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Metropolitan Police Gallantry Awards

History

The early days of the Service did not have the formalised system of recognising gallantry with which we are familiar today. Metropolitan Police Orders in the period 1864 -79 contain many entries for officers recommended for rewards, and some of this work was courageous. Thames Division's PC Baker's gratuity for 5/- was paid into the rewards fund, for instance, and officers were often awarded monetary rewards from the police fund and from courts for good work which often included bravery. The public sometimes rewarded brave conduct, as in the case of PC Edward Robinson who apprehended Charlie Peace, and was given an inscribed watch from grateful local residents. 

Albert Medal

The Albert Medal was instituted on 7th March 1866, 10 years after the VC, and it was split into two classes the following year 1867. It was introduced to recognise great courage in preventing loss of life "by reason of shipwrecks and other perils of the sea" . It was ordained that it should only be awarded to those who had endangered their own lives. The two classes became The Albert Medal in Gold and The Albert Medal (also known as in Bronze) in 1917 and it had been extended to saving life on land in 1877. The standard had to be that the chances of death were greater than the chance of survival, although some have said that the chances of survival had to be negligible.

There were 571 awards all told, the last of 69 Gold Medals being a posthumous case in 1945. By that time the GC and the GM had been instituted, and in November 1949 King George VI agreed that the Gold Award should cease and that the Bronze should only be posthumous.

There were 6 police officers and one retired police officer who received Albert Medals, but only one of them was in Gold, which was awarded to PC William Cole of A Division after a Fenian bomb attack on Westminster Hall on 24th January 1885.

Police Orders of 28th January 1885 carried a copy of a letter to the Commissioner from the Home Secretary William Harcourt about PC Cole "who, knowing full well the terrible risk he incurred, endeavoured, at the peril of his life to remove the burning explosive from the building"

William Cole had joined in 1860 as a man of 20. (PC 340 A, warrant number 39501) His pension record shows that he was promoted to sergeant on 2 February 1885, very soon after the incident, but he was pensioned off on 21st April 1886 as the result of his injuries. He spent the whole of his Service on A Division and had a large scar on the back of his neck (perhaps the result of his injuries?).

 

Inspector Frederick Wright (warrant number 74225) was the second and only other Met officer to be awarded the medal, this time in Bronze, for his part in rescuing 13 people during a Zeppelin raid in Camberwell on the night of 19-20th October 1917. A bomb fell on two adjoining houses, killing 10 and trapping eighteen under the wreckage. Inspector Wright and PCs Robert Melton and Jesse Christmas, both of whom were awarded the KPM, cut a hole in the floor and then dropped into the basement and searched for two children, despite fumes from the gas, a fire raging above and the possibility of wreckage collapsing on top of them. When he reached the open air again, Inspector Wright collapsed, received medical care, went home, and then returned to his rescue efforts later on in the night.

Detective Inspector John Henry Mitchell also was awarded the Albert Medal.   On  27 September 1940 whilst serving in the Royal Navy he dived into a harbour between two trawlers, wearing sea boots, and rescued Chief Engineman Wedderburn.  Later, John Mitchell joined the Metropolitan Police and was awarded the BEM in the 1970 New Year's Honours List.

John Mitchell AM BEM

The Albert Medal was officially replaced by the George Cross and in 1971 the Albert Medal holders were invited to exchange their medals for a GC. 49 of the 64 eligible did so. There was a great controversy amongst the medal holders at the time.

The third award of the Albert Medal in a Metropolitan Police related incident was to Mrs Frances Maude Wright.   On 26th December 1910 at about 1am, Mrs Wright saw a man, Charles Arthur, being pursued by PC George Haytread in the Borough.   The man fired a gun at PC Haytread three times before a struggle to arrest him ensued.   Mrs Wright grabbed hold of the man and struck him in the course of helping to arrest the man, and received the Albert Medal from the King, probably the highest gallantry award made to a member of the public assisting the police in this way.    The entry on Mrs Wright also contains details of some other ladies who received the Albert Medal.

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The Royal Humane Society

PC Cole was not the first to receive a formal award, if one includes medals awarded by Societies rather than the Sovereign. One such Society, the Royal Humane Society (RHS), started life in 1774, well before the Metropolitan Police, as the "Institution for affording immediate relief to persons apparently dead from drowning", then as the "Society for the recovery of persons apparently drowned", and then "The Humane Society" in 1776. The Royal prefix was granted by George III in 1787. The RHS Stanhope Gold medal is the top RHS award, and was instituted in 1873 for the bravest deed reported to the RHS. It was founded in memory of Captain Chandos Stanhope RN whose obituary stated that the had "on several occasions showed a readiness to risk his life for others"

PC John Jenkins of E Division was awarded the medal in 1882, three years before PC Cole's incident, for a rescue from Waterloo Bridge. A PC from Bristol was awarded the medal in 1999, but it is rare for it to be awarded to police officers. Normal life-saving professionals such as nurses, doctors and paramedics are not eligible.

But the Stanhope Gold Medal was awarded again to a Met officer in January 1992 when Lesley Moore from Charing Cross Division showed great courage at an incident which occurred in Ryder Street SW1. A 25 year old workman, Gary Westlake had fallen 50 feet whilst erecting a corrugated iron roof to some scaffolding and landed up on a sloping roof of a fourth floor dormer window. A scaffolder swung the officer across a dangerous gap, and she then gave first aid and resuscitation to the workman without being protected in any way, in strong winds (up to 43 mph) and used her tunic to act as a pillow to comfort him. After about an hour, special Fire Brigade equipment arrived and the casualty was taken to hospital but he died several days later.

For a list of bronze awards made to London police officers, click here.

The Society for the Protection of Life from Fire

Another Society, the Society for the Protection of Life from Fire began life on 22nd March 1836, 30 years before the Albert Medal and 20 years before the VC. It provided escape ladders, equipment and training to fight fires, gave funds for research into equipment and awarded medals, watches and certificates to fire fighters, police officers and members of the public for notable bravery and courage in rescue situations. In 1867 the Metropolitan Fire Brigade came into being and took over the Society's escapes, station equipment and trained staff. Metropolitan officers have regularly received awards from this body, and, as with the Royal Humane Society, there are frequent incidents which would qualify for recognition by both Sovereign and the Society.

There were 29 Kings' Police Medals awarded for bravery against fires between 1911 and 1938, for instance. In later peace-time years there were two George Medals in 1956 to PCs Norman Loxley and Thomas Oliver who rescued a man from a burning railway carriage, one BEM for gallantry (1966) awarded to PC John Chorlton who climbed up a drain pipe of a burning house to rescue two people, and six Queen's Commendations for Brave Conduct at other fires, the latest being in 1972. Nowadays it seems to be a rare event for a Sovereign's medal to be awarded for rescue gallantry within the remits of the RHS and SPLF.

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King's Police Medal (KPM)

This medal was instituted by King Edward VII on 7th July 1909 following representations made after the Tottenham Outrage where so many were shot and wounded in a running battle with the Latvian immigrants Paul Hefeld and Jacob Lepidus. PC William Tyler was murdered, as indeed was a 10-year old boy Ralph Joscelyne, but Sergeants Cater and Eagles, and PC Dixon who had distinguished themselves in the incident, were amongst the first to be awarded the new medal. The KPM and its current equivalent of the QPM can also be awarded for distinguished service. It is possible for a QPM nowadays to be awarded for an individual smart piece of police work, but these awards are predominantly to senior officers.   There are exceptions, however, in that Sir John Nott-Bower was a Commissioner whose QPM was awarded for brave conduct (in India where he was involved in a gun battle with an Indian nationalist terrorist).   For an example of a more junior officer recognised for distinguished service, see Norwell Roberts.  DS Albert Handley (warrant number 74488) was a junior officer who received the KPM for distinguished service for 26 years' service in Bethnal Green during which he received 148 commendations, and had also been shot at.

Of 226 KPMs awarded up until 1940 to Met officers, 33 (15%) were for saving, or attempting to save life from drowning and 26 (12%) were for going into houses or other buildings which were on fire. A large group of 41 (18%) were for dealing with runaway horses, but the largest was 63 (28%) for incidents involving firearms.

Facing firearms is the single biggest category of bravery recognised by the awards, with the exception of George Medals where the 81 awarded for war activities has an enormous effect on the pattern of awards. The chart at Table 1 showing the reasons for various awards gives an interesting insight into the process. Sometimes  incidents in the firearms category also involve other weapons,  prolonged car chases or actions against terrorists. Dates, where mentioned, refer to the time of the award rather than the incident unless stated otherwise.

If you are interested in a book about police gallantry recognised by the award of the King's Police Medal, click here.

King's Police and Fire Service Medal (KPFSM)

In World War II, the King's Police Medal became the Kings Police and Fire Service Medal, principally as a recognition of the undoubted heroism shown by Fire Service officers during war time. When the George Cross and George Medal were instituted in 1940, the KPFSM was then reserved for cases not connected with war activities, and in 1951 regulations were introduced which directed that the medal should be replaced for gallantry cases by the George Medal except in posthumous cases. So the George Medal and the King's Police Medal were seen as broadly equivalent in terms of the degree of gallantry required.

There were 44 awards of the KPFSM between 1941 and 1953. The proportion involving firearms rose to 61% (27 cases), including four officers who were involved in tracking down and arresting the man who had murdered PC Nat Edgar. The list also includes PC Sidney Miles, the first Met officer whose KPFSM award was posthumous under the new regulations. WDS Alberta Watts (nee Law, warrant number 391) of P Division won the medal in 1947 for bravery after she suffered a violent assault whilst acting as a decoy to trap a sex offender on Tooting Bec common, a fore-runner of the George Medals awarded to Ethel Bush and Kate Parrott in 1955 in Croydon.

Table 1 - Gallantry Awards by type of Incident

Category

KPM

KPFSM

GM

BEM

QGM

QCBC

Action to prevent drowning

33

   

4

 

1

Runaway horses

41

2

     

3

Action to save life from fire

26

2

2

1

 

15

Firearms

63

27

43

67

32

197

Other weapons, knives and violence

11

2

1

15

6

34

Rescues from gas / poison

12

   

2

   
Roof top / high building / bridge incidents

6

 

1

10

1

23

Chased Fenians under gunfire

4

         
Dismantling/ dealing with bombs and hoaxes

2

 

4

 

2

14

Being carried on cars

6

3

 

4

 

6

Extinguishing ammunition train fire

3

         
Evacuation from dangerous fire

1

         
Police car chases

1

   

3

   
Rescue from electric railway and Underground lines

1

     

1

2

Rescue on holiday from sea

1

         
Rescuing prisoner from river

1

         
Wartime activity

2

 

81

1

   
Protection from motor vehicles

1

       

2

Road block  

4

       
Siege situations  

3

1

3

 

4

Acting as decoy  

1

2

     
Gunfire exchange    

1

     
Thwarting attacks on royalty    

1

 

1

1

Riot    

1

 

11

 
Gallantry unspecified      

2

   

Number of years in period

30

12

62

33

28

50

 

1910 -1940

1941-1953

1940-2002

1941- 1974

1974-2002

1952-2002

Average per year for whole period

7.5

3.7

2.2

3.4

1.9

6.2

Number in decade 1993 - 2002

0

0

0

0

9

53

Total

226

44

138

112

54

312

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Posthumous awards

Following on from PC Sidney Miles, there were six posthumous awards of the QPM for gallantry. PS Leonard Demmon (warrant number 138760) was killed in a notorious gunfight incident at Nicosia hospital in Cyprus in 1956. His colleague, PS Maurice Eden (warrant number 136095) was awarded a George Medal, but died before he could receive it. Inspector Phillip Pawsey (warrant number 129523) and Sergeant Frederick Hutchins (warrant number 122805) were shot and killed by a suspect attempting to escape from West Ham police station in 1961. Their colleague PC Charles Cox (warrant number 132059) was awarded a GM for his part in the incident. PC Michael Whiting (warrant number 162273) was thrown from a suspect's car after stopping him in 1974, and PC Stephen Tibble was shot, whilst off duty, by an IRA terrorist in 1976. The use of firearms against police was the overwhelmingly main cause of the bravery and the officers' deaths.

The posthumous awards bring into focus the difficult question of differentiating between degrees of bravery, especially after it became possible to make all the awards on a posthumous basis. The principle that courage was measured by the likelihood of death when the authorities decided on what awards should be given appears to have become somewhat amended. I am not aware of any specific guidance which is publicly available, but if the fact of a courageous officer's death no longer became evidence of a qualification for the higher awards, then the criteria would naturally tend to concentrate more specifically on the actions of the officers in the events leading up to the incident's conclusion. How sustained was the advance under fire, for instance? When would the officers have known about the extremely serious threat to their safety? Were they wounded in earlier stages of the incident?

It is an invidious decision to make between degrees of courage, especially when the act of overcoming fear is individual to each person's temperament and experience.

These criteria might, then, might give a clue to the different awards given to officers who have died:

On a more historical note, PC James Thomson was killed by a cement lorry whilst he was trying to clear pedestrians from its path, and was awarded a KPM in 1935.

His death was the catalyst for the creation of the formal Roll of Honour. PC Edward Greenoff was killed in an explosion whilst evacuating people at the Silvertown munitions factory and was awarded a KPM in 1917.

There have been some famous incidents where no award has been made to the murdered police officer. These include PC Raymond Summers who was stabbed to death in Holloway after breaking up a gang fight in 1958, Detective Sergeant Raymond Purdy, shot by a prisoner escaping arrest in South Kensington in 1959, DC John Fordham, murdered on surveillance duty in 1985, and several others. In a world of human judgement and attitudes which change over time, the recognition of these officers in the Roll of Honour is therefore especially important.

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The George Cross

Of the five George Crosses awarded to Metropolitan officers, one (to Roger Goad) was posthumous. The other awards were to:

1952 DC Frederick Fairfax was involved with the arrest of Craig and Bentley on a Croydon rooftop.    Whilst armed only with his truncheon, he arrested and held burglar Derek Bentley after having been shot by Bentley's accomplice Christopher Craig.   When issued with a pistol, advanced on Craig who had been shooting at other officers and had shot PC Miles.
   
1958 PC Henry Stevens who chased an armed burglar, was shot in the face, but caught and disarmed the man, holding on to his jacket which provided a clue to his identity after the prisoner eventually escaped.
   
1967 PC Anthony Gledhill drove a police car, accompanied by PC Terence McFall GM, in a high speed car chase after armed robbers through Rotherhithe and Deptford, and survived gunfire and confrontation on foot with armed robbers before arresting one of them.                        
   
1974 Inspector James Beaton was shot in the chest, shoulder and arm when protecting HRH Princess Anne against a kidnap attempt in The Mall.

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George Medals

Of the 138 George Medals awarded to Met officers, 81 (59%) were for war time activities, the number of awards by year being: 1940 - 9; 1941 - 66; 1942 - 0; 1943 -1; 1944 -5 perhaps reflecting the intensity of air raids at different stages of the war.

Of the 57 peace time GMs, 43 (75%) involved courage against firearms, including 3 officers (Inspector Purnell, DI Dowswell and Sergeant McVeigh in 1977) at the Balcombe Street siege; 3 awards for prolonged car chases against gunfire (PC McFall 1967, PC Wheelhouse & DS Woodmore 1966); one award for a uniformed officer who exchanged fire with and killed a bank robber (PC Slimon - 1973); and the incident involving Sergeant Demmon in Nicosia mentioned earlier. One award was for disarming the assailant who tried to kidnap Princess Anne (PC Hills - 1974), and one award went in 1981 to PC Trevor Lock for his part in the Iranian Embassy siege. Four George Medals went to that gallant band of explosives officers who all defused a number of devices, one of them being killed (Donald Henderson 1976; Geoffrey Biddle - 1976; George Gurney - bar to GM 1983; Kenneth Howorth - 1983).

One interesting case was that of PC Frederick Stone (warrant number 111658) who must surely be unique for the distinction of being awarded a KPM in 1928 for rescuing a man from drowning in the River Thames at night, a BEM for gallantry in war time 1941 when, off duty, he helped search and tunnel in a collapsing building to rescue four air raid victims; and finally a third gallantry medal, this time a George Medal for tackling a violent smash and grab shop breaker armed with an iron bar, whereby he was severely injured.

PC George Dorsett (warrant number 129121) was honoured twice. He was one of three officers awarded the GM in 1953 for courage and tenacity in effecting the arrest of a gang of armed criminals. In 1959 he tackled and disarmed a youth with a loaded shotgun, and was given a bar to the medal. George Gurney's GM for bomb disposal work was a bar to his medal awarded before he joined the Metropolitan Police.

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British Empire Medal (BEM)

This medal was instituted in 1922 for meritorious service, and ceased to be awarded for gallantry in 1974. From 1941 there were 112 awards, 67 (60%) of which were firearms-related, with no fewer than 16 medals being awarded in the years 1966 and 1971.  

Ten awards were for rescues from high buildings and other structures, one of the most notable locations being Archway road bridge. The attraction of the location for intending suicides led to PCs Lennox and Honey being awarded BEMs in 1969 for rescuing a man from throwing himself off the bridge. PC Ryan was awarded a bar to his QGM, and Inspector Williams a Queen's Commendation in 1976, whilst PCs Baldwin, Hickson and Phillips were all awarded Queen's Commendations in 1971, with similar awards to Sergeant Sulaiman and PC Till in 1989.

The distance between success and disaster is so small, as in many other cases. DS Ryland, for instance, was awarded the BEM in 1969 for tackling a gunman. He forced the gun away for the first shot, and his hand became jammed in the gun's mechanism for the second shot, which undoubtedly stopped him from being killed or seriously injured, and with it, speculatively, the possible award of a higher level of medal. The reasons for the distinctions between different awards are a litany of such chances and fortunes which probably do not adequately reflect the sum total of courage and emotion felt at the time of the incident, and I am sure that everybody would give proper credit and respect to the heroism of all the officers involved in these incidents regardless of the details of the eventual award.

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Queen's Gallantry Medal (QGM)

This medal effectively replaced the BEM for gallantry in 1974, and there have, to date, been 54 awards. Firearms (32 cases - 59%) again comprise the largest category. The awards to all the members of PC Blakelock's serial at Broadwater Farm form another sizeable category, and reflect the unusually severe circumstances of that night, which so many will vividly remember. The awards are the exception which proves the rule of how rare it is for gallantry awards to have been made for action in riot situations.

Patrick Kielty was awarded the QGM with PC Kemp in 1995 for a chase and arrest of armed robbers and a bar to the medal for dealing with and disarming a violent man who took a child and later a woman as a hostage.

In 2007, Paul Humphrey, an Explosives Officer was awarded the QGM for manually dismantling an unstable car bomb parked outside a London night club, when a remote robot was likely to detonate the explosives.

The medal has now become a very highly respected award.

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Queen's Commendations for Brave Conduct

There have been 312 Queen's Commendations awarded for brave conduct, and our database has, so far, details of 8 King's commendations. 197 (63%) of the Queen's Commendations involve bravery against firearms in one way or another.

There is a hierarchy of medals and awards of course, but do not think that the incidents from which a Queen's commendation has been awarded are somehow less noteworthy. Take, for example, the 1996 case of PC Andrew Keyte and Deborah Wright in a police patrol car who pursued suspects who had just committed an armed robbery and were fired at 17 times, with several bullets hitting the police car. There are several cases of sustained courage in making safe explosive devices which, had they detonated, would certainly have killed the recipients, and probably many others. In 1996, PC John Macaskill, DS Stubbs, DC Peter Redford and DS John Swinfield pursued armed bank robbers in their car and were shot at (and DS Stubbs wounded in the head) by a sub-machine gun. One incident in 1984 involving armed robbers involved a man being shot at 4 times, and pursuing police officers being fired upon 6 times, and they were awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal. Another 1984 incident involved two police officers chasing armed bank robbers who launched themselves to prevent their escape on a motorcycle, with one officer being shot in the leg and seriously injured in the process. No award at all was made for this last example despite a recommendation for a medal, and we do not know the reasons for this.

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Recent trends

In a decade at the end of the twentieth century, there were 9 QGMs and 53 Queen's Commendations awarded. The last GM awarded to a Metropolitan Police officer was in 1992 and it is likely that there no longer remains any serving Metropolitan Police officer who can wear the medal, for the first time since 1940.    KPMs were awarded at an average rate of 7.5 per year, and the last decade of the twentieth century saw QGMs and Queen's Commendations, the only awards then made, occur at an annual rate of 6.2. These two seem to have taken over as the means by which exceptional courage is recognised, albeit that even these awards seem no longer to be given.

Some risks have changed, in that we no longer have a significant problem with runaway horses. The design of cars has changed and they no longer have running boards. But despite the frequency of problems with firearms during the war and post-war years there are still many, if not more such incidents now, and nobody believes that today's officers are faced with fewer dangerous situations than their historical counterparts. Certainly there is more concern for health and safety, better planning for firearms operations, and the provision of armed response vehicles and protective vests. All of these things are positive developments which have thankfully reduced the number of our colleagues appearing on the Roll of Honour.  But surely nobody believes that today's officers are displaying less courage, or are somehow less worthy of the Sovereign's recognition?

Despite all those fears, however, the fact remains that the Metropolitan Police Service has a wonderful record of its members displaying tremendous courage and devotion to duty over the years. We all have a duty to all we can to honour that tradition and remember with respect those of our colleagues who have displayed such gallantry.

If you wish to have a search made on our database of Metropolitan Police gallantry awards, search for the surname of the recipient on the years set out at the foot of this page.   If you have any further queries, contact us.

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