Of Award Types, Criterias and Investitures

by Hugh A Halliday

The Distinguished Service Order
The Distinguished Flying Cross

I have more than once had to deal with the question, “Why did my father (or brother or uncle) not get a decoration ?” It is hard enough to explain why thing happen and much more difficult to determine why they do NOT happen.

There were two types of DFC and DFM awards – immediate and non-immediate (also known as periodic). Immediate awards were for conspicuous deeds – a gunner who shot down a fighter, a pilot who brought an aircraft back with heavy damage, etc. Periodic awards were more commonly made on completion of a tour or two for long term competence.

Such awards began with a recommendation made by one’s squadron commander (although the initiative may have come from a flight commander and been drafted by the Adjutant or Intelligence Officer – in any case, it was the Squadron Commander’s name which appeared at the foor of the form). This recommendation then passed through several hands – Station Commander, Base Commander and Group Commander – any one of whom could amend or deny the award. In practice, the original proposal was supported by those up the line.

Sometimes a few changes were made – i.e. a DFC substituted for a suggested DFM (because the person recommended had been commissioned or promoted) or an award being upgraded or down-graded (a DSO recommendation being reduced to a DFC) although this happened more with “immediate” as opposed to “periodic” awards. Once the recommendation had been approved by the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief (Harris, in the case of Bomber Command) it was pretty well through all the hoops and only needed gazetting. Air Ministry could still have stopped or modified the award but I cannot think of any instances when they did so.

The first criteria for an award was to have been alive at the time the recommendation was drafted. Victoria Crosses, George Crosses, Mentons in Despatches and many foreign decorations could be recommended and awarded posthumously, but the CGM (Air), DFC and DFM were all cases of “you have to live to be recommended”. And of course, you had to have come to the CO’s attention to be recommended.

Beyond that the criterea for awards were pretty much undefined. Thrown into this miz was the quota system, whereby awards were rationed and allocated on the basis of a mathematical forumula – so many hours flown by a formation, so many awards available. Roughly speaking, if a bomber squadron flew 1,200 hours in a month, they were allowed about ten gallantry awards (immediate and periodic) – more hours, more gongs. They were awarded less generously in Coastal, Transport and Fighter Commands (I think the figure for Coastal Command was about one award per 500 operational hours flown).

A particularly interesting document was one distributed by No.6 Group Headquarters to the constituent units on June 7th, 1943. This advised on how recommendations were to be made, including comments on specific types of awards.

The appendices to the circular were particularly interesting and bear extensive quotation:

“V.C. – Awardable to all ranks for most conspicuous bravery or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy. The Air Council have advised that in their opinion this decoration should be awarded more often for getting into danger (i.e. in the furtherance of operations) than for getting out of the kind of desperate situation which is latent in all operations. Exception to this general rule may, however, be made when there is clear evidence of actions of the highest gallantry. Commanding officers should consider whether any officers or airmen under their command might be regarded as suitable for recommendation for the V.C. for sustained gallantry over along period, rather than for some specific act of gallantry alone. It will still be desirable that officers or airmen so recommended should have performed some outstanding act, but this should be the climax to a series of gallant exploits, e.g., a large number of sorties in the face of heavy opposition. The outstanding act need not of itself justify the highest award, but it would do so in a context of prolonged and heroic endeavour…

“D.S.O. – Awardable to officers (usually not below rank of Squadron Leader) who have been mentioned in despatches for distinguished services under fire or under conditions equivalent to services in actual combat with the enemy.

“D.F.C. – Awardable to all Officers and Warrant Officers for exceptional valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying on active operations against the enemy.

“C.G.M. (Flying) – Awardable to Warrant Officers, N.C.O.s and ircraftmen as an award superior to the D.F.M. for conspicuous gallantry whilst flying on active operations against the enemy.

“D.F.M. – Awardable to all Non-Commissioned Officers and aircraftmen for exceptional valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy.

The appendix which set out the above criteria also laid down some administrative procedures for submitting recommendations. It advised officers submitting these to provide as much detail as possible, including sorties flown by those recommended, and degree of injuries (where sustained). It stated that recommendations for posthumous awards could not be submitted except when a Victoria Cross or a Mention in Despatches was involved. However, processing of recommendations for other awards would go forward, even if the person involved were meanwhile killed, provided the initial recommendation was submitted while the person was still alive. This was a rule which was evidently bent on many occasions to allow what would otherwise be ineligible “posthumous” awards.

Provision was made for immediate and non-immediate awards. The former were to be for specific acts of gallantry; the latter were to be granted for “conspicuous gallantry”, a phrase that encompassed long-term or sustained courage or devotion to duty.

Apart from the obvious decorations, there were to be “periodic” awards of other honours. These could be either for gallantry (i.e. acts of physical courage) or “meritorious service” (fine performance of duties that may have involved no physical risk or where risks were incurred in the absence of the enemy). Such awards were:

C.B. – Awardable to Group Captains and above.

C.B.E. – Awardable to Group Captains and above.

O.B.E. – Awardable to Wing Commanders and Squadron Leaders, and to Matrons of the Nursing Service.

“M.B.E. – Awardable to Flight Lieutenants, Flying Officers and Warrant Officers, and to Senior Nurses, Sisters and Staff Nurses of the Nursing Service.

“A.F.C. – Awardable to all Officers and Warrant Officers for exceptional valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying, though not in active operations against the enemy.

“A.F.M. – Awardable to all Non-Commissioned Officers and Aircraftmen for exceptional valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying, though not in active operations against the enemy.

“B.E.M. – (Medal of the Order of the British Empire for Meritorious Service). Awardable to airmen below Warrant rank for specially distinguished or meritorious service of a high standard. The faithful or zealous performance of ordinary duty is not sufficient in itself. There must be either special services of a high degree or merit, such as the discharge of special night duties, superior to ordinary work, or highly meritorious performance of ordinary duties when these have entailed work of a dangerous or specially trying character.

Appendix IV to this document covered awards for acts of gallantry on the ground. The VC, DSO, MC, DCM, and MM could all be granted to air force personnel for ground actions in which they were in direct conflict with the enemy “including engagements with enemy aircraft”. This would have taken in such personnel as anti-aircraft gunners. It is interesting to note that the DFC and DFM were not included in the list of decorations to be granted for ground combat. It then went on to deal with awards of a very different nature – those for acts of gallantry on the ground but not in contact with the enemy. It particularly singled out “gallantry in effecting rescues from burning aircraft and in disposing of unexploded bombs”. The awards so covered were:

G.C. – Awardable to officers, airmen, members of the Nursing Service and civilians for acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger. It is intended primarily for civilians and is awarded to Service personnel for actions for which purely service honours are not normally granted.

G.M. – Awardable to Officers, airmen, members of the Nursing Service and civilians for acts of great bravery. Like the G.C., the G.M. is intended primarily for civilians.

O.B.E. – Awardable to officers of the R.A.F. and W.A.A.F. (usually limited to Wing Commanders, Wing Officers, Squadron Leaders and Squadron Officers) and to Matrons of the Nursing Service, for gallantry on the ground but not in actual conflict with the enemy.

M.B.E. – Awardable to Officers and Warrant Officers of the R.A.F. and W.A.A.F. (usually limited to those not above Flight Lieutenant or Flight Officer rank) and Squadron Officers) and Nursing Sister members, for gallantry on the ground but not in actual conflict with the enemy.

B.E.M. – Awardable to N.C.O’s, aircraftmen and airwomen for gallantry on the ground but not in actual conflict with the enemy.

The subject of Mentions in Despatches took up Appendix VI of the document of June 7th, 1943. It should be recalled that the MiD would be the most common way of posthumously honouring personnel. It was to be granted in three circumstances:

(i) For gallantry on the ground in conflict with the enemy, including engagement with enemy aircraft.

(ii) For gallantry on the ground, but not in actual conflict with the enemy, and particularly for gallantry in effecting rescues from burning aircraft.

(iii) For specially distinguished or meritorious service of a high standard. The faithful or zealous performance of ordinary duty is not sufficient in itself. There must be either special services of a high degree of merit superior to ordinary work, or highly meritorious performance of ordinary duties when these have entailed work of a dangerous or specially trying character.

Phrases for Recommendations

To assist Commanding Officers in drawing up recommendations, the same document provided, in Annex IX, a compilation of 50 phrases deemed useful for the task. While probably helping superiors who had scant literary talents, the list might also have inhibited drafting of exciting accounts; the similarity of many citations suggest that they were either written or edited to adhere to a formula. Among the phrases used:

1. By his fine fighting spirit.
2. His coolness under fire.
3. Complete disregard for personal safety.
4. By his coolness and presence of mind.
5. His fearless courage in combat.
6. This Officer’s (NCO’s) dogged determination, skill and devotion to duty.
7. Showed a magnificent example by.
8. Regardless of imminent danger.
9. By prompt action and with complete disregard of personal safety.
10. By skilful airmanship under most trying conditions.
11. Displayed exceptional skill and coolness in extricating his aircraft from a most perilous situation.
12. By his skill, courage and determination extricated his crew from a perilous situation.
13. To which action his crew undoubtedly owe their lives.
14. Thereby saving the lives of his crew and much valuable equipment.
15. His superb captaincy and airmanship.
19. Undeterred by intense flak.
20. In spite of physical suffering through intense cold, or hunger, or fatigue, or heat, or lack of oxygen, or thirst, or loss of blood, etc.
24. The successful completion of this operational flight was due to the initiative, resourcefulness and skilful airmanship of this officer (or NCO).
35. Gallantry of the highest order.
36. Fine record of achievement.
42. Proved himself to be an outstanding member of a gallant crew.
45. Handling his guns with cool determination.

Appendix XI of the document covered foreign awards. In effect it stated that awards (or their ribbons) granted by foreign powers could be accepted and worn, provided that the foreign country was not an enemy state. This meant, for example, that between June 10th, 1940 and September 3rd, 1943, personnel who had received Italian decorations in the First World War could not wear the relevant ribbons or medals. Once Italy switched sides, however, the previously-forbidden “gongs” became respectable again.

Immediate vs Periodic : Examples

I would not say that “periodic” awards had any less status than “immediate”, given that the “periodic” usually represented fortitude over a 30 (or more) mission tour (while the “immediate” might arise from a deed very early in a tour) but the following examples (both drawn from No.35 Squadron) illustrate the differing nature of the “immediate” vs the “periodic” award:


BEBENSEE, Sgt. Douglas Glenn (R68061) – Distinguished Flying Medal – No.35 Squadron – Awarded 31 May 1943 as per London Gazette dated 11 June 1943 and AFRO 1338/43 dated 16 July 1943 – Cited with P/O W.S. Sherk (Bar to DFC), F/O G.G. McGladrey (DFC) and F/O R.G. Morrison (DFC).

“One night in April 1943, Pilot Officer Sherk and Flying Officers McGladrey and Morrison and Sergeant Bebensee were pilot, wireless operator, navigator and flight engineer, respectively, in an aircraft which attacked Stettin. Whilst over the target area the bomber was struck by falling incendiary bombs. One of them which lodged behind the pilot’s seat jammed the aileron and rudder controls. Flames and smoke rapidly filled the cockpit and Pilot Officer Sherk’s clothing caught alight. The aircraft began to lose height diving steeply. Pilot Officer Sherk endeavoured to regain control whilst Flying Officer McGladrey attempted to subdue the flames. Meanwhile Sergeant Bebensee struggled to free the locked controls. Just as the situation appeared hopeless the pilot regained control and a course was set for home as Flying Officer McGladrey extinguished the fire. Much of the navigational equipment had been lost but Flying Officer Morrison, displaying great skill, was able to plot accurate courses. Sergeant Bebensee who worked untiringly for three-quarters of an hour succeeded in freeing the controls. Eventually Pilot Officer Sherk flew the badly damaged bomber back to this country in circumstances fraught with great danger displaying great courage, skill and determination.”


BODNAR, PO Boris Oleh (J17669) – Distinguished Flying Cross – No.35 Squadron – Award effective 6 August 1943 as per London Gazette dated 17 August 1943 and AFRO 2322/43 dated 12 November 1943.

“An air bomber of outstanding ability, Pilot Officer Bodnar has completed a large number of operational sorties. His eagerness to participate in action against the enemy has been most pronounced and the results achieved have been worthy of highest praise. At all times this officer has shown great courage and devotion to duty.”


Thousands of awards were made with no published citation, and many people had no idea why they had been singled out for awards. I know that in postwar Canadian investitures, brief citations were sometimes read out. Again, however, the practice varied with much depending on just how much information had been communicated to those actually pinning the medal on the recipient (or presenting it to next-of-kin).

The manner in which people received their awards,

The following is from my book “Not in the Face of the Enemy” (still available from Robin Brass Studio), and though the work is specific to AFC and AFM awards, the description here bears upon all awards:

“RCAF personnel received their various awards in many ways, usually in a manner in which they had some choice. Some stepped forward to be decorated by King George himself, either in Buckingham Palace or at a military base, sometimes months after the award had been authorized. Warrant Officer Percy L. Buck, for example, was notified in July 1943 that he had been awarded an AFC for services as an instructor in Canada; a year later, on August 11, 1944, Flying Officer Buck received the cross itself from King George VI during the monarch’s visit to Linton. Others were invested by a senior officer or (in Canada) by the Governor General or a provincial Lieutenant Governor. Hundreds chose simply to receive their honours by registered mail.

” A standard investiture (if such an event existed) was a parade held at Station Patricia Bay on January 19, 1945. A total of 1,497 officers and men (half the personnel on base) paraded in the afternoon and watched as A/V/M F.V. Heakes presented three decorations – a British Empire Medal to Sergeant R.R. Barker, a Distinguished Flying Cross to F/L W.A. Armstrong, and an Air Force Cross to F/O R.J.E. Barichello. On the other hand, when W/C Gordon G. Diamond was invested with his AFC, he was one of 127 persons (army, navy, air force, and civilian next-of-kin) present to receive decorations from the Governor General on June 27, 1945. Among those witnessing the event were his wife and son; the latter was destined to become a Brigadier-General in the integrated Canadian Forces.

“Some honours were a long time getting to their recipients, in part because the individuals moved frequently. F/L Joseph Dutchak was awarded the Air Force Cross in November 1944; he was finally invested with the honour at a Government House ceremony held on January 26, 1954. F/L Earle F. O’Mara, awarded his AFC in December 1945, received the decoration as a similar ceremony on February 7, 1955. F/L Delford H. Kenney was a particularly difficult case. The Department of National Defence finally sent his DFC, Bar to DFC and AFC to the Department of External Affairs (August 9, 1955); on February 13, 1956 External reported that Kenney had been presented with his awards at his home in Bronxville, New York.

“Delivery of S/L Edward Bagley Gale’s AFC was especially trying. Although it had been awarded to him in May 1944, he had not been invested with the decoration when it was sent from Britain to Canada in 1945. By then he had been posted to Britain. The AFC re-crossed the ocean, but Gale was killed in a flying accident before it could be presented. His mother finally received it from the hands of the Governor General on November 14, 1950.”

The question about engraving of awards.

I am not sure if this was possible on some decorations (the DSO for example) but circular medals like the DFM and AFM were easily inscribed on the rim. The reverse side of the DFC was also fairly plain. It could be (and was) inscribed with name, rank, service (RAF, RCAF, RAAF etc) and gaxetted date of award.

Further to the circumstances of investiture (and plagiarizing myself from an unpublished composition circa 1995):

“The actual receipt of a decoration could be a solemn and joyous occasion. Frequently it took the form of an investiture in any number of settings – Buckingham Palace, Government House in Ottawa, or a parade on an airfield; a Royal visit to No.6 Group in August 1944 was such an occasion. In some instances the circumstances of the investiture were as interesting as those leading to the award. Pilot Officer Donald C. Dougall, flying Spitfires in No.92 Squadron, had been shot down in flames and taken prisoner on July 11th, 1941; he virtually sacrificed himself to save his formation leader. Once it had been determined that he was alive, Dougall was awarded the DFC (London Gazette, September 2nd, 1941). On October 25th, 1943 he arrived in Britain as part of a prisoner exchange involving seriously wounded men. He was promptly brought to Buckingham Palace (November 9th, 1943) to be invested with the decoration; eight days later he sailed for Canada.

“Flying Officer Joseph W. Lauro of Chicago, Illinois, joined the RCAF in August 1941. In November 1943 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for services with No.424 Squadron. He received his decoration at the hands of King George VI on October 24th, 1944; he stepped forward wearing an American uniform, having transferred to the USAAF on November 2nd, 1943.

“The King himself must have done a double take on March 20th, 1945 as two identical twins – Flight Lieutenants Bruce and Douglas Warren – stepped forward to receive Distinguished Flying Cross. Born in Nanton, Alberta in May 1922, they had enlisted together, trained together, and travelled together through successive overseas postings including outstanding tours in No.66 Squadron. Ultimately they would both receive American Air Medals as well.

“Some made the trip to Buckingham Palace twice. Flight Sergeant William H. Keane, an air gunner from Quebec City, received his DFM at the hands of the King on March 30th, 1943; on July 13th, 1945, now a Flying Officer, he was invested with the DFC. Others managed to collect multiple awards on one visit; when Wing Commander George C. Keefer stood before the King on November 7th, 1944, it was to receive a DSO, DFC and Bar to DFC. A Bar to the DSO was presented to him in Canada after the war.

“Flight Sergeant Ronald E. MacFarlane of Chilliwack, British Columbia was a pilot with No.101 Squadron. On several occasions his aircraft was attacked by night fighters but his airmanship (and his apparent readiness to throw a Lancaster around in any evasive maneouvre) saved the crew on each occasion. He was awarded a DFM in February 1943, but did not actually receive the medal until November 30th, when he attended an investiture at Buckingham Palace; by then he had been commissioned and was about to start his second tour. MacFarlane was killed in action on December 16th, 1943. Like many others, he had seen his decoration only briefly before losing his life.

“A presentation by the King was not automatic, even overseas, although it is remarkable, reviewing RCAF records, to note how many cards bear the notation “BP” indicating a presentation at Buckingham Palace. These notations are slightly misleading, however; many dated “BP, 11 August 1944” are erroneous for on that date King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were visiting bases in No.6 Group, holding investitures on the spot. It is more likely that “BP” meant a royal presentation, normally (but not invariably) at the palace. However, the postwar flood of decorations (and the King’s own declining health) led to a reduction of these ceremonies. On January 4th, 1946, Air Ministry advised RCAF Overseas Headquarters that henceforth the monarch would be personally presenting only VCs, GCs, CBs, CBEs, DSOs, GMs, DCMs and CGMs. In the case of other awards such as DFCs, Royal presentations would occur if they involved next-of-kin of deceased personnel; surviving recipients of such awards would have to settle for an senior officer or Vice-Regal personage to bestow honours with due ceremony.”


Compiled from posts by Hugh Halliday at  http://www.rafcommands.com/forum/showthread.php?4852-DFC-awards. Copyright belongs to Hugh Halliday

One thought on “Of Award Types, Criterias and Investitures

  1. Hi, I am trying to locate the recommendations for WW2 — AFC AND BAR awarded to W/C .CRAIG RAFO. No. 27156. Can you assist. F.J. Whitfield (John)

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