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The Order of the British Empire

    The Sovereign
    Grand Master: The Duke of Edinburgh
    Five classes with Military and Civil Divisions
    Knights or Dames Grand Cross (G.B.E.)
    Knights or Dames Commanders (K.B.E.or D.B.E)
    Commanders (C.B.E.)
    Officers (O.B.E.)
    Members (M.B.E.)
    Medal: (B.E.M.)

Appointment to all Orders of Chivalry was confined to those of noble birth until well into the 19th century. After this however, it was felt that the honours system should cater for all classes and consequently this elitism gradually disappeared.

In 1917, during the Great World War, no suitable award existed to reward the large number of people doing outstanding work in hospitals, munitions factories, war depots, army headquarters and communication areas. Similarly no awards existed for the lower ranks of the services, other than for deeds of gallantry. Many in this group deserved reward but did not fit into the existing honours system.

King George V solved the problem by instituting a new order of chivalry: The Order of the British Empire. This Order was open to all from the most aristocratic to those from the very poorest families.

In 1918, the Order was separated into Civil and Military Divisions and is now used as a reward for an even wider range of activities. In peace time it is given for distinguished service to the arts, literature, science and sport. It is also awarded to members of the Merchant Navy, the Special Constabulary, those doing charitable work in welfare organisations and to State servants.

A civilian list is drawn up by the Prime Minister and a military list by the Secretary of State for Defence. Names of members of the Commonwealth are proposed by the appropriate Minister of State.

The top class of the Order is limited to 27 Military and 73 Civil members. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office may recommend that nationals of other countries should become Honorary Members in recognition of service of value to the United Kingdom.

The British Empire Medal is associated with the Order and for those who already hold the medal, several bars may be attached. Since December 1957 medals awarded for acts of gallantry, as opposed to meritorious service, have been distinguished by the addition of an emblem composed of two silver oak leaves.

Since 4th March 1993, no further recommendations for the award of the British Empire Medal have been made within the United Kingdom.

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