The Military General Service Medal (often abbreviated to MGS or MGSM) was instituted on 1st June 1847. The intention was to recognise the service of veterans who had fought on land during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars from 1793 (when British first became involved) to the first defeat of Napoleon in 1814. The Hundred Days campaign, which saw the second and final defeat of Napoleon in 1815, had already been recognised by the Waterloo Medal which is considered Britain’s first true official campaign medal issued to all regardless of rank. However, apart from some senior officers, who received the Army Gold Cross and Army Gold Medal, the vast majority of surviving veterans of the earlier campaigns had to wait decades before they received a medal.
Understandably many such veterans felt they were left unjustly unrecognized for the part they played in the defeat of Napoleon. Thankfully the 5th Duke of Richmond led a campaign in Parliament for the issue of the medal and Queen Victoria attempted to persuade a rather reluctant Duke of Wellington to create it. However, the medal was finally approved some 32 to 46 years after the events for which it was earned. Due to the long lapse in time, coupled with the fact the medal could only be claimed by veterans who were still alive in the late 1840s, only around 25,650 claims were made. To exacerbate this the instructions to claim the medal were printed and so many illiterate veterans simply missed out. As such the number of medals finally issued in comparison to the numbers of those who fought in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars is relatively small.
As already noted that the MGSM was awarded to those who fought on ‘land’ since a Naval General Service Medal (often referred to as the NGS or NGSM) was instituted at the same time. The NGSM, as the name suggests, was intended to similarly recognise veterans who fought at sea during the same period. However, some Royal Marines and Royal Navy personal who fought on land did in fact receive the MGSM. Service in India was not covered by the MGSM since a separate medal, called the Army of India Medal, was also instituted later in 1851. It is also interesting to note that, despite bearing the dates 1793 – 1814, the first clasp awarded with the MGSM was that of ‘Egypt’ to recognise Abercromby’s expedition to the country in 1801.
The obverse of the MGSM itself bears the head of Queen Victoria, designed by Wyon, while the reverse depicts the Queen placing victor’s laurels on to the head of a kneeling Duke of Wellington. The reverse also bears the description "TO THE BRITISH ARMY” at the top and the dates "1793-1814” in an exergue below. The medal is made of silver with the disc having a diameter of 36mm. The ribbon follows the same pattern as used for the Waterloo Medal, being of crimson with dark blue edges, but of a narrower width of 31mm. The battle clasps are as followed: TOULOUSE - ORTHES - NIVELLE - VITTORIA - SAHAGUN & BENEVENTE. The medal is named to J. Little of the 18th Light Dragoons.