The Order of the British Empire was created during the First World War in 1917 by George V. The King recognised the necessity for a new award of honour which could be more widely awarded, in recognition of the large numbers of people in the British Isles and other parts of the Empire who were helping the war effort both as combatants and as civilians on the home front. For the first time, women were included in an order of chivalry, and it was decided that the Order should also include foreigners who had helped the British war effort.
From 1918 onwards there were Military and Civil Divisions, as George V also intended that after the war the Order should be used to reward services to the State, defined in a much wider sense to acknowledge distinguished service to the arts and sciences, public services outside the Civil Service and work with charitable and welfare organisations of all kinds. The Order of the British Empire is the order of chivalry of the British democracy.
Valuable service is the only criterion for the award, and the Order is now used to reward service in a wide range of useful activities. Citizens from other countries may also receive an honorary award, for services rendered to the United Kingdom and its people. There are more than 100,000 living members of the Order throughout the world.
After some debate, St Paul's Cathedral was nominated by a special committee and approved by The Queen, as the Chapel of the Order. As the cathedral of the capital city, it could accommodate services attended by very large congregations, and (in the words of one committee member) 'St Paul's symbolised the victory of the British spirit during the war of 1939-45 in that, although badly damaged and shaken, it survived the ordeal by battle in an almost miraculous way'.