British Empire Medal

The British Empire Medal (BEM; formerly British Empire Medal for Meritorious Service) is a British and Commonwealth award 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.

British Empire Medal
Obverse (left) and reverse: British Empire Medal, civil division ribbon
TypeMedal affiliated with an order
Awarded forMeritorious service
CountryUnited Kingdom
Presented byCharles III
MottoFor God and the Empire
StatusCurrently awarded
1993–2011 Commonwealth but not UK
Last awarded2022 New Year Honours

Ribbon bars: Civil and Military BEM (to 1937)

Ribbon bars: Civil and Military BEM (since 1937)
Next (higher)Royal Victorian Medal[1]
Next (lower)King's Police Medal[1]
RelatedOrder of the British Empire
Medal of the Order of the British Empire, obverse. Awarded 1917–22.


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

Since December 1918, the honour has been divided into civil and military divisions in a similar way to the Order of the British Empire itself. While recipients are not members of the Order, the medal is affiliated to it.[2]

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 Medal to British subjects was resumed in June 2012, to coincide with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee,[3] but only in the civil division.[4]

Since March 1941 a clasp attached to the ribbon can be bestowed to denote a further award.[2]

A holder of the BEM subsequently appointed to membership of the Order of the British Empire is permitted to wear the insignia for both.[5]



The Medal of the Order of the British Empire was established in June 1917, along with the Order of the British Empire of which it was a part, and could be awarded for either meritorious service or for gallantry. It was awarded to 2,014 people, 800 of whom were from foreign countries.[1][2]


In 1922, the original medal was discontinued, and was replaced by two separate honours, both of 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.[5] 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, and personnel below divisional officer level in the fire services.


Silver oak-leaf emblem for gallantry, awarded 1958–74

On 24 September 1940, the George Cross was established, and the EGM was revoked by Royal Warrant the same day. All living recipients, other than honorary recipients, and the next-of-kin of those 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.[6]

From 1940, the war led to an increasing number of BEMs awarded to service personnel and civilians, including the merchant marine, police and civil defence, for acts of gallantry that did not reach the standard of the George Medal (GM). Such awards often had citations, while awards for meritorious service usually did not.[2]

From 14 January 1958, awards of the BEM 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.[7] The first recipients of this newly designated award were two Board of Customs officers, George Elrick Thomson and John Rees Thomas, who ventured into a burning steamship hold in an attempt to rescue a colleague.[8] 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).[9] 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. 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, ended the award of the BEM[10] to British subjects, although the medal continued to be awarded in some Commonwealth countries, such as the Bahamas and the Cook Islands.[11]

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.[10] In the 2012 Birthday Honours, released on 16 June 2012, the BEM was awarded to 293 people.[12]

Although those awarded the honour do not receive it from the monarch in person, but from the Lord Lieutenant of their county, recipients are invited to a Buckingham Palace garden party to celebrate their achievement.[12]


The Medal of the Order of the British Empire awarded from 1917 to 1922 was a circular silver medal, 30 millimetres (1.2 in) in diameter, showing a seated Britannia and the inscription FOR GOD AND THE EMPIRE on the obverse and the Royal cypher on the reverse. The medal had a ring suspender for the 27 millimetres (1.1 in) wide ribbon of plain purple, the military division having a red central stripe. The medal was awarded unnamed.[9]

The medals introduced in 1922 broadly follow the same design but, with a diameter of 36 millimetres (1.4 in), are larger than the previous medal, and have either FOR MERITORIOUS SERVICE or FOR GALLANTRY in the obverse exergue. The medal has a straight bar suspender for the 1.25 inches (32 mm) wide ribbon. This was plain purple, with a red central stripe for the military division, until 1937 when, like the Order, the ribbon changed to the current design of rose-pink with pearl-grey edges, with an additional pearl-grey central stripe for the military division. The medal was presented with the recipient's name on the rim.[9]


  1. "ORDERS OF WEAR" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 October 2012. Retrieved 16 June 2012.
  2. P E Abbott; JMA Tamplin (1981). "chapters 35–38". British Gallantry Awards. London: Nimrod Dix & Co. ISBN 0-9026-3374-0.
  3. Second Report on Operation of the Reformed Honours System, The Cabinet Office, 12 December 2011, pp.3–4
  4. "Worcestershire Medal Service: Emblems for Orders". Archived from the original on 7 January 2015. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  5. H. Taprell Dorling (1956). Ribbons and Medals. A. H. Baldwin & Son, London. p. 36. OCLC 930416375.
  6. P E Abbott; JMA Tamplin (1981). British Gallantry Awards. London: Nimrod Dix & Co. pp. 139–140. ISBN 0-9026-3374-0.
  7. "No. 41285". The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 January 1958. p. 365.
  8. "Page 1127 | Supplement 41316, 14 February 1958 | London Gazette | the Gazette". Archived from the original on 8 November 2017. Retrieved 7 November 2017.
  9. John W. Mussell, ed. (2014). Medal Yearbook 2015. Token Publishing Limited, Honiton, Devon. pp. 68–69. ISBN 978-1-908-828-16-3.
  10. "British Empire Medal is to return". BBC News. 29 October 2011. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  11. See 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.)
  12. "Birthday Honours: 'Working class' British Empire Medal revived". BBC News. 15 June 2012. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
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