The Sea Gallantry Medal (SGM) (more properly known as the Board of Trade Medal for Saving Life) was authorised not by Royal Warrant but by Parliamentary legislation, under the terms of the Merchant Shipping Acts of 1854 and 1894. The 1854 Act made provisions for monetary rewards for life saving at sea, but in 1855 this was transmuted into medal, in gold, silver or bronze. They were first awarded either for 'humanity' (where there was little risk to the life of the recipient), or for gallantry (where there was significant risk to the recipient).
The SGM is Britain’s oldest official civilian gallantry award. A higher ranking medal, the Albert Medal, awarded in two classes for saving life at sea, was instituted by Royal Warrant of 1866.
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 – Bright red with narrow white stripes towards the edges
Suspender - Ornate
Type – Civil decoration
Eligibility – British subjects, or to foreigners serving in British ships, foreigners who have displayed gallantry in foreign ships in saving the lives of British subjects are eligible for Board of Trade Gold and Silver Medals ‘for Foreign Services’.
Awarded for – Saving life at sea
Established – 1854
Naming – Details of the recipient and the circumstances of the award are engraved around the edge of the medal
Post Nominals - Recipients are entitled to the post-nominal ‘SGM’
Designed by – Bernard Wyon
Bars / Clasps – Issued for further rewards of the SGM
Description – LARGE MEDALS, 58mm diameter. This award was no intended for wear; its reverse shows a family on a storm-tossed shore reviving a rescued sailor. Provision was made from bronze, silver and gold medals but no gold medal is currently known. The bronze and silver types were issued with one of two obverse legends surrounding the reigning monarch’s profile. An award for gallantry with ‘Awarded by the Board of Trade for Gallantry in Saving Life’ or a medal for ‘Humanity’ with the inscription ‘Award by the Board of Trade for Saving Life at Sea’. The award for gallantry was made to those recipients who risked their lives in attempting a rescue, while other award was issued to those who provided support services at a rescue
SMALL MEDAL Silver or bronze 33mm in diameter – In 1904, the SGM was brought into line with other British Gallantry Medals being reduced in size to a smaller wearable size. The obverse of the medal bears the head of the reigning monarch (six versions available) with the inscription ‘AWARDED BY THE BOARD OF TRADE FOR GALLANTRY IN SAVING LIFE / AT SEA’ or ‘FOR GALLANTRY IN SAVING LIFE AT SEA’, while the reverse was a family on a storm-tossed shore reviving a rescued sailor.
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