The Imperial Service Medal

The Imperial Service Medal (ISM) was awarded to selected long-standing Post Office employees upon retirement. The award of the ISM was recorded on employees' pension records.

Origin of the award

The ISM was introduced in 1902 as a way of formally recognising the achievements of civil servants working in the United Kingdom and overseas. It was awarded to manual grade employees of the civil service with a good service record. The ISM was introduced along with another award, the Imperial Service Order (ISO), which was granted to administrative and clerical grades of the civil service.


Until 1969 the Post Office was a government department. This meant that Post Office employees were recognised as civil servants and could be nominated for the medal. To be eligible, civil servants had to be established members of staff with at least 25 years pensionable service, or 16 years if serving in “unhealthy climates abroad”. Sub-office postmasters and postmistresses could not be nominated, although postmen working from sub-offices were eligible.

Length of service was not the only criterion on which nomination were based, and the Post Office made it clear that awards were not a matter of right. Employees also had to show interest and zeal in their work, and had to work in such a way that did not require constant supervision. They also needed an unblemished official conduct record, or, as it was put in official terms, to have given “long, zealous, and meritorious service”.

The responsibility for nominating staff fell to Head Postmasters. Guidelines on what was and what was not considered to be zealous and meritorious service were set out in a regularly issued publication, the Rules for Head Postmaster. The 1936 edition, for example, stated that the following misdemeanours would disqualify possible nominees:

“Any offence or group of offences which has involved the loss of more than one day’s pay or the deferment or loss of a good conduct stripe or increment is regarded as a blemish. Cases of intoxication or dishonesty are regarded as blemishes even if they have not involved any of these punishments.”

In practice, however, there was some leeway, particularly with offences which had been committed early in the employee’s service.


Women were not considered for nomination for the award of the ISM until 1906. They had to meet the same criteria of 25 years’ pensionable and unblemished service as men did. It was, however, much more difficult for women to meet these criteria since they were expected to leave the Post Office upon marriage, meaning that their average length of service was much shorter.

Announcement of the award

Medals were awarded in a local ceremony, and the presentations were usually made by the Head Postmasters with regional senior management, colleagues, friends and family attending. Unlike the ISOs, which were awarded twice a year, ISMs were awarded monthly. The name, job title, rank and location of recipients was published in The London Gazette, one of the official journals of the British government.


The first medals had a central silver medallion with the Royal Cypher in blue enamel on the face, surrounded by the inscription ‘For Faithful Service’ in blue enamel. The medallion was surrounded by a seven-pointed star surmounted by the Imperial Crown. The medal awarded to women from 1906 had the same central medallion design as the men’s, but it was surrounded by a wreath of laurel, in bronze, surmounted by the Imperial Crown in silver.

In 1920 the design of the medal was changed to that of a silver circular medal for both men and women. The front face was the ‘civil head’ of George V; the reverse depicted a finely sculptured male figure gazing out across the sea towards the setting sun. It symbolised rest after labour, and the words ‘For Faithful Service’ were written below. The ‘crowned head’ of George V replaced the uncrowned ‘civil head’ in 1931, and subsequent monarchs have been indicated by ‘crowned effigies’.

The medals were worn suspended from the left breast or shoulder by a ribbon watered red with a central light blue stripe. Women usually wore the ribbon tied into a bow.

Eligibility after 1969

When the Post Office became a public corporation in October 1969 employees ceased to be eligible for the medal. However, those who had joined before the change in status could still be considered for the medal. Ivor ‘Ike’ Haynes is believed to be the last person to be awarded the Imperial Service Medal when he retired in June 1995, having served for over 50 years.

Sources from the collection

London Gazette supplements listing postal workers awarded the IMS can be found in POST 62. The Postal Museum holds the supplements for the years 1953 to 1994. For lists of individual recipients of the ISM outside these dates, please see the website of the London Gazette.

Guidance for Head Postmasters on the nomination of Post Office employees for the award can be found in POST 68.

POST 73/41 contains the minutes from the 38th Postmaster Surveyors’ Conference held on 10 July, 1934, where a discussion took place of the rationale behind eligibility rules on the award of the ISM.

POST 30/3867C contains correspondence from 1917 and 1918 between the Postmaster General and the Postmen’s Federation concerning the Government’s refusal to award the ISM to employees who retired at the age of 60. The Government wished to discourage civil servants who were still physically fit from retiring at 60 in view of the shortage of labour during the WWI.