A round bronze medal with a central eight-pointed cross with unicorn and lion supporters with writing in a border, suspended from a black, red and white ribbon.
Medals and Insignia

Life Saving Medal of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in bronze, awarded to Dr Esmond Colin Dawson

LDOSJ: 2014.70.11.1
76mm x 38mm

These medals have been awarded to Dr. Dawson and Mr. Bugg for a conspicuous act of gallantry at the time of the Hither Green railway disaster on 5th November, 1967.  Early in the course of the rescue operation Dr. Dawson was asked to perform an operation for the amputation of an arm of one of the victims of the crash.  This patient was trapped in a most dangerous position beneath one of the rail coaches which had reared up on end.  Notwithstanding urgent warnings from the police that the coach threatened to collapse on top of them, Dr. Dawson and Mr. Bugg worked steadily for over two hours to amputate both arms of this casualty.

    In doing so they eminently satisfied the criterion for the award of the Life Saving Medal of the Order of St. John which is that it may be bestowed on those who, in a conspicuous act of gallantry, have endangered their own lives in saving or attempting to save the life of others.

Transcribed from the citation read on the day the medal was awarded


At the time of the institution of this medal in 1874, there was no state or national award available for bravery or lifesaving of civilians on land.  In particular, for rescues in mines, quarries, factories and industry in general there was no public or private body to which application for recognition could be made.  The Chapter General of the Order of St John identified this gap in the range of awards available, and sought to introduce an appropriate award.

The first presentation of the Order’s Life Saving Medal were to two colliers, Elijah Hallam and Frederick Vickers. On the 6th September 1875, at imminent risk of their own lives, they saved six of their fellow workmen, who were suspended in a broken cage half-way down the shaft of a coal pit.

Initially awarded in either bronze or silver, dependent on the level of danger encountered in the attempt to save life, in 1907 a gold version was also authorised.  In 1963 a bar, to be worn on the ribbon of the medal, was instituted to recognise further acts by the same individual.

The front of the medal has a central eight-pointed cross, with unicorn and lion supporters, added to the Order’s emblem following the Royal Charter of 1888 which made the Order one of chivalry.  The reverse of the medal features St John’s Wort, a medicinal herb used by the Hospitallers in the Order’s earliest hospitals from the 12th century.  The rank (if applicable) and name of the recipient is engraved around the edge of the medal, and the year or full date it was awarded.  The appearance of the medal has changed little since its inception, although the ribbon has changed.  This Life Saving Medal has a ribbon with black centre with white side stripes edged with red, introduced in 1950.  Prior to this, the first ribbon had been plain black silk with a white embroidered eight-pointed cross, followed by a plain black watered silk ribbon.

The Museum holds records of most Life Saving Medals awarded to recipients around the world.  Extracts from citations about the circumstances of the gallant act can be provided if the name of the recipient, and date of the act or award are known.


The Museum of the Order of St John would like to thank all those who have supported and continue to support its work. In particular, the Museum would like to thank the following for their generosity: