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The Decorated Major Sholto

The Decorated Major Sholto

“He destroyed us all. And he gets a medal for it.”

– The Sign of Three

Major Sholto sign of three
Major John Sholto, V.C.

In The Sign of Three episode of BBC’s Sherlock, Major John Sholto appears at John Watson’s wedding in his full military uniform. He commented to John that he was allowed to retain his uniform due to a special dispensation. Sholto is displaying nine different military decorations on his uniform.

Sholto was John’s commanding officer in Afghanistan and they became friends during that time, hence the invitation to the wedding.  After John had returned to England due to his injuries, Sholto led a group of new recruits into battle and it went very badly. All of the recruits perished and Sholto was the only survivor. He received the Victoria Cross medal for surviving the battle, but received negative reactions from the press and public as a result of the death of his troops.

In addition to the Victoria Cross, Sholto is wearing (from left to right): the Northern Ireland General Service Medal, the United Nations Medal for Operations in Croatia, the NATO Former Republic of Yugoslavia Medal, the Iraq Campaign Service Medal, the Operational Service Medal for Afghanistan, the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal, the Accumulated Campaign Service Medal and the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.

The Victoria Cross is Britain’s highest honor and is awarded for valor. Made from metal of melted cannons captured during the Crimean War, the Victorian Cross has been awarded four times to three recipients during the current military action in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, only one recipient survived to receive his honor.

GSM Medal

Next is the General Service Medal. with clasp for service in Northern Ireland.  There are 13 clasps available for this silver medal, but the Northern Ireland clasp was the only clasp that could be earned in the late 1990’s and 2000’s.  Sholto would had to have served 30 days in Northern Ireland to be eligible. This medal was retired in 2007 and replaced with the Operational Service Medal.


UN Croatia Medal

The United Nations Medal for Operations in Croatia is the third medal that Sholto is wearing and was given for 90 days service with a United Nations mission in Croatia during 1995 – 1996. On the medal that Sholto is wearing, the ribbon has been flipped around somehow.  This drove your editor nuts for a brief period of time, as the ribbon colors are similar to the badge awarded for service in Yugoslavia.

NATO Yugoslavia

While Sholto did not earn the United Nations Medal for Operations in Yugoslavia, he must have served 30 days in that country after 2003 as he was wearing the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) Medal with the clasp for the Former Yugoslavia.

Iraq Service Medal

Sholto is next wearing the Iraq Campaign Service Medal, with the 19 Mar to 28 Apr 2003 clasp. To qualify for the cupro-nickel medal, either 30 days of continuous service or a total of 45 total days service in the Iraqi theatre. To qualify for the clasp, one needed seven days of continuous service during those dates (the dates of combat).

Operational Service Medal

The Operational Service Medal, with Afghanistan clasp, is the successor to the General Services Medal (the medal Sholto is wearing after the Victoria Cross) and was instituted in 2007. The silver medal has multiple service criteria for being awarded, but the most common scenario is for 30 days service in a military action area. To qualify for the Afghanistan clasp, 30 days had to be served in that country.

Elizabeth Golden Jubilee Medal

All British Military personnel with five years of service and who were active on Ascension Day 2002 (February 6) received the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal. The medal is cupro-nickel with a gilt finish.  Since Sholto is not wearing a Diamond Jubilee Medal, we can infer that the unfortunate military action that earned him the Victoria Cross took place before 2012.

Accumulated Service Campaign Medal

The Accumulated Service Medal was created in 1994 to recognize those that had served 36 months of campaign service. In 2011, the criteria was lowered to 24 months.

Long Service Good Conduct

Lastly, we have the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. This silver medal is awarded after 15 years of military service and an unblemished service record.

There is a part of me that thinks that the show’s writers and producers overdid it with awarding Sholto the Victoria Cross. It makes for good television and more viewers are probably familiar with the Victoria Cross than say the Decorated Service Cross or the Military Cross. The wording for awarding of the Victoria Cross reads:

“… most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.

From the scant details known of the military action that earned Sholto the Victoria Cross, I just don’t know if his actions reach that level.

2 Responses to The Decorated Major Sholto

  1. This is very interesting. Thank you! The people behind “Sherlock” are about as reliable as Conan Doyle when it comes to detail. I was initially a little irritated to see John Watson returning the guard’s salute when he and Sherlock arrived at the gates of the Baskerville complex. Things may have changed since I was in the Cadet Force at school *ahem* years ago, but I doubt that the protocol on saluting has changed. In the British armed forces, you don’t salute if you’re not wearing uniform. Moreover, even if you’re in uniform, you don’t salute unless you’re wearing a cap or other headgear. The reasoning is that the salute is symbolic of removing or raising one’s hat – and you can’t do that if you aren’t wearing a hat… As the meerkat says, “Simples!”

  2. Thanks for your informative article. As an Army Veteran I’m always interested in what medals a character is wearing. Getting much harder with the more medals that can be squeezed in nowadays!

    I agree I think the VC was a bit over the top. A Military Cross would probably have been more appropriate.