The British Empire Medal was created by Royal Warrant on December 29th 1922 and replaced the Medal of the Order of the British Empire (1907-1922). The medal was awarded for meritorious service in the British Empire. In 1922, the medal was divided into ‘The Medal of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for Gallantry (known as the Empire Gallantry Medal - EGM)’ and ’The Medal of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for Meritorious Service – BEM)’. After the EGM was superseded by the George Cross on September 24th, 1940, the BEM continued to be awarded for gallantry, but a degree less than that required to earn the George Medal.
A bar was awarded for additional acts of gallantry and from 1957 on a silver oak leaf emblem was worn on the ribbon to signify that the award was for gallantry and not for service.
The award is a circular silver medal with a diameter of 1.42 inches. On the obverse is the picture of ‘Britannia’ seated, with the sun to her right. Legends around the edge reads FOR GOD AND THE EMPIRE and on the below of the award is the inscription FOR MERITORIOUS SERVICE. The EGM had the inscription FOR GALLANTRY on the bottom.
On the reverse of the award is the Royal Cypher surmounted by a crown with the words : INSTITUTED BY KING GEORGE V within a border of four heraldic lions.
Until 1938 the civil ribbon was purple (1.25 inches wide) and the military ribbon had a narrow central stripe added. From 1938 the civil ribbon is pink with pearl-grey edges and the military ribbon has a narrow, pearl-grey central stripe added.
Military awards have the service number, full name and unit or service engraved and civil awards have the names in full engraved.
During World War 2 a total of 1236 medals were awarded. For merit 1202 medals and for gallantry 34 medals.
See also: Order of the British Empire