The General Service Medal (GSM) was introduced in Army Order No. 4 dated 19th January 1923. This medal served as the Army and RAF equivalent of the Naval General Service Medal (NGSM). The GSM was awarded for service in various parts of the world, except in India and East, West and Africa. This medal defines the (often inglorious) British retreat from Empire as well as various interventions deemed necessary due to the geopolitical imbalances generated in the aftermath of the two worlds. This medal was intended for the Army and Air Force - the Naval General Service Medal 1915 - 1962 ran parallel with this for the Navy and Royal Marines, with similar (but not identical) bars.
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 - 32 mm, purple with a central green stripe.
Type – Campaign Medal
Eligibility – British Army and Royal Air Force.
Designer – E. Carter Preston
Naming – In thin impressed block capital letters
Clasps – 17
Suspender - Ornate
Awarded for – Campaign service
Description – Silver disk, 36mm diameter. The medal is worn with a purple-coloured ribbon with one green stripe. After 11 August 1920, if the recipient was awarded a MID, then they were entitled to wear an oakleaf emblem on the medal's ribbon.
The obverse of the medal has two issues, the 1st issue had the coinage head of King George V facing left and the legend “GEORGIVS V BRITT: OMN: REX ET IND: IMP:” The 2nd issue obverse shows the coinage head of King George VI wearing a crown.
The reverse bears the standing winged figure of Victory in a Corinthian helmet and carrying a trident, placing a wreath on the emblems of the two services (Army - the sword and the RAF - the wings)
This medal has a total of 17 clasps which commemorate the various actions
Clasps are commonly, though not strictly correctly, also referred to as ‘bars’. They are single-faced metal bars carried on a ribbon attached to the medal, indicating 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 borne nearest to the medal, so that the latest earned should be at the top, though they can be found in the wrong order.
This medal has a total of 17 clasps which commemorate the various actions.
South Persia: (12th November 1918 – 22nd June 1919)
Service at or near Bushire with Major-General J.A. Douglas and Brigadier-General A.M.S. Elsmine from 12 November 1918 – 22 June 1919
Service at or near Bandar Abbas with Major-General Sir. P. Sykes or Lieutenant Colonel E.F. Orton from 12 November 1918 – 03 June 1919
Kurdisan: (23rd May – 6th December 1919 & 19th March – 18th June 1923)
This clasp was awarded for the following:
- At Kirburk or north of a line east and west through Kirburk between 23 May and 31 July 1919.
- At Dohok or north of a line east and west through Dohok between 14 July and 7 October 1919.
- North of the advanced bases near Akra and Amadia between 7 November and 6 December 1919.
- The 1924 Army Order No. 387 and Army Instruction (India) No. 132 of 1925 extended this clasps eligibility requirements to cover operations in Kurdistan. These additional qualify periods are
- Operations under Air Marshal Sir J.M. Salmond or Colonel Commandant B. Vincent between 19 March to 18 June 1923.
- Operations under Commandant H.T. Dobbin between 27 March and 28 April 1923.
Iraq: (10th December 1919 – 17th November 1920)
This clasp was presented to those who satisfied one of the following conditions:
- Served at Ramadi or north of a line east and west through Ramadi between 10 December 1919 and 13 June 1920.
- Part of an establishment within Iraq between 1 July and 17 November 1920.
N.W. Persia: (10th August – 31st December 1920)
- Awarded to members of Noperforce (North Persia Force) and those on various lines of communications serving under Brigadier-General H.F. Bateman-Champain in 1920.
Southern Desert Iraq: (8th January – 3rd June 1928)
- Awarded to the RAF for its services against the Akhwan in the Southern Desert, under the command Air Commodore T.C.R. Higgins between 8 and 22 January 1928, or under the command of Wing Commander E.R.C. Nanson between 22 January and 3 June 1928.
North Kurdistan: (15th March – 21st June 1932)
- For operations against Sheik Admed of Barzan in the area Diana – Erbil – Aqra – Suri due north to the Turkish frontier, between the dates of 15 March and 21 June 1932.
Palestine: (19th April 1936 – 3rd September 1939)
- For service in Mandatory Palestine between the dates 19 April 1936 and 3 September 1939, during the Arab Revolt.
S.E. Asia 1945–46: (3rd September 1945 – 30th November 1946)
- Awarded to British personnel involved in South-East Asia after the Japanese surrender of 15 August 1945, for various activities such as guarding Japanese POWs and maintaining law and order. By November 1946, British troops had handed over their responsibilities to the territories former colonial powers.
Bomb and Mine Clearance 1945–49: (9th May 1945 – 31st December 1949)
- Awarded for a total of 180 days active service in the removal of mines and bombs in the UK between May 1945 and September 1949. Queen Elizabeth II approved the eligibility to run to 1956.
Those who qualified for the original period, 1945–1949, were awarded this clasp
Bomb and Mine Clearance 1945–56: (3rd September 1945 – 10th November 1956)
Those who qualified in the period 1949–1956 were awarded this clasp
Palestine 1945–48: (27th September - 30th June 1948.)
- Part of the resolution of the 1936-9 revolt was the imposition of an immigration quota for Jews wishing to enter Palestine. This was opposed by the Jewish settlers in Palestine and in 1944; a guerrilla war was launched against the British forces there, principally by the Irgun and Lehi. While service in this conflict prior to 1945 is counted as World War Two service, service between 27 September 1945 (the date a "state of emergency" was declared) and 30 June 1948 (when the last British troops departed) is acknowledged by this clasp to the GSM.
Malaya: (16th June 1948 – 31st July 1960)
- For service in Malaya and Singapore against communist guerrilla forces.
The qualifying dates for service were between 16 June 1948 and 31 July 1960. For the Colony of Singapore, the date period was between 16 June 1948 to 31 January 1959.
Canal Zone: (16th October 1951 – 19th October 1954)
- Awarded for 30 days continuous service during the period October 1951 – October 1954 within certain specified geographical boundaries in Egypt. This GSM was awarded some 50 years later following representation to Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Cyprus: (1st April – 18th April 1959)
- In 1956 the Cypriot movement for union with Greece (called "Enosis") started under the leadership of Archbishop Makarios and General George Grivas. The General led the guerrilla organisation EOKA against the British troops stationed on the island. The conflict was often a bloody affair, involving 40,000 British troops over 4 years.
Near East: (31st October – 22nd December)
- This clasp was awarded for service in the Middle East in the period 31 October to 22 December 1956. This is the conflict often referred to as the Suez Crisis, or by its codename of Operation Musketeer.
Arabian Peninsula: (1st January 1957 – 30th June 1960)
- Due to a disagreement about land and associated oil rights, the Iman of Oman rebelled against the Sultan of Muscat. After initial setbacks, in 1955 the Sultan called for assistance from UK forces. It was not until British Special Forces were deployed that the rebels were dislodged from their territory in the Jebel Akhbar Mountains.
The qualifying period for this clasp is 30 days' service between 1 January 1957 and 30 June 1960, in the Aden Colony or protectorate and the Sultanates of Muscat and Oman, or any of the adjacent Gulf States.
Brunei: (8th – 23rd December 1962)
- For a minimum 1 days' service in at least one of the operational areas located in the State of Brunei, North Borneo or Sarawak between 8 December 1962 and 23 December 1962.
Berlin Airlift: (25th June 1948 to 6 October 1949)
- From 1st March, 2015 a Berlin Airlift clasp will be awarded to RAF or civilian aircrew with at least one day's service in the Berlin Airlift operation from 25 June 1948 to 6 October 1949 inclusive
Major L L Gordon ‘British Battles and Medals’
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