The MC is granted in recognition of "an act or acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land" to all members of the British Armed Forces of any rank. In 1979, the Queen approved a proposal that a number of awards, including the Military Cross, could be recommended posthumously.
The award was created on 28 December 1914 for commissioned officers of the substantive rank of Captain or below and for Warrant Officers. The first 98 awards were gazetted on 1 January 1915, to 71 officers including one jamadar and three subadars, and 27 warrant officers. Although posthumous recommendations for the Military Cross would be unavailable until 1979, the first awards included seven posthumous awards, with the word ‘deceased’ after the name of the recipient, from recommendations that had been raised before the recipients died of wounds or lost their lives from other causes.
Awards are announced in the London Gazette, apart from most honorary awards to allied forces in keeping with the usual practice not to gazette awards to foreigners.
From August 1916, recipients of the Cross were entitled to use the post-nominal letters MC, and bars could be awarded for further acts of gallantry meriting the award, with a silver rosette worn on the ribbon when worn alone to denote the award of each bar.
From September 1916, members of the Royal Naval Division, who served alongside the army on the Western Front, were made eligible for military decorations, including the Military Cross, for the war's duration. Naval officers serving with the division received 140 MCs and eight second award bars.
In June 1917, eligibility was extended to temporary majors, not above the substantive rank of captain. Substantive majors were made eligible in 1953.
In 1931, the award was extended to equivalent ranks in the Royal Air Force for actions on the ground.
After the Second World War, most Commonwealth countries created their own honours system and no longer recommended British awards. The last Military Cross awards for the Canadian Army were for Korea. The last four Australian Army Military Cross awards were promulgated in the London Gazette on 1 September 1972 for Vietnam as was the last New Zealand Army Military Cross award, which was promulgated on 25 September 1970. Canada, Australia and New Zealand have now created their own gallantry awards under their own honours systems.
Since the 1993 review of the honours system, as part of the drive to remove distinctions of rank in awards for bravery, the Military Medal, formerly the third-level decoration for other ranks, has been discontinued. The MC now serves as the third-level award for all ranks of the British Armed Forces for gallantry on land, not to the standard required to receive the Victoria Cross or the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross.
The above table includes awards to the Dominions: In all, 3,727 Military Crosses have been awarded to those serving with Canadian forces, including 324 first bars and 18 second bars. A total of 2,930 were awarded to Australians, in addition to 188 first bars and four second bars. Of these, 2,403 MCs, 170 first Bars and four second Bars were for World War I. Over 500 MCs were awarded to New Zealanders during World War I and over 250 in World War II. The most recent awards were for service in Vietnam.
The honorary MC awards were made to servicemen from fifteen Allied countries in World War I, and nine in World War II.
For their key roles during World War I, the cities of Verdun and Ypres were awarded the Military Cross, in September 1916 and February 1920 respectively. In May 1920, Field Marshal French presented the decoration to Ypres in a special ceremony in the city.
During World War II Captain Sam Manekshaw, Indian Army (who eventually rose to the rank of Field Marshal), was leading a counter-offensive operation against the invading Japanese Army in Burma. During the course of the offensive, he was hit by a burst of machine-gun fire and severely wounded in the stomach. Major General D.T. Cowan spotted Manekshaw holding on to life and was aware of his valour in face of stiff resistance from the Japanese. Fearing the worst, Major General Cowan quickly pinned his own Military Cross ribbon on to Manekshaw saying, "A dead person cannot be awarded a Military Cross."
The first posthumous Military Cross was that awarded to Captain Herbert Westmacott, Grenadier Guards for gallantry in Northern Ireland during the period 1 February 1980 to 30 April 1980.
^Abbott & Tamplin, British Gallantry Awards, 2nd edition. page 217.
^"The Military Cross, Royal Warrant of 25th June, 1917, amending the Third Clause of The Military Cross Warrant of 23rd August, 1916", War Office 3 July 1917 "No. 30161". The London Gazette. 3 July 1917. p. 6550.
^Abbott & Tamplin, British Gallantry Awards, 2nd edition. page 218.