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Indian Empire Orders

During Queen Victoria's reign, a number of new orders were created, including two which rewarded service in India - the Order of the Star of India and the Order of the Indian Empire. Like the Bath and St. Michael & St. George, these were three-class orders, but whereas the first class of the older orders was called Knight Grand Cross, that of the Indian orders was Knight Grand Commander, since a reference to the Christian cross seemed inappropriate for this non-Christian land. In 1859, the British Crown assumed two orders from the East India Company, which governed India prior to that date - the Indian Order of Merit and the Order of British India. Both of these were awarded to members of the Indian Army. Awards of the Indian orders ceased with Indian independence in 1947.

The "most exalted" Star of India was next in precedence to the Bath, though it dated only from 1861, an interval of nearly 500 years. The precedence thus given was probably a matter of policy after the Indian Mutiny, the Order having, it is expressly stated, been inaugurated for the purpose of rendering high honour to conspicuous loyalty and merit amongst the princes, chiefs, and people of the Indian Empire. The Order is, however, open not only to Indians, but to Englishmen who have performed distinguished service in, or connected with, India.

As in the case of the Bath, this Order is divided into three grades: Grand Commander, Knight Commander, and Companion. It will be noticed that the word "Commander" is used instead of "Cross" in the highest grade. This was out of deference to the Mahomedan subjects of the sovereign, for to a Mahomedan the cross is a Christian symbol, and as such, like ham and bacon, a thing to be avoided. The collar of the Star of India is composed of alternate links of the lotus flower, red and white roses and palm branches enamelled on gold, with an imperial crown in the center. The Robe of the Grand Commander is of light blue silk with the Badge of the Order embroidered on the left side. The riband, stars, and insignia are worn by the three grades as described for the Order of the Bath. The insignia is a very beautiful and valuable jewel. It consists of an onyx cameo, having in the center the effigy of Queen Victoria. This is set in an oval gold band which contains the motto, "Heaven's Light our Guide," in diamonds. The three grades are distinguished by the initials G.C.S.I., K.C.S.I., and C.S.I. On the death of a member of the Order, his insignia have to be returned, unless his heirs consent to purchase them.

The "most eminent" Order of the Indian Empire ranked below the Order of the Star of India, of both of which the viceroy of India was ex officio grand master. The Order of the Indian Empire was instituted by Queen Victoria on January 1st, 1878, to commemorate the proclamation of Her Majesty as Empress of India, a title then first added to the British Crown. It was to be bestowed as a reward to those who from tune to time were held to have rendered important services to the Indian Empire. At first it was bestowed mostly on civilians, but latterly its scope was broadened, and it was given for military services as well. It was established (for "companions" only) in 1878 and enlarged in 1887, 1892, 1897 and 1903, also in the same three classes, in commemoration of Queen Victoria's assumption of the imperial style and title of the Empress of India.

It may be noticed that whereas the Order of the Bath, which was a purely military Order, was after nearly five hundred years opened to civilians, Orders like the Star of India, St. Michael and St. George, and the Indian Empire, started on exactly opposite lines; they were intended for civilians only. But happily now all these Orders are open alike to soldiers, sailors, and civilians who have done in their own lines good service to their King and Empire, and that is really all that matters.

The robe or mantle of a Grand Cross is of purple satin lined with white silk, having on the left side embroidered the Star of the Order. The Collar is Oriental in treatment forming a chain of elephants, lotus flowers, peacocks in their pride, and Indian roses, all in gold. The elephants nearly caused an upheaval in a later reign, and the story shows how easily insurrections are caused amongst so seemingly a docile people as the Indians. When the design for the coinage of George V was being decided upon it seemed not inappropriate that the King should be shown crowned, and wearing the mantle of the Order of the Indian Empire with the Collar round his neck. Rupees to the number of many hundred thousands were consequently struck with this presentiment of the King on them. Hardly were these in circulation when some lynx-eyed political agitator discovered that the King was wearing the effigy of a pig round his neck, and as a pig, even in silver, is anathema to a Mahomedan it was put about by pernicious persons that a calculated insult had thus been thrust in the most blatant and enduring form on the whole Mahomedan population. It was quite useless for the Government to assert and vow that the animal portrayed was not a pig but an elephant, and that if they looked at the original chain there could be no possible doubt about it. The Mahomedan agitators were impervious to persuasion, nothing in the wide world would persuade them that it was not a pig, probably secretly inserted by some subtle Bengali employed at the mint. Their co-religionists refused to accept or use this rupee in trade, and so the Government had to recall the whole issue from circulation and had it melted down and recoined with the obnoxious chain eliminated.

The Star is of silver, ten pointed, and has in the centre a medallion of Queen Victoria, around which is a dark blue garter surmounted by an imperial crown. In gold on the garter is the motto of the Order," Imperatricis Auspicus," which being broadly interpreted is " Honored by the Empress." The Badge is heraldically described as a Rose enamelled gules barbed vert, having in the centre the effigy of Queen Victoria. The subaltern who knows nothing of heraldry, and describes things bluntly as they strike him, wavers between likening it to a jam tart or a squashed tomato, when suddenly faced with this emblem on the broad chest of his general. Many, however, think this a very effective decoration emblematic of the Victorian era. There are, as in the case of the Bath, three grades of this Order, the hall marks of which are G.C.I.E., K.C.I.E., and C.I.E., and each of these in their degree wear stars and insignia in diminishing degree as with other Orders.

The Crown of India is the only Order reserved entirely for Ladies. It was inaugurated at the same time as the Order of the Indian Empire, and to commemorate the same event, the assumption of the title of Empress of India by Queen Victoria. The Ladies eligible for this Order are princesses of the Royal House, the wives or female relatives of Indian Princes, and other Indian ladies of high degree. Amongst Englishwomen eligibility is restricted to the wives, or in the case of a bachelor the sister, of the Viceroy of India, the Governors of Bengal, Madras and Bombay, and the Secretary of State for India. The Order is therefore very select indeed, and one may make a long night's march through the ballrooms and dining-rooms of the world without seeing one. The decoration itself is a beautiful one and worthy to be worn by any lady, however great. The Badge consists of an oval buckle set round with pearls closely touching. In the centre is the cipher of Queen Victoria, the " V " being set with diamonds, the " R " with pearls, and the " I " with turquoises. Above the oval buckle is an Imperial Crown enamelled proper. The Badge hangs pendant from a light blue silk bow. The Order is worn on the left breast. A quiet-looking and quietly dressed lady was one day looking at the Crown Jewels, and especially the Orders. When she came to the Crown of India the official showing her round made the time- honoured joke that to obtain this beautiful jewel she had only to marry a Viceroy. " I have already done so," remarked the quiet lady, and passed on. She was the wife of a late Viceroy.

In 1834 the Government of India recommended to the Court of Directors the establishment of two Orders of Distinction for the Native Army : one to be styled the ' Order of British India,' for Native officers only, for long and honourable service; and the other, for conspicuous gallantry in the field, to be open to all ranks, and to be designated the ' Order of Merit.' The Court of Directors, in a Despatch dated 1st February, 1837, gave their general sanction to these proposals, and the institution of the two Orders was duly announced to the Army of India by General Orders dated 17th April and 1st May, 1837.

The Government of India had under their consideration in 1878 the question of eligibility of men of European parentage, holding commissions in Native regiments, for admission to the ' Order of British India' and the ' Order of Merit,' and, having regard to the changes of organisation in the Native Army which followed its reconstruction after the Mutiny, recommended that the restriction which existed in the case of European and Eurasian soldiers in the Native Army should be withdrawn, and that every person holding the position of a Native officer should in future be held eligible for admission to the Orders without reference to his creed or colour. This proposal was approved by the Secretary of State, and the Indian Army Regulations contained provisions accordingly.

The Order of British India was originally created by the East India Company, which governed India prior to 1859. The Military Order Of Merit For British India was instituted in 1837, for the reward of bravery and faithful service rendered by the Commissioned Officers of the Native Army. In 1859, the British Crown assumed the order from the East India Company.

It consists of an eight- pointed star of golden rays. In the circular centre, on a ground of blue enamel, is a golden lion passant gardant, surrounded by a similar motto-band inscribed "Order of British India" and by a wreath of laurel. A higher class has an Imperial Crown on the highest ray of the star. The Badge is worn appended to a crimson ribbon. Eight-pointed star medals in gold and silver, having the enamelled centre charged with crossed swords, surrounded by a motto-band bearing the words " Reward of Valour" within a golden laurel wreath, are also conferred on non-commissioned officers and privates for distinguished service in time of war.

In 1834 the Government of India recommended to the Court of Directors the establishment of two Orders of Distinction for the Native Army: one to be styled the ' Order of British India,' for Native officers only, for long and honourable service; and the other, for conspicuous gallantry in the field, to be open to all ranks, and to be designated the ' Order of Merit.' The Court of Directors, in a Despatch dated 1st February, 1837, gave their general sanction to these proposals, and the institution of the two Orders was duly announced to the Army of India by General Orders dated iyth April and ist May, 1837.

The 'Order of British India' was to be conferred on Suba- dars and Jemadars for long and honourable service, and was to be constituted in two classes : The First Class, of one hundred Subadars, with a special allowance of two rupees a day. The Second Class, of one hundred Native commissioned officers, with a special allowance of one rupee a day. Members of the First Class to receive the title of ' Sirdar Bahadoor,' and those of the Second, that of ' Bahadoor.' Three-sixths of the appointments to be allotted to Bengal, two-sixths to Madras, and one-sixth to Bombay. Investiture of a member with the insignia of the Order invariably to take place in the presence of his regiment assembled on parade. Membership of the Order to confer no superior military rank. Members promoted from the Second to the First Class to return their original insignia to Government. The insignia to remain in the possession of the family of the deceased member.

The Badges were designed under the directions of a Committee appointed by the Government of India. The Committee recommended that the Stars of both classes should be nearly similar in form, but that one should be larger than the other, and also distinguished by a Crown. The Commander-in-Chief disapproved of the introduction of the lion in the centre of the Star, considering a Crown to be more appropriate. He thought, moreover, that the inscription should be in Persian instead of English. But on this the Committee observed that the orders of Government as to the inscription being in English only were positive. With respect to the lion, they were unable to think of any other object which so appropriately typified British ascendancy and military prowess; and they contended that it was well understood by all having any acquaintance with the British. It was seen as their emblem on public buildings and regimental colours. It was also essentially Indian, most of the military class having it as an epithet or distinctive family title joined to their name ('Singh'); whilst in ancient Hindoo coins and sculpture it was an almost universal application. In regard to the Crown, the Committee retained their opinion that it should be used only to distinguish the classes. The word ' The' was omitted from the inscription at the suggestion of the Committee.

The General Order directed that the ribbon should be sky- blue in colour, and i inch in width. On this point the Committee which designed the Stars expressed the opinion that, having regard to the prevailing habit among all classes of natives of oiling the hair, sky-blue was a very inappropriate colour, and would speedily be soiled. They suggested, therefore, the expediency of substituting a darker colour, either deep red with dark blue edging, or deep blue with red edging, the same as the ribbon. of the Order of Merit, or either colour quite plain. The Government concurred, and left the Committee to select any appropriate colour other than that fixed on for the Order of Merit.

The Bombay military authorities had no doubts on the question before 1871, when on their being furnished with a supply of Badges with red ribbon, they inquired of the Government of India whether a change had been made. On this that Government informed them, and the authorities at Madras likewise, that the substitution of red for sky-blue had been sanctioned as far back as 1838. It is not clear, however, when the actual alteration commended itself to the authorities in Bengal. The ribbon of the First Class was increased in width to 2 inches to make a distinction between the two classes.

The Government of India thinking, therefore, that one important object of the Order would be unattained unless a considerable number of its members were still in the army, and recognising that it would be quite impossible to deprive a man of his distinction on his being transferred to the pension list, suggested that certain numbers of each class should be assigned to each Presidency for the effective list, and that when any member of those numbers should retire, his vacancy in the Order should be at once filled. The Secretary of State did not altogether approve of these proposals, but expressed his willingness to modify the existing state of things so far as to allow one effective member to be appointed for every two who became non-effective. This decision was notified to the Army in a General Order, dated 5th June, 1868.

The Indian Order of Merit, originally created in 1837 by the East India Company, was a Crown order from 1859. It has not been awarded since 1947. Two classes (1st and 2nd), both IOM, were awarded to members of the Indian Army. Awards of the Indian orders ceased with Indian independence in 1947.

This Order was instituted at the same time and under the same circumstances as the ' Order of British India.' The General Orders of the Government of India, dated 1/th April and 1st May, 1837, announcing its establishment, will be found at pp. 443, 444. It was therein stated that the object of the Order was to afford ' personal reward for personal bravery,' without reference to any claims in respect of length of service or good conduct.

The Order was to consist of three classes : admission to the third class to be obtained by any conspicuous act of gallantry on the part of any Native officer or soldier in the field, or in the attack or defence of fortified places, without distinction of rank. Admission to the second class to be obtained only by members of the third ; and to the first by members of the second, for services of a similar nature.

Admission to the Order to be on the nomination of the Governor-General in Council. Membership of the Order to confer an additional allowance-in the third class equal to one- third, in the second to two-thirds, and in the first to the whole of the ordinary pay of the member's rank, over and above that pay or the pension he might be entitled to on retirement. It was, however, provided that the reward of the additional pay was not to be given to other than well-conducted men. It was further provided that the widow of a member would be entitled to receive the pension conferred upon her husband for three years after his decease; and that in the case of a plurality of wives, the first' married should have the preference. Investiture of a member with the insignia of the Order was to be arranged to take place invariably in the presence of his regiment assembled on parade.

The General Order of 1st May, 1837, prescribed that the two junior classes were to be distinguished by silver badges, and the senior by a badge of gold, in the shape of a military laurelled star, bearing in its centre the inscription,' The Reward of Valour.' The badge to be worn on the left breast, pendent from a dark blue ribbon with a red edge. The badges were prepared under the superintendence of the same Committee who designed those of the ' Order of British India.' The word ' The' was omitted from the inscription at the suggestion of the Committee.

As in the case of the general distribution of medals for campaigns, so in that of the reward of special acts of valour in the field, the Indian Government were ahead of the British. In the General Orders instituting the Order it is stated to be for distinguished service in action, and as a personal reward for personal bravery. The Order of Merit was thus the prototype of the Victoria Cross. Why it was styled the ' Order of Merit' when the inscription on it was ' Reward of Valour' we do not know. ' Order of Valour' would have seemed more appropriate, especially as it is expressly provided that what is usually classed under the head of' Merit,'-i.e. long service with good conduct- should have no influence whatever in regard to admissions to the Order.

The Order of Burma was created in May 1940 by King George VI to recognize subjects of the British colony Burma. This rare order is a long service award but its date of institution, 10 May 1940, merits mention, after Burma had been separated from the Indian Empire. It was awarded to officers in the Burma Army, Burma Frontier and the Military Police for long and faithful service.

The Order or Burma (Burmese: Pyidaungsu Sithu Thingaha) was a colonial knight order of the British realm. Burma was governed by a British governor from 1885 up to 1948. The knight order had been intended for the officers of the Burmese army, the military police and the border troops. George VI, king of the United Kingdom, Emperor of India, founded the order on 10 May 1940 in a Royal Decree (Royal warrant) in which he noted that the bearers of the order of Burma could carry the characters " O.B." behind their name. The order had one class and was carried by a green ribbon with a pale blue bulrush for the neck. The bearers [there were 16 decorations reserved for the army and 12 for the police force], got a pension of rupie per day. The order of Burma was a golden ASTRE with a medallion on which on a blue context flaunting pauwehaan was represented. On the blue ring stood written in golden characters "ORDER OR BURMA".

Only 33 individuals were ever made members of the order. The government of post-independence Burma created the Pyidaungsu Sithu Thingaha to replace The Order of Burma on 2 September 1948.



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