The Military General Service Medal (MGSM) was authorized by a General Order dated 1st June, 1847 and issued in 1848. This was a campaign medal for issue to officers and men of the British Army, and sometimes it was referred to as the Peninsular Medal. It covers military actions from 1793-1814; a period encompassing the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Anglo-American War of 1812. For each battle or action covered by the medal was represented by a clasp on the ribbon, with twenty-nine bars been awarded, fifteen being the most to any one recipient. The bars are fixed in multiples of three where applicable. The bars mainly commemorate actions of the Peninsular War, but also include various campaigns across the globe such as the West Indies, Egypt, and Java, United States of America.
It is to be noted that the medal was only awarded to surviving claimants; one had both to have survived until 1847 and then to actively apply for it. A combination of factors, from general illiteracy to limited publicity for the new medal meant that many did not. There are substantially fewer medals issued compared with the number of men who served during this period.
The medal was awarded only to surviving claimants; next of kin could not apply for a medal on behalf of a deceased relative. However, the medal was awarded to next of kin of those claimants who had died between the date of their application and the date of presentation. There were some 25,650 applications in total.
The Military General Service Medal and its naval counterpart, the Naval General Service Medal, were amongst the first real British campaign medals, the first to be issued to all ranks just for "being there". An earlier Army Gold Medal had been awarded to field officers for their successful commands; they were not eligible to claim identical claps on the MGSM. To distinguish between the two medals, the MGSM was referred to as the "silver medal".
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 – 32mm wide, Crimson with wide bark blue corners
Type – Campaign Medal
Eligibility – British Army.
Awarded for – Campaign service
Campaign – French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars 1793–1814, Anglo-American War of 1812
Established – 1 June 1847
Designer – W. Wyon, R.A.
Naming – In impressed serif capital. This is a common style used on other medals of the issue period such as the 1854 India General Service Medal
Clasps – 29 authorised
Description –Silver medal 36mm diameter, obverse the diademed head of Queen Victoria, with the legend ‘VICTORIA REGINA’ 1848. Reverse shows Queen Victoria standing on a plinth, crowning the Duke of Wellington with a laurel wreath. The inscription ‘TO THE BRITISH ARMY’ is around the circumference and the dates ‘1793-1814’ are in exergue.
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.
Twenty Nine Bars Issued.
EGYPT 2 March - 2 September 1801
MAIDA 4 July 1806
ROLEIA 17 August 1808
VIMIERA 21 August 1808
SAHAGUN 21 December 1808
BENEVENTE 29 December 1808
SAHAGUN AND BENEVENTE awarded to those present at both actions
CORUNNA 16 January 1809
MARTINIQUE 30 January - 24 February 1809
TALAVERA 27-28 July 1809
GUADALOUPE January and February 1810
BUSACO 27 September 1810
BARROSA 5 March 1811
FUENTES D'ONOR 5 May 1811
ALBUHERA 16 May 1811
JAVA 10-26 August 1811
CIUDAD RODRIGO 8-19 January 1812
BADAJOZ 17 March - 6 April 1812
SALAMANCA 22 July 1812
FORT DETROIT August 1812
VITTORIA 21 June 1813
PYRENEES 25 July - 2 August 1813
ST. SEBASTIAN 17 July - 8 September 1813
CHATEAUGUAY 26 October 1813
NIVELLE 10 November 1813
CHRYSTLER'S FARM 11 November 1813
NIVE 9-13 December 1813
ORTHES 27 February 1814
TOULOUSE 10 April 1814
Major L L Gordon ‘British Battles and Medals’
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