The families of 8,000 servicemen and women who have been killed in combat since the Second World War are to be honoured. They will receive the Elizabeth Cross and a memorial scroll signed by the Queen.
The decision to make the award – the first given in the name of a reigning monarch since the George Cross in 1940 – was made to acknowledge the "lifetime grief" suffered by the relations of those who have died for their country.
By law the Ministry of Defence will have to put out to tender the manufacture of the silver emblem and the scroll, with words by the previous Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, throughout the European Union, raising the possibility that they may end up being made in Germany.
Memorial scrolls were awarded to the families of the dead of the two world wars and the Korean War but then the practice fell into abeyance. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have claimed the lives of 350 service personnel, were seen as the fitting time to revive the idea.
In a radio message to armed forces personnel on the British Forces Broadcasting Service, the Queen said yesterday: "This seems to me a right and proper way of showing our enduring debt to those who are killed while actively protecting what is most dear to us all.
"The solemn dignity which we attach to the names of those who have fallen is deeply engrained in our national character. As a people, we accord this ultimate sacrifice the highest honour and respect."
Gordon Brown said: "I am confident that this will be a very special and fitting tribute for the great debt we owe to all those who died on operations and enduring losses suffered by their families."
The Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said he believed that the Elizabeth Cross would be worn with "immense pride". "It is a reminder not just of the ultimate price their loved ones have paid while safeguarding our security and freedom – it is also a lasting symbol of the nation's recognition of and gratitude for their sacrifice. The Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth, said it was intended to recognise the "huge debt" the country owed to the families of the dead.
Helen Gray, 43, the mother of Pte Chris Gray, of 1 Royal Anglian, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2007, said: "Ever since Christopher died I have wondered what I will say to the children of his younger brother when they ask 'What did Uncle Christopher get from this country?' I will now be able to point to the Elizabeth Cross and say 'That's what Christopher got'."
The decision to honour the families was originally announced by the then defence secretary Des Browne last year and consultations on what form it should take have been under way since then. It will cover regular and reserve personnel who died on any medal-earning operations or other tasks where there was an inherent high risk, or as a result of terrorism. It will also cover those who died subsequently as a result of their injuries.
Families will be able to decide whether they wish to receive the award publicly from a senior figure, such as a county lord lieutenant or a senior military officer, or in private.Reuse content