King Edward VII (1841-1910) created the Order of Merit (OM) in 1902 in recognition of “..exceptionally meritorious service in Our Navy and Our Army..” (the Air Force was added in 1935) or for civilians equally meritorious in the “..advancement of the Arts, Learning, Literature and Science, or such other exceptional service”. Awardees are chosen solely by the monarch and there are only 24 British or Commonwealth members of the Order at any one time. Foreign recipients are additional to this but on an Honorary basis.
The first 12 members comprised three Field Marshals, two Admirals, two physicists, two politicians, a painter, an astronomer and a surgeon, suggestive of the King’s concerns and interests at the time. The first foreigners to be recognised were three Japanese military leaders in 1906 and the first woman was nurse Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) in 1907. Six British Prime Ministers wore the OM badge ~ Balfour, Lloyd George, Churchill, Atlee, Macmillan and Margaret Thatcher.
Current members include Sir Tim Berners-Lee, David Hockney and Sir James Dyson, and a gathering of some or all of these glittering personalities would make for fascinating conversations! With ages ranging from 56 to 96 and careers including architect, playwright, engineer, archbishop, mathematical physicist and conductor, the anecdotes would doubtless be rather special.
(Image: Oosoom at Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0)