The British Empire Medal (formally British Empire Medal for Meritorious Service) is a British medal awarded for meritorious civil or military service worthy of recognition by the Crown.[1] The current honour was created in 1922 to replace the original medal, which had been established in 1917 as part of the Order of the British Empire.


The British Empire Medal, which may be awarded posthumously, is granted in recognition of meritorious civil or military service. Recipients are entitled to use the post-nominal letters "BEM".

The honour is divided into civil and military medals in a similar way to the Order of the British Empire itself. Like the ribbons used for other classes of the Order of the British Empire, the ribbon of the British Empire Medal is rose-pink with pearl-grey edges, with the addition of a pearl-grey central stripe for the military division. While recipients are not technically counted as members of the Order, these medals are nevertheless affiliated with it.

Between 1993 and 2012, the British Empire Medal was not awarded to subjects of the United Kingdom, although it continued to be awarded in some Commonwealth realms during that time. The practice of awarding the British Empire Medal to subjects of the United Kingdom was resumed in June 2012, to coincide with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee,[2] although only in the civil division.[3]



The Medal of the Order of the British Empire was first established in 1917, along with the Order of the British Empire. The medal was part of the Order and could be awarded for either meritorious service or for gallantry. It was awarded to 2,015 people, 800 of whom were from foreign countries.[1]


In 1922, the original medal was discontinued and split into two separate honours, which still formed part of the Order of the British Empire. These two honours were known as the Medal of the Order of the British Empire for Meritorious Service (usually referred to as British Empire Medal, BEM) and the Medal of the Order of the British Empire for Gallantry (usually referred to as Empire Gallantry Medal, EGM). Of these medals, the EGM was awarded for acts of bravery, until it was replaced by the George Cross in 1940. The BEM was awarded in similar circumstances as the lower classes of the Order of the British Empire, but usually to people below management or professional level. In the uniformed services, it was awarded to non-commissioned officers of the armed forces, officers below superintendent rank in the police,[citation needed] and personnel below divisional officer level in the fire services.[citation needed]


On 24 September 1940, the George Cross was established and the EGM was revoked by Royal Warrant from the same day. All living recipients, other than honorary recipients, and the next-of-kin of recipients who had been posthumously awarded the EGM after 3 September 1939, the start of the Second World War, were to exchange their insignia for the George Cross. Recipients of the BEM were not affected by these changes.

The BEM was instituted in 1917 was for meritorious service but from the beginning some awards were for acts of gallantry. There were an increased number of cases in the Second World War for service personnel and civilians including the merchant marine, police and emergency services and civil defense. From 1940, the BEM was awarded for acts of gallantry that did not reach the standard of the George Medal. Such awards often had citations, some detailed and graphic while awards for meritorious service usually appeared without a citation.[4]

From 14 January 1958, awards of the BEM made for acts of gallantry were formally designated the British Empire Medal for Gallantry and consisted of the BEM with a silver oak leaf emblem worn on the ribbon.[5] The first recipients of this newly designated award were two Board of Customs officers, George Elrick Thomson and John Rees Thomas - whom ventured into a dangerous steamship hold in an attempt to rescue a colleague.[6] Like the GM, the BEM for Gallantry could not be awarded posthumously and was eventually replaced in 1974 with the Queen's Gallantry Medal (QGM). Again, recipients of the BEM for services other than acts of bravery were not affected by these changes.


The BEM continued to be awarded to subjects of the United Kingdom until 1992. Those awarded the honour did not receive it from the monarch in person, but from the Lord Lieutenant of their county, or from a local authority. After a 1993 review of the British honours system, the government decided that the distinction between the BEM and MBE had "become increasingly tenuous" and the Prime Minister, John Major, expressed a view that he wanted more local people to receive their awards from the Queen herself.[7]

While awards of the BEM therefore ceased to be made to subjects of the United Kingdom, the medal continued to be awarded in the Commonwealth realms, such as the Bahamas and the Cook Islands.[8]

From 2012

Following the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the BEM would once again be awarded in the United Kingdom, although only in the civil division. This would start beginning in 2012, to coincide with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.[7] In the 2012 Birthday Honours, released on 16 June 2012, the BEM was awarded to 293 people.[9]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "ORDERS OF WEAR" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 October 2012. Retrieved 16 June 2012. 
  2. ^ Second Report on Operation of the Reformed Honours System, The Cabinet Office, 12 December 2011, pp.3–4
  3. ^
  4. ^ P E Abbott; JMA Tamplin (1981). "chapters 35 to 38". British Gallantry Awards. London: Nimrod Dix & Co. ISBN 0-9026-3374-0. 
  5. ^ "No. 41285". The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 January 1958. p. 365. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b "British Empire Medal is to return". 29 October 2011. Retrieved 18 March 2018 – via 
  8. ^ See the 2008 New Year ("No. 58558". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 December 2007. p. 29. ) and Queen's Birthday Honours ("No. 58731". The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 June 2008. p. 31. )
  9. ^ "Birthday Honours: 'Working class' British Empire Medal revived". BBC News. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 

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