Distinguished Service Order

The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) is a military decoration of the United Kingdom, and 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 all ranks have been eligible.

Distinguished Service Order
Distinguished Service Order badge (United Kingdom) - Tallinn Museum of Orders
Distinguished Service Order, King George V reverse
Obverse and reverse, reign of George V
Awarded by United Kingdom and Commonwealth
TypeOrder with one degree
EligibilityMembers of the armed forces
Awarded for"Distinguished services during active operations against the enemy."[1]
StatusCurrently awarded
SovereignQueen Elizabeth II
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
Distinguished Service Order, ribbon bar
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[5]


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

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.[8] While 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.[9]

From 1916, ribbon bars could be authorised for subsequent awards of the DSO, worn on the ribbon of the original award.[9] In 1942, the award was extended to officers of the Merchant Navy who had performed acts of gallantry while under enemy attack.[10] A requirement that the order could be given only to someone mentioned in despatches was removed in 1943.[9]

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'.[11] 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.[8]
  • The medals are issued unnamed but some recipients have had their names engraved on the reverse of the suspension bar.[8]
  • 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:

Period Crosses 1st bar 2nd bar 3rd bar
Pre World War I 1886–1913 1,732
World War I 1918–1919 9,881 768 76 7
Inter–War 1919–1939 148 16
World War II 1939–1946 4,880 947 59 8
Post–War 1947–1979 204 20 5 1
Total 1886–1979 16,845 1,751 140 16

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.[8]
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.[10]

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):

See also


  1. ^ Defence Internet|Fact Sheets|Guide to Honours Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ P E Abbott & J M A Tamplin. British Gallantry Awards, 1981. pp. 124-125. Confirms 1,732 prior to World War I: 1,646 to 1902, 78 to 1910 and 8 to 1914.
  3. ^ a b 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. ^ "No. 35729". The London Gazette (Supplement). 2 October 1942. p. 4328.
  6. ^ "No. 25641". The London Gazette. 9 November 1886. pp. 5385–5386.
  7. ^ "No. 25650". The London Gazette. 9 November 1886. pp. 5975–5976.
  8. ^ a b c d Veterans Affairs Canada – Distinguished Service Order (Retrieved 8 December 2018)
  9. ^ a b c P E Abbott & J M A Tamplin. British Gallantry Awards. pp. 119-121. Nimrod Dix & Co, London, 1981.ISBN 0-902633-74-0
  10. ^ a b "British Commonwealth Gallantry, Meritorious and Distinguished Service Awards – Companion of the Distinguished Service Order". New Zealand defence force. Retrieved 17 February 2010.
  11. ^ "Distinguished Service Order". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 17 February 2010.
  12. ^ a b Peter Duckers. British Gallantry Awards 1855 – 2000. pp. 18-23. Shire Publications, Oxford, 2010.ISBN 978-0-7478-0516-8.
  13. ^ Medal Yearbook 2015. Honiton, Devon: Token Publishing. 2015. p. 90, 429, 459. ISBN 978-1-908-828-16-3.
  14. ^ a b c d e P E Abbott & J M A Tamplin. British Gallantry Awards. pp. 122-124. Nimrod Dix & Co, London, 1981.ISBN 0-902633-74-0
  15. ^ "The British (Imperial) Distinguished Service Order". Vietnam veterans association of Australia. Retrieved 17 February 2010.
  16. ^ a b P E Abbott & J M A Tamplin. British Gallantry Awards. pp. 124-129. Nimrod Dix & Co, London, 1981.ISBN 0-902633-74-0
  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. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  19. ^ a b c "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.

External links

2016 Special Honours

As part of the British honours system, Special Honours are issued at the Queen's pleasure at any given time. The Special Honours refer the award of the Order of the Garter, Order of the Thistle, Order of Merit, Royal Victorian Order and the Order of St John. Life peerages are at times also awarded as special honours.

2017 Special Honours

As part of the British honours system, Special Honours are issued at the Monarch's pleasure at any given time. The Special Honours refer to the awards made within royal prerogative, operational honours and other honours awarded outside the New Years Honours and Birthday Honours.

Billy Bishop

William Avery Bishop, (8 February 1894 – 11 September 1956) was a Canadian flying ace of the First World War.

He was officially credited with 72 victories, making him the top Canadian and British Empire ace of the war. He was an Air Marshal and a Victoria Cross recipient.

During the Second World War, Bishop was instrumental in setting up and promoting the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.

Blair Wark

Blair Anderson Wark, (27 July 1894 – 13 June 1941) was an Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for gallantry "in the face of the enemy" that can be awarded to members of the British and other Commonwealth armed forces. A quantity surveyor and member of the Citizens Military Force, Wark enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 5 August 1915, for service in the First World War. After initially being employed in the defence of the Suez Canal, his battalion was shipped to the Western Front; it was here that Wark would be twice decorated for his bravery and leadership. Having received the Distinguished Service Order in 1917 for his actions at the Battle of Polygon Wood, Wark was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1918 for his leadership and gallantry when in temporary command of his battalion over a three-day period, while conducting operations against the Hindenburg Line.

Returning to Australia after the war, Wark resumed work as a quantity surveyor and established his own business. He became a respected member of Australian society, holding positions and directorships in various companies and charities until 1940, when he re-enlisted in the Citizens Military Force for service in the Second World War. Wark was promoted to lieutenant colonel and assumed command of the 1st Battalion (City of Sydney's Own Regiment), but died suddenly at Puckapunyal Camp, Victoria, of coronary heart disease at the age of 46.

Charles Burnell

Charles Desborough 'Don' Burnell, (13 January 1876 – 3 October 1969) was a British rower who competed in the 1908 Summer Olympics.

Charles Drury

Charles Mills "Bud" Drury, (May 17, 1912 – January 12, 1991) was a Canadian soldier, businessman, and politician.

Distinguished Service Order (Vietnam)

The Vietnam Distinguished Service Order (Vietnamese: Huân-Chương-Việt Nam) was a military decoration of South Vietnam which

was awarded throughout the years of the Vietnam War. The decoration was bestowed for meritorious or heroic deeds related to wartime operations and was awarded for both combat and non-combat service.

There were two classes of the Vietnam Distinguished Service Order, the first class being for officers and the second class for enlisted personnel. The first class of the order was differentiated by a blossom device centered on the medal and ribbon.

The Vietnam Distinguished Service Order was also provided to foreign militaries, and in the United States military the decoration was considered the equivalent of the Legion of Merit. For foreign officers, the 2nd class of the order was also provided to officers.

The decoration ranked immediately below the National Order of Vietnam and the Vietnam Military Merit Medal. It was among the less commonly bestowed medals, in contrast to such decorations as the Vietnam Gallantry Cross and Vietnam Campaign Medal.

The last issuance of the Vietnam Distinguished Service Order was in 1974, before the Fall of Saigon.

Edmund Drake-Brockman

Major General Edmund Alfred Drake-Brockman, (21 February 1884 – 1 June 1949) was a distinguished Australian soldier, statesman, and judge who served in both the First and Second World Wars.

Gustavus Coulson

Gustavus Hamilton Blenkinsopp Coulson, (1 April 1879 – 18 May 1901) was a British Army officer and an English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for gallantry "in the face of the enemy" awarded to members of the British and Commonwealth armed forces.

Harry Altham

Harry Surtees Altham (30 November 1888 – 11 March 1965) was an English cricketer who became an important figure in the game as an administrator, historian and coach. His Wisden obituary described him as "among the best known personalities in the world of cricket". He died of a heart attack just after he had given an address to a cricket society.

Altham was educated at Repton School and Trinity College, Oxford, and served in the British Army during World War I as a Major with the 60th Rifles. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and the Military Cross (MC), and was mentioned in despatches on three occasions. He was a schoolmaster and a cricket coach at Winchester College, a position that he held for thirty years, and was also the housemaster of Chernocke House.

Altham's son, Richard, played in two first-class matches for Oxford University in 1947-1948.

Harry Murray

Henry William "Harry" Murray, (1 December 1880 – 7 January 1966) was an Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for gallantry "in the face of the enemy" that can be awarded to members of the British and Commonwealth armed forces. Decorated several times throughout his service in the First World War, Murray rose from the rank of private to lieutenant colonel in three and a half years. He is often described as the most highly decorated infantry soldier of the British Empire during the First World War.Born in Tasmania, Murray worked as a farmer, courier and timber cutter before enlisting in September 1914. Assigned to a machine gun crew, he served during the Gallipoli Campaign, where he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal before the withdrawal from the peninsula. He was later transferred along with the rest of his battalion to France for service on the Western Front, where he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order during the Battle of the Somme. In February 1917, Murray commanded a company during the battalion's attack on the German position of Stormy Trench. During the engagement, the company was able to capture the position and repulse three fierce counter-attacks, with Murray often leading bayonet and bombing charges himself. For his actions during the battle, Murray was awarded the Victoria Cross. Soon after his Victoria Cross action, he was promoted to major and earned a Bar to his Distinguished Service Order during an attack on the Hindenburg Line near Bullecourt. Promoted to lieutenant colonel in early 1918, he assumed command of the 4th Machine Gun Battalion, where he would remain until the end of the war.

Returning to Australia in 1920, Murray eventually settled in Queensland, where he purchased the grazing farm that would be his home for the remainder of his life. Re-enlisting for service in the Second World War, he was appointed as commanding officer of the 26th (Militia) Battalion. Taking his discharge in 1944, Murray returned to his farm and died in 1966 at the age of 85.

Humphrey T. Walwyn

Vice Admiral Sir Humphrey Thomas Walwyn, (25 January 1879 – 29 December 1957) was an officer of the Royal Navy, who served during the Second Boer War and First World War, and was the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Indian Navy from 1928 until his retirement in 1934. He then served as Governor of Newfoundland from 1936, throughout the Second World War, until 1946.

I. S. O. Playfair

Major-General Ian Stanley Ord Playfair (10 April 1894 – 21 March 1972) was a British Army officer.

Jack Churchill

John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill, DSO & Bar, MC & Bar (16 September 1906 – 8 March 1996), was a British Army officer who fought throughout the Second World War armed with a longbow, bagpipes, and a basket-hilted Scottish broadsword.

Nicknamed "Fighting Jack Churchill" and "Mad Jack", he was known for the motto: "Any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed."

Jameson Adams

Captain Sir Jameson Boyd Adams (6 March 1880 – 30 April 1962) was a British Antarctic explorer and Royal Navy officer. He participated in the Nimrod Expedition, the first expedition led by Ernest Shackleton in an unsuccessful attempt to reach the South Pole.

Owen Phillips (general)

Major General Owen Forbes Phillips, (9 June 1882 – 15 May 1966) was a senior officer in the Australian Army who spent much of his career in artillery and ordnance.

Patrick Boyle, 8th Earl of Glasgow

Patrick James Boyle, 8th Earl of Glasgow, DSO (18 June 1874 – 14 December 1963) was a Scottish nobleman and a far right political activist, involved with fascist parties and groups.

William Harry Evans

Brigadier William Harry Evans CSI CIE DSO (born 22 July 1876 in Shillong – died 13 November 1956, Church Whitfield ) was a lepidopterist and British Army officer who served in India. He documented the butterfly fauna of India, Burma and Ceylon in a series of articles in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. Brigadier Evans was especially interested in the taxonomy and systematics of the butterfly families Lycaenidae and Hesperiidae an example being his A revision of the Arhopala group of Oriental Lycaenidae (Lepidoptera: Rhopalocera) Bull. British Mus. (Nat. Hist.), Ent., vol. 5: pp. 85–141 (1957).

William Sinclair-Burgess

Major General Sir William Livingston Hatchwell Sinclair-Burgess, (18 February 1880 – 3 April 1964) was a senior officer in the New Zealand Military Forces.

Born in England, his family moved to New Zealand in the 1890s. He became a professional soldier in the New Zealand Military Forces in 1911. In Australia on an exchange with the Australian Army when the First World War broke out, he was attached to the Australian Imperial Force. He served in the Gallipoli Campaign and on the Western Front in a series of artillery commands. During the war, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, mentioned in despatches six times and was one of only 14 personnel of the New Zealand Military Forces to receive the French Legion of Honour. Returning to New Zealand after the war, he later served as Commandant of the New Zealand Military Forces from 1931 until his retirement in 1937. He died in 1964 at the age of 84.

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