History of the League

A Short History of the Gallantry Medallists´ League

The Early Years
The forerunner of the Gallantry Medallists’ League was the DCM League, founded in the early 1930s by Captain Bob Moyse MC DCM BEM. The League had as its purpose to find work for those DCM holders, discharged following the first war and who were seeking such help. Initially the League was run by a Chairman and members, all of whom had served in the war of 1914 - 1918. In those early days there were regional branches up and down the country, each branch having its own Chairman and committee. At that time the League published a magazine called “The Ribbon”.

The League held a Muster in London every year with the Royal Patron in attendance. Patrons have ranged from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, King George V’s daughter HRH The Princess Royal and currently His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent. The various branches with their Standards paraded on Horse Guards Parade, held a service al fresco and marched to the Cenotaph to lay wreaths. Arthur Caiger DCM, an Islington school headmaster always conducted the crowd in community hymn singing, (he always did so at the Cup Final at Wembley where he was known as the man in the white suit" so the DCM was “advertised” on the Song Sheet every year).

The League’s President was always a distinguished soldier, eg Brigadier Sir Jackie Smythe VC MC MP. It was he in the early 1960s who left the DCM League to start the VC and GC Association. The League and the Association have retained close links as a result and even to this day, Christmas cards are exchanged and invitations are sent from the VC and GC Association for League members to attend their annual service of thanksgiving, remembrance and re-dedication at the St. Martin in the Fields Church in London. Each branch was made responsible for its own fund-raising. Some branches had a simple draw, others had dinner dances and some held dug-out suppers. The London branch preferred the last type where the participants wore tin hats and ate by candlelight. The annual subscription was 3s.6d which meant the branch treasurers were busy checking that their respective members had paid their dues each year. A card was issued for that purpose which the Branch Treasurer initialled as proof of the subscriptions being paid.

The League during the 1950s - 1970s
The boost to the membership came at the end of the Second World War when recently decorated DCM holders were recruited into the League by personal letters passed through the incumbent’s Regimental Headquarters. This fillip was felt most in 1950 but the 1914-18 old and bold Chairmen clung to office, which meant that by the 1970s, the League had became moribund because of the regional Chairmen’s advanced ages. One DCM holder who joined the League in 1950 was James Charles Cowley DCM who was serving in the Coldstream Guards as a Warrant Officer (Regimental Sergeant Major) Class 1. He was posted to Egypt that year, but was later commissioned in 1953 to be posted to Germany. He went from the 1st Battalion to the 2nd Battalion. Returning to Chelsea Barracks, London in 1955 he was made Camp Commandant 1st Guards Brigade and after a spell in Shorncliffe the whole Brigade went to Cyprus. It was not until he returned to England could he interest himself in the DCM League. Early in the 1960s he was made the Parade Marshall of the London Branch. Although he left the Army in 1968 and went to work in the North East Shipyards, he maintained a link with the London Branch. He discovered that the 1914-18 Chairman of the London Branch had appointed Major J Johnston MBE DCM of the Irish Guards, then the Camp Commandant London District, to be the President.

After a few years in the post Major J Johnston died and the Chairman, as an old and sick man, invited Jim Cowley to become the President in 1974. Cowley took up the post on the 9th September that year, the 30th anniversary of his winning the DCM. The best Jim Cowley could do was to keep in touch with about six stalwarts around the country to maintain an interest. He was extremely busy during his day to day routine in the many shipyards he had to visit, 19 establishments in all from the Clyde to the Humber, including engine-works and foundries.

The Revitalisation of the League - The Cowley Era
Jim Cowley sensed that the DCM League was failing and faltering so when the Queen appointed him a Military Knight of Windsor in 1982 he decided to resuscitate the League. He started writing newsletters, which his daughter Jacqui typed and with the assistance of others formed a committee which regularly met at Windsor Castle. A worldwide exercise was set in motion inviting all DCM holders to a Muster in Windsor Castle in 1985. Impressively, over 200 DCM holders attended, one from Tonga resplendent in a grass skirt and another, Theodolous, the only Cypriot to be awarded the DCM. It was such a great success that it was decided to hold a regular muster every other year in cities where DCM holders were resident to supervise the event. The Chairman, Harry Glover DCM lived in Nottingham so we held a muster in that city in 1987. Others took place in Winchester, Chester, Lancing and London.

With the demise of so many DCMs during those years it was decided to use two establishments in London, the Victory Services Club and the Royal Hospital Chelsea as permanent locations. In the meantime holders of the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, both Royal Navy and Royal Air Force (Flying) were invited to join forces. The title changed to the DCM & CGM Association.

In 1993 the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross (CGC) was instituted which superseded the DCM and the CGM. All ranks of the three Services were now eligible for this new decoration. As more and more DCM and CGM recipients passed away each year, the President and Executive Committee decided to extend the League Membership by inviting all Level 2 gallantry award holders to join and merge under afresh title “The Gallantry Medallists’ League”, still with world-wide membership. The membership was now open to all Level 2 Commonwealth Awards; Australians holding the Star of Gallantry and the Star of Courage, Canadians holding the Star for Military Valour and Star of Courage and New Zealanders holding the Gallantry Star and Bravery Star. Subsequently, the League accepted those gallantry medals awarded by Oman where they could be determined to equate to Level 2.

Into the 21st Century
Whilst many ex-service organisations were closing down, the League kept going which was an encouraging fact. After 27 years as President, Major Jim Cowley OBE DCM decided the time was right and resigned at the 2000 AGM. He was succeeded by Lieutenant Colonel John Williams MBE DCM, who had won the DCM at the battle of Plaman Mapu in April 1965 whilst serving as a Company Sergeant Major with the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment. John Williams, always known as Patch after losing an eye at Plaman Mapu, joined the Army as a bandsman in 1949 before transferring to the infantry, seeing service in the Suez Canal Zone, Cyprus, Borneo and UK. Unfortunately, after only nine months in post John died in January 2001; John Williams was a popular President and his death sent shock waves through the League ranks. The Presidency was then taken up by Lieutenant Colonel John Gaff GM, who was appointed at the AGM in 2002. Committee meetings were held at John’s barn at Wick Hill, a most delightful location to ponder League business.

As members grew older and very few new Level 2 awards were being made, a new class of membership was created entitled “Friend of the League” for those other gallantry medallists at Level 3 who wished to support the aims of the League and who had no association of their own. This boosted the membership but many Level 3 recipients felt cheated by not being allowed full membership.

The Musters continued under John Gaff and we were delighted when our Patron HRH The Duke of Kent honoured us with his presence at Chelsea in 2003. In 2008 however, John Gaff resigned at the AGM and proposed Major John Balding GM, a serving officer, to be the new President in his place. One of his first tasks was to energise the League into accepting technology and getting a properly developed website uploaded to raise awareness of the League and to improve internal communication between members. His endeavours eventually resulted in the website going live at the end of 2009. One of the first uses of the website was to inform members that our past President, Vice Patron and stalwart of the League Jim Cowley, had passed away peacefully on 21st December 2009 aged 90.

Another major change was introduced following the decision of the AGM in 2010 to open up the League and invite Level 3 award recipients to join as Life Members, thus changing the original Level 2 only membership criteria that had existed since 1931. The President outlined the reasons why the League needed to consider changing the membership categories and the members present, having listened to a long and healthy debate on the matter and having listened to advice and guidance from 4 of our Vice Patrons who were present, decided to support the motion. The members were content that including Level 3 recipients on an equal footing would provide a natural home for gallantry alongside the VC & GC Association and that the League would remain a select organisation despite now having a wider base to recruit potential members from. It was recognised that this decison totally altered the structure of the League from why it was originaly formed in 1931 but the members felt the decision to be more than appropriate for the current situation in 2010 as the numbers of Level 2 awards announced annually were minimal and the League was suffering from dwindling membership due mainly to the age of medallists.


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History of the League

The League was founded in 1931. Please read the brief history of the Gallantry Medallists' League and its predecessors. If you have any information about the early years, then we would be delighted to hear from you so we can amend our history for future generations of gallantry medal recipients and their families.

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