe of red flanked by dark blue

Distinguished Service Order ribbon
Distinguished Service Order ribbon

Suspender – Straight

Type – Gallantry medal

Post nominals - DSO

Eligibility – Members of the armed forces

Awarded for – Distinguished services during active operations against the enemy

Established – 6th September 1886

Naming – None, but in 1938 naming was introduced on the back of the suspender.

Total Awarded – 16,244

Clasps – Yes, recognising further acts of merit.

Description – The medal itself was a cross of silver gilt (since 1889, gold prior to this date), 55mm in height and 41.5mm in width, with curved edges, overlaid in white enamel. The obverse of the medal has at the centre of the cross a raised laurel wreath, enamelled green, surrounding the Imperial Crown in gold, on a red enamelled background. The reverse has a similar raised centre with the laurel wreath surrounding one of the following Royal Cyphers depending on when the award was issued. - VRI, EVII, GV, GVI, EIIR,

Clasps are usually referred to as ‘bars’.  They are single-faced metal bars carried on a ribbon attached to the medal, indicating the recipient’s service in a particular campaign or battle.  The clasps carry side flanges to enable them to be attached to the medal and riveted to each other, so that new ones can be attached as earned.  Usually the first earned Clasp is closest to the medal, so that the latest earned should be at the top, although they can be found in the wrong order.

A Bar (of plain gold with an imperial crown in the centre) could be additionally awarded as a way of formally recognising further acts of merit.

This guide will help you through all the parts and descriptions of military medals


London Gazette

Medal Year Book 2006 Token

< gov.uk/medals-campaigns-descriptions-and-eligibility>

Some of the material on this page was also partially derived from

<en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distinguished_Service_Order >

Which are released under the terms of



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