In 1940, during the height of the Blitz, there was a strong desire to reward the many acts of civilian courage. The existing awards open to civilians were not judged suitable to meet the new situation; therefore it was decided that the George Cross and the GM would be instituted to recognise both civilian gallantry in the face of enemy bombing, and brave deeds more generally.
Announcing the new awards, the King said
“In order that they should be worthily and promptly recognised, I have decided to create, at once, a new mark of honour for men and women in all walks of civilian life. I propose to give my name to this new distinction, which will consist of the George Cross, which will rank next to the Victoria Cross, and the George Medal for wider distribution.”
The warrant for the GM (along with that of the GC), dated 24 September 1940 , was published in The London Gazette on 31 January 1941.
The medal is granted in recognition of “acts of great bravery”. The original warrant for the George Medal did not explicitly permit it to be awarded posthumously. This was changed in December 1977 to allow posthumous awards, several of which have been subsequently made. The medal is primarily a civilian award, but it may be awarded to military personnel for gallant conduct that is not in the face of the enemy. As the warrant states: “The Medal is intended primarily for civilians and award in Our military services is to be confined to actions for which purely military Honours are not normally granted.”
The details of all awards to British and Commonwealth recipients are published in The London Gazette. Approximately 2,122 medals have been awarded since its inception in 1940, with 27 second award bars.
The first recipients, listed in The London Gazette of 30 September 1940, were Chief Officer Ernest Herbert Harmer and Second Officer Cyril William Arthur Brown of the Dover Fire Brigade, and Section Officer Alexander Edmund Campbell of the Dover Auxiliary Fire Service, who on 29 July had volunteered to return to a ship loaded with explosives in Dover Harbour to fight fires aboard while an air raid was in progress. Seven other people were also awarded the medal, including the first women; Ambulance Driver Dorothy Clarke and Ambulance Attendant Bessie Jane Hepburn of Aldeburgh, Suffolk, for rescuing a man badly injured in an explosion.
The first recipient chronologically was Sergeant Fred Bert Lummis of the Royal Canadian Air Force, who on 22nd December 1939, at Trenton, Ontario, removed an ignited petrol can from a hangar with his bare hands.
The youngest recipient was Charity Anne Bick, who lied about her age to join the ARP service at 14 years old, and who delivered several messages by bicycle during a heavy air raid in West Bromwich in late 1940.
The first person to receive a second award was George Samuel Sewell, an engineer working for Shell-Mex and B.P. Ltd., based at the oil terminal at Salt End, near Hull, for his actions during an air raid. Having been one of the first recipients (in September 1940) his bar to the George Medal was gazetted on 4 July 1941.
The year 2015 included the 75th anniversary of the creation of the award, and was marked by a ceremony in London.