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Honouring acts of bravery

In 1914, the Military Cross was introduced for gallantry in battle for junior officers and warrant officers of the Army and Royal Flying Corps, and was extended to Royal Navy Divisions and Royal Marines during WWI.

In 1920, criteria changed from distinguished or meritorious services in action to gallant and distinguished services in action and extended to equivalent air and naval officers serving with army units.

The MC is a plain, ornamental silver cross ending with broad finials. The obverse shows the Imperial Crown on the finials and a Royal Cypher in the centre. The reverse is plain, with the year of the award engraved on the lower arm starting in 1938. The ribbon consists of three equal stripes of white, deep purple and white.

In total, 3,727 MC’s, 324 first bars and 18 second bars, have been awarded to Canadians including 120 to Canadians in the RFC, RAF and RCAF.

The counterpart for award to non-commissioned officers and other ranks of military services for acts of bravery while serving in the field is the Military Medal. Instituted in 1916, the MM is similar to the DCM, except the reverse shows the words, ‘For Bravery in the Field’. The ribbon is dark blue with five equal centre stripes of alternating white and red. In total, 13, 654 MM’s, 848 first bars and 38 second bars, have been awarded to Canadians.

After the Royal Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force and other Commonwealth air forces were formed on April 1, 1918, the Distinguished Flying Cross was introduced to recognize gallantry in active operations by officers and warrant officers.

The DFC is a cross flory with the horizontal and base bars ending with bombs. The upper bar ends with a rose. The obverse has airplane propellers superimposed on the vertical arms. A central winged roundel encircled by a wreath of laurels surmounted by an Imperial Crown is at the center, with the wings extended along the horizontal bars. In the roundel are the letters RAF and, after 1942, the letters for the RCAF and other Commonwealth air forces. The reverse includes the Royal Cypher above the date 1918, and the year of issue engraved on the lower arm. The original horizontal display of alternating, equal deep purple and white stripes on the ribbon was changed in 1919 to a diagonal slant. A total of 4,460 DFC’s, 256 first bars and six second bars, have been awarded to Canadians.

The counterpart for award to non-commissioned officers and other ranks of military services for acts of bravery while flying in active operations was the Distinguished Flying Medal. The DFM is an oval, silver medal. The obverse has an effigy of the Sovereign and legend around the edge. The reverse shows within a laurel wreath Athena Nike seated on an airplane, a hawk rising from her right arm above the words ‘For Courage’. The ribbon is the same as the DFC except the stripes are narrower. A total of 556 DFM’s were awarded to Canadians.

The fact that flying is somewhat more dangerous than other military activities was recognized by the institution of the Air Force Cross in June 1918, to be awarded to officers and warrant officers of the air forces for gallantry on non-operational missions and for meritorious services on flying duties. The AFC consists of a silver thunderbolt, the arms co-joined by wings, with the lower bar terminating in a bomb. The cross is surmounted by another cross of airplane propellers with the finials inscribed with the applicable Royal Cypher. The obverse also has a centre roundel displaying Hermes, mounted on a hawk in flight, bestowing a wreath. The reverse has a central circle containing the Royal Cypher and the date 1918, with the year of award appearing on the lower arm. The ribbon consists of alternating slanted red and white stripes. A total of 560 AFC’s have been awarded to Canadians.

The Air Force Medal was instituted in 1918 for award to non-commissioned officers and other ranks of the Commonwealth air forces. It was extended to army and naval equivalents in WW II for acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty performed while flying, though not in active operations against the enemy. The AFM is an oval, silver medal. The obverse bears a raised, bareheaded effigy of the Sovereign with the legend surrounding the rim. On the reverse within a wreath of laurel, Hermes is shown mounted on a hawk in flight bestowing a wreath. The ribbon is the same as the AFC’s except that the stripes are narrower. Only 47 AFM’s were awarded to Canadians.

The bars awarded for a subsequent act or acts for each of the above gallantry awards were attached to the ribbon as either a plain silver or laurelled silver bar complete with special markings depending upon the details entered into the London Gazette. A rosette is worn on the undress ribbon to indicate award of a bar. Except for the DSC, MC, DFC and AFC, all gallantry awards were named with the service number, rank, initials, surname and unit of the recipient either impressed or engraved in block letters around the rim of the medal.

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