Distinguished Service Order

The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) is a military decoration of the United Kingdom, as well as formerly of other parts of the Commonwealth, awarded for meritorious or distinguished service by officers of the armed forces during wartime, typically in actual combat. Since 1993 it has been awarded specifically for 'highly successful command and leadership during active operations', with all ranks being eligible.[5]

Distinguished Service Order
Obverse and reverse, reign of George V
Awarded by United Kingdom and Commonwealth
TypeOrder with one degree
Established6 September 1886
EligibilityMembers of the armed forces
Awarded for"Distinguished services during active operations against the enemy."[1]
StatusCurrently awarded
SovereignCharles III
Total inductees
Next (higher)Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire[4]
Next (lower)Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order

Ribbon bar of the order


Ribbon bar for 2nd award
Major Marie-Edmond Paul Garneau, of the Royal 22e Régiment, with the DSO he received for "gallant and distinguished services in the combined attack on Dieppe" after his investiture at Buckingham Palace in October 1942[6]

Instituted on 6 September 1886 by Queen Victoria in a royal warrant published in The London Gazette on 9 November,[7] the first DSOs awarded were dated 25 November 1886.[8]

The order was established to reward individual instances of meritorious or distinguished service in war. It was a military order, until recently for officers only and typically awarded to officers ranked major (or equivalent) or higher, with awards to ranks below this usually for a high degree of gallantry, just short of deserving the Victoria Cross.[9]

Whilst normally given for service under fire or under conditions equivalent to service in actual combat with the enemy, a number of awards made between 1914 and 1916 were under circumstances not under fire, often to staff officers, causing resentment among front-line officers. After 1 January 1917, commanders in the field were instructed to recommend this award only for those serving under fire.[10]

From 1916, ribbon bars could be authorised for subsequent awards of the DSO, worn on the ribbon of the original award.[10]

In 1942, the award was extended to officers of the Merchant Navy who had performed acts of gallantry whilst under enemy attack.[11] A requirement that the order could be given only to someone mentioned in despatches was removed in 1943.[10]

Modern era

Since 1993, reflecting the review of the British honours system which recommended removing distinctions of rank in respect of operational awards, the DSO has been open to all ranks, with the award criteria redefined as 'highly successful command and leadership during active operations'.[5] At the same time, the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross was introduced as the second-highest award for gallantry.[12] Despite some very fierce campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, the DSO has yet to be awarded to a non-commissioned rank.

The DSO had also been awarded by Commonwealth countries but by the 1990s most, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, were establishing their own honours systems and no longer recommended British honours.[13]


Recipients of the order are officially known as Companions of the Distinguished Service Order, and are entitled to use the post-nominal letters "DSO". All awards are announced in The London Gazette.[14]


  • The medal signifying the award of the DSO is a silver-gilt (gold until 1889) cross with curved ends, 1.6 in (4.1 cm) wide, enamelled white and edged in gilt.[3] It is manufactured by Messrs Garrard & Co, the Crown Jewellers.[14]
  • In the centre of the obverse, within a green enamelled laurel wreath, is the imperial crown in gold upon a red enamelled background. The reverse has the royal cypher of the reigning monarch in gold within a similar wreath and background.[14]
  • A ring at the top of the medal attaches to a ring at the bottom of a gilt suspension bar, ornamented with laurel. Since 1938 the year of award engraved on the back of the suspension bar.[14] At the top of the ribbon is a second gilt bar ornamented with laurel.[9]
  • The medals are issued unnamed but some recipients have had their names engraved on the reverse of the suspension bar.[9]
  • The red ribbon is 1.125 in (2.86 cm) wide with narrow blue edges.[12]
  • The bar for an additional award is plain gold with an Imperial Crown in the centre. Since about 1938, the year of the award has been engraved on the back of the bar.[14] A rosette is worn on the ribbon in undress uniform to signify the award of each bar.[15]


Numbers awarded

From 1918 to 2017 the insignia of the Distinguished Service Order has been awarded approximately 16,935 times, in addition to 1,910 bars. The figures to 1979 are laid out in the table below,[16] the dates reflecting the relevant entries in the London Gazette:

PeriodCrosses1st bar2nd bar3rd bar
Pre World War I1886–19131,732
World War I1914–19199,881768767
World War II1939–19464,880947598

In addition, between 1980 and 2017 approximately 90 DSOs have been earned, including awards for the Falklands and the wars in the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to three second-award bars.[17]

The above figures include awards to the Commonwealth. In all, 1,220 DSOs have gone to Canadians, plus 119 first bars and 20 second bars.[9] From 1901 to 1972, when the last Australian to receive the DSO was announced, 1,018 awards were made to Australians, plus 70 first bars and one second bar.[18] The DSO was awarded to over 300 New Zealanders during the two World Wars.[11]

Honorary awards to members of allied foreign forces include at least 1,329 for World War I,[16] with further awards for World War II.

Notable recipients

The following received the DSO and three bars (i.e., were awarded the DSO four times):

  • Archibald Walter Buckle, rose from naval rating in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve to command the Anson Battalion of the Royal Naval Division during the First World War[19]
  • William Denman Croft,[20] First World War army officer
  • William Robert Aufrere Dawson, Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment during the First World War, wounded nine times and mentioned in despatches four times[19]
  • Basil Embry, Second World War Royal Air Force officer
  • Bernard Freyberg, also awarded the Victoria Cross
  • Edward Albert Gibbs, Second World War destroyer captain[21]
  • Arnold Jackson, First World War British Army officer and 1500 metres Olympic gold medal winner in 1912
  • Douglas Kendrew, served as a brigade commander in Italy, Greece and the Middle East between 1944 and 1946. Subsequently appointed Governor of Western Australia.
  • Robert Sinclair Knox, First World War British Army officer[19]
  • Frederick William Lumsden, British First World War Royal Marines officer, also awarded the Victoria Cross
  • Paddy Mayne, Special Air Service commander in the Second World War and Irish rugby player
  • Sir Richard George Onslow, Second World War destroyer captain and later admiral[22]
  • Alastair Pearson, a British Army officer who received his four awards within the space of two years during the Second World War
  • James Brian Tait, RAF pilot also awarded the DFC and bar, completed 101 bombing missions in the Second World War
  • Frederic John Walker, Second World War British Navy captain and U-boat hunter
  • Edward Allan Wood,[23] First World War army officer

See also


  1. "Defence Internet | Fact Sheets | Guide to Honours". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007.
  2. Abbott & Tamplin 1981, p. 124–125. Confirms 1,732 prior to World War I: 1,646 to 1902, 78 to 1910 and 8 to 1914.
  3. Medal Yearbook 2015. Honiton, Devon: Token Publishing. 2015. p. 83. ISBN 978-1-908-828-16-3.
  4. "No. 56878". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 March 2003. p. 3351.
  5. "Distinguished Service Order". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 17 February 2010.
  6. "No. 35729". The London Gazette (Supplement). 2 October 1942. p. 4328.
  7. "No. 25641". The London Gazette. 9 November 1886. pp. 5385–5386.
  8. "No. 25650". The London Gazette. 9 November 1886. pp. 5975–5976.
  9. Veterans Affairs Canada – Distinguished Service Order (Retrieved 8 December 2018)
  10. Abbott & Tamplin 1981, p. 119–121.
  11. "British Commonwealth Gallantry, Meritorious and Distinguished Service Awards – Companion of the Distinguished Service Order". New Zealand defence force. Retrieved 17 February 2010.
  12. Duckers, Peter (2001). British gallantry awards: 1855-2000. Oxford: Shire Publications. pp. 18–23. ISBN 978-0-7478-0516-8.
  13. Medal Yearbook 2015. Honiton, Devon: Token Publishing. 2015. pp. 90, 429, 459. ISBN 978-1-908-828-16-3.
  14. Abbott & Tamplin 1981, p. 122–124.
  15. "The British (Imperial) Distinguished Service Order". Vietnam veterans association of Australia. Retrieved 17 February 2010.
  16. Abbott & Tamplin 1981, p. 124–129.
  17. Post 1979 DSOs include 19 for the Falklands (London Gazette Supplement, 8 October 1982); 1 for Sierra Leone (London Gazette Supplement, 30 September 2003); 8 for Gulf War (London Gazette Supplement, 29 June 1991Late award: 21 November 1994); 18 bars for Iraq and 43+3 second award bar for Afghanistan, plus awards for smaller conflicts.
  18. "Imperial Awards". It's an Honour. Australian Government. Archived from the original on 23 June 2006. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  19. "No. 31583". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 October 1919. p. 12213.
  20. "No. 31183". The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 February 1919. p. 2363.
  21. "No. 36081". The London Gazette. 2 July 1943. p. 3056.
  22. "No. 36771". The London Gazette (Supplement). 27 October 1944. p. 4977.
  23. Bourne, John. "Edward Allan Wood". Centre for First World War Studies. Birmingham, UK: University of Birmingham. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  • Abbott, P. E.; Tamplin, J. M. A. (1981). British Gallantry Awards. London: Nimrod Dix. ISBN 0-902633-74-0.
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