Gallantry and Meritorious Service Awards

The Victoria Cross (VC)

This was the highest award for gallantry that Indians were entitled to during the Great War. It was awarded for an act of outstanding courage or devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy. All ranks were eligible.

The Victoria Cross (VC) was instituted in 1856 but was made retrospective to the autumn of 1854. The Victoria Cross was awarded for very outstanding deeds of gallantry in the presence of the enemy. The bronze Maltese Cross was struck from one of the Russian guns captured at Sebastopol (Crimean War), with the Royal Crest in the centre and underneath a scroll bearing the words 'For Valour'. Till this day, the VC is struck from the same guns and is manufactured gratis for the Crown by Hancocks& Co.

It was not until 1911 that Indian troops became eligible for it. Till then the Indian Order of Merit (IOM) was the Indian Army's equivalent of the Victoria Cross. The first Indian to be awarded the VC was Sepoy (later Subedar and Hon. Lieutenant) not Khudadad Khan of the 129th Baluchis, in 1914. Eleven Indians were awarded the VC in WWI.

Order of British India (OBI)

This Order was created in 1837 to be conferred on Indian Officers, for long and faithful service. There were two classes of the Order. Members of the 1st Class received the title of "Sardar Bahadur”, and those of the 2nd Class that of "Bahadur”.

The associated honorary titles – Sardar Bahadur for the 1st Class and Bahadur for the 2nd Class – demonstrate the prestige of the Order of British India which took precedence over the Order of Merit – even though the latter was the Indian Army’s supreme reward for gallantry. The Order of British India continued to eclipse the Indian Order of Merit until February 1947 when the London Gazette published, albeit belatedly, a revised order of precedence in which the IOM (Military Division) was positioned above the OBI.

The Indian Order of Merit (IOM)

The Indian Order of Merit is the oldest instituted gallantry award in the Commonwealth. It was the Indian equivalent of the Victoria Cross and the highest gallantry award available to Indian soldiers until 1912. Like the Victoria Cross, the IOM was uniquely democratic, being awarded to Indian officers and other ranks alike. It was also the only other award that could be awarded posthumously.

It took as its inspiration the Russian Order of St George and was awarded in the three progressive classes for successive acts of conspicuous gallantry in action. For a first act of gallantry a soldier was admitted to the third class of the Order. A subsequent act earned a promotion to the second class and a third act resulted in the bestowal of the first class of the Indian Order of Merit, equivalent to the award of a Victoria Cross with two bars. During the period 1837-1911, Indian soldiers were awarded a staggering 49 first class Indian Orders of Merit, about a quarter of which were won by Sikh soldiers in addition to the numerous other IOM awards in the third and second class.

Military Cross (MC)

The Military Cross was awarded for gallantry during active operations in the presence of the enemy. The award was created in 1914 for commissioned officers of the substantive rank of Captain or below and for Warrant Officers and Viceroy's Commissioned Officers. 106 Indian's were awarded the MC during the Great War.

The reverse of the medal was issued plain with no engraving. Some families and individuals engraved their details at their own expense. From August 1916 an individual could receive one or more Bars to the Military Cross.

Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC)

The DFC was established for officers and warrant officers of the RAF in respect of acts of valour while flying in active operations against the enemy. It was issued unnamed. The only Indian who was awarded the DFC in the First World War was Lt Indra Lal Roy who served with the RFC in France and was killed in action over Carvin on 22nd July 1918.

Indian Distinguished Service Medal (IDSM)

The Indian Distinguished Service Medal (IDSM) was one of the two uniquely Indian gallantry awards of the British Indian Army (the other being the Indian Order of Merit). The rough equivalent of the British Army's Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), and the post-independence Vir Chakra, it occupied a relatively high place among the military decorations of the British Empire. The IDSM was awarded for 'distinguished service in the field' and an estimated 5600 IDSMs were awarded during the First World War.

Indian Meritorious Service Medal (IMSM)

The Indian Meritorious Service Medal was awarded to those Indian warrant officers and senior NCOs (havildars, dafadars and equivalent band ranks) who had completed eighteen years of exceptionally meritorious service, subject to the availability of funds in the annuity. At first only one medal was set aside for each regiment and thereafter awards were only made on the death, promotion or reduction of existing recipients. During the Great War the medal was given as a reward for meritorious service in theatres of war to Indian soldiers below the rank of Viceroy's Commissioned Officer (VCO).

Mention in Despatches (MiD)

A soldier mentioned in despatches (MiD) is one whose name appears in an official report written by a superior officer and sent to the high command, in which is described the soldier's gallant or meritorious action in the face of the enemy. An individual could be mentioned in despatches more than once. As with the Victoria Cross, this commendation for an act of gallantry could be made posthumously.

A bronze oak leaf was issued and could be worn on the ribbon of the British Victory Medal by those who had been “Mentioned in Despatches” between 4th August 1914 and 10th August 1920.



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    The Joint USI-MEA Centenary Commemoration project highlights the oft-forgotten role of India in the First World War and commemorates those soldiers who served during the War. The project is aimed at exploring India’s engagement in the war from a variety of perspectives.
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