Distinguished Service Order
The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) is a military decoration
Military decoration
A military decoration is a decoration given to military personnel or units for heroism in battle or distinguished service. They are designed to be worn on military uniform....

 of the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, and formerly of other parts of the British Commonwealth and Empire
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

, awarded for meritorious or distinguished service by officers of the armed forces
Armed forces
The armed forces of a country are its government-sponsored defense, fighting forces, and organizations. They exist to further the foreign and domestic policies of their governing body, and to defend that body and the nation it represents from external aggressors. In some countries paramilitary...

 during wartime, typically in actual combat.

Instituted on 6 September 1886 by Queen Victoria in a Royal Warrant
Royal Warrant
Royal warrants of appointment have been issued for centuries to those who supply goods or services to a royal court or certain royal personages. The warrant enables the supplier to advertise the fact that they supply to the royal family, so lending prestige to the supplier...

 published in the London Gazette
London Gazette
The London Gazette is one of the official journals of record of the British government, and the most important among such official journals in the United Kingdom, in which certain statutory notices are required to be published...

on 9 November, the first DSOs awarded were dated 25 November 1886. It is typically awarded to officers ranked Major
Major is a rank of commissioned officer, with corresponding ranks existing in almost every military in the world.When used unhyphenated, in conjunction with no other indicator of rank, the term refers to the rank just senior to that of an Army captain and just below the rank of lieutenant colonel. ...

 (or its equivalent) or higher, but the honour has sometimes been awarded to especially valorous junior officer
Junior officer
The term junior officer is sometimes used to make clear that an officer in a military or paramilitary unit is not in overall command. The term senior officer is reserved for the officer in overall command....

s. 8,981 DSOs were awarded during the First World War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, each award being announced in the London Gazette.

The order was established for rewarding individual instances of meritorious or distinguished service in war. It was a military order, until recently for officers only, and normally given for service under fire or under conditions equivalent to service in actual combat with the enemy, although it was awarded between 1914 and 1916 under circumstances which could not be regarded as under fire (often to staff officers, which caused 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. Prior to 1943, the order could be given only to someone Mentioned in Despatches. The order is generally given to officers in command, above the rank of Captain. A number of more junior officers were awarded the DSO, and this was often regarded as an acknowledgement that the officer had only just missed out on the award of the Victoria Cross
Victoria Cross
The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries, and previous British Empire territories....

In 1942, the award of the DSO was extended to officers of the Merchant Navy
Merchant Navy
The Merchant Navy is the maritime register of the United Kingdom, and describes the seagoing commercial interests of UK-registered ships and their crews. Merchant Navy vessels fly the Red Ensign and are regulated by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency...

 who had performed acts of gallantry while under enemy attack.

Since 1993, its award has been restricted solely to distinguished service (i.e. leadership and command by any rank), with the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross
Conspicuous Gallantry Cross
The Conspicuous Gallantry Cross is a second level military decoration of the United Kingdom armed forces. Created in 1993 and first awarded in 1995, it was instituted after a review of the British honours system to remove distinctions of rank in the awarding of gallantry decorations...

 being introduced as the second highest award for gallantry. It has, however, thus far only been awarded to senior officers as before.

Recipients of the order are officially known as Companions of the Distinguished Service Order. They are entitled to use the post-nominal letters
Post-nominal letters
Post-nominal letters, also called post-nominal initials, post-nominal titles or designatory letters, are letters placed after the name of a person to indicate that the individual holds a position, educational degree, accreditation, office, or honour. An individual may use several different sets of...

 "DSO". A gold bar ornamented by the Crown may be issued to DSO holders performing a further act of such leadership which would have merited award of the DSO.


  • The medal
    A medal, or medallion, is generally a circular object that has been sculpted, molded, cast, struck, stamped, or some way rendered with an insignia, portrait, or other artistic rendering. A medal may be awarded to a person or organization as a form of recognition for athletic, military, scientific,...

     signifying its award is a gold (silver-gilt) cross, enamelled
    Vitreous enamel
    Vitreous enamel, also porcelain enamel in U.S. English, is a material made by fusing powdered glass to a substrate by firing, usually between 750 and 850 °C...

     white and edged in gold. In the centre, within a wreath of laurel
    Bay Laurel
    The bay laurel , also known as sweet bay, bay tree, true laurel, Grecian laurel, laurel tree, or simply laurel, is an aromatic evergreen tree or large shrub with green, glossy leaves, native to the Mediterranean region. It is the source of the bay leaf used in cooking...

    , enamelled green, is the Imperial Crown
    Imperial crown
    An Imperial Crown is a crown used for the coronation of emperors.- Imperial Crowns with Mitre :-Legal usage:Throughout the Commonwealth Realms, The Crown is an abstract concept which represents the legal authority for the existence of any government...

     in gold upon a red enamelled background.
  • On the reverse is the Royal Cypher
    Royal Cypher
    In modern heraldry, a royal cypher is a monogram-like device of a country's reigning sovereign, typically consisting of the initials of the monarch's name and title, sometimes interwoven and often surmounted by a crown. In the case where such a cypher is used by an emperor or empress, it is called...

     in gold upon a red enamelled ground, within a wreath of laurel, enamelled green. A ring at the top of the medal attaches to a ring at the bottom of a gold "suspension" bar, ornamented with laurel. At the top of the ribbon is a second gold bar ornamented with laurel.
  • The red ribbon is 1.125 in (2.9 cm) wide with narrow blue edges. The medals are issued unnamed but some recipients have had their names engraved on the reverse of the suspension bar.
  • The bar
    Medal bar
    A medal bar or medal clasp is a thin metal bar attached to the ribbon of a military decoration, civil decoration, or other medal. It is most commonly used to indicate the campaign or operation the recipient received the award for, and multiple bars on the same medal are used to indicate that the...

     for a second award is plain gold with an Imperial Crown in the centre. The back of the bar is engraved with the year of the award. A rosette is worn on the ribbon in undress uniform to signify the award of a bar.

Notable recipients

The following received the DSO and three bars:
  • Archibald Walter Buckle, rose from being a naval rating
    Naval rating
    A Naval Rating is an enlisted member of a country's Navy, subordinate to Warrant Officers and Officers hence not conferred by commission or warrant...

     in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve to command the Anson Battalion of the Royal Naval Division during the First World War.
  • William Denman Croft, 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.
  • Basil Embry
    Basil Embry
    Air Chief Marshal Sir Basil Edward Embry GCB, KBE, DSO & Three Bars, DFC, AFC, RAF, was a senior Royal Air Force commander...

  • Bernard Freyberg, also awarded Victoria Cross
  • Edward Albert Gibbs, Second World War destroyer captain
  • Arnold Jackson
    Arnold Jackson
    Brigadier-General Arnold Nugent Strode Strode-Jackson CBE DSO & Three Bars was a British athlete, British Army officer, and a barrister. He was the winner of the 1500m at the 1912 Summer Olympics, in what was hailed at the time as "the greatest race ever run"...

    , 1500 metres Olympic Gold Medal winner in 1912
  • Douglas Kendrew
    Douglas Kendrew
    Major General Sir Douglas Anthony Kendrew, KCMG, CB, CBE, DSO & Three Bars, was a British rugby player and military officer, who became Governor of Western Australia 1963-1974.- Early years :...

    , served as a Brigade Commander in Italy, Greece and the Middle East between 1944 and 1946. Later appointed Governor of Western Australia
    Western Australia
    Western Australia is a state of Australia, occupying the entire western third of the Australian continent. It is bounded by the Indian Ocean to the north and west, the Great Australian Bight and Indian Ocean to the south, the Northern Territory to the north-east and South Australia to the south-east...

  • Robert Sinclair Knox
  • Frederick William Lumsden
    Frederick William Lumsden
    Brigadier General Frederick William Lumsden VC, CB, DSO & Three Bars was a British officer in Royal Marine Artillery and later the General Staff, during the First World War...

    , also awarded Victoria Cross
  • Paddy Mayne
    Paddy Mayne
    Lieutenant Colonel Robert Blair "Paddy" Mayne DSO & Three Bars was a Northern Irish soldier, solicitor, Ireland rugby union international, amateur boxer, polar explorer and a founding member of the Special Air Service .-Early life and sporting achievements:Robert Blair "Paddy" Mayne was born in...

    , Special Air Service
    Special Air Service
    Special Air Service or SAS is a corps of the British Army constituted on 31 May 1950. They are part of the United Kingdom Special Forces and have served as a model for the special forces of many other countries all over the world...

     commander and Irish Rugby
    Rugby football
    Rugby football is a style of football named after Rugby School in the United Kingdom. It is seen most prominently in two current sports, rugby league and rugby union.-History:...

  • Sir Richard George Onslow
    Richard Onslow (Royal Navy officer)
    Admiral Sir Richard George Onslow KCB DSO & Three Bars DL was a Royal Navy officer who went on to be Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth.-Naval career:...

    , Second World War destroyer captain and later admiral
  • Alastair Pearson
    Alastair Pearson
    Brigadier Alastair Stevenson Pearson CB, DSO & Three Bars, OBE, MC, TD was a baker, farmer and one of the most highly-regarded soldiers of the British Army who served in World War II. During his distinguished military career he was known as Jock Pearson to the men of his command.-Early...

    , a British Army officer who received his four awards within the space of two years during the Second World War.
  • James Brian Tait
    James Brian Tait
    Group Captain James Brian Tait DSO and three bars, DFC and bar was an officer in the Royal Air Force during and after World War II. He conducted 101 bombing missions during the war, including those which finally sank the German battleship Tirpitz in 1944...

    , RAF pilot also awarded the DFC
    Distinguished Flying Cross (United Kingdom)
    The Distinguished Flying Cross is a military decoration awarded to personnel of the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force and other services, and formerly to officers of other Commonwealth countries, for "an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against...

     and bar, completed 101 bombing missions in the Second World War
  • Frederic John Walker
    Frederic John Walker
    Captain Frederic John Walker, CB, DSO and three Bars, RN was a British Royal Navy officer noted for his exploits during World War II...

    , Second World War British Navy Captain and U boat hunter.
  • Edward Allan Wood, First World War army officer

See also

  • British and Commonwealth orders and decorations
  • :Category:Companions of the Distinguished Service Order

External links

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