Obverse: A white enameled cross with the Royal Crown in the centre surrounded by a laurel wreath.

Reverse: Similar to the obverse, except that in the centre is the Royal Cypher surmounted by a crown, with a laurel wreath surrounding them.

Size: 38mm across the arms of the cross.

Ribbon: 28mm wide, the ribbon is red with 5mm wide dark blue stripes at each edge.

The suspender bar has laurel leaves on it. To this is attached an eyelet that passes through an eyelet attached to the top of the upper arm of the cross.

Instituted in 1886, The Distinguished Service Order is awarded to officers of the Army, Navy and Air Force below field rank for acts of gallantry, and to senior officers for acts of gallantry or distinguished service in a theatre of war.

In 1916 an amendment to the Warrant allowed for the award of bars for subsequent acts of gallantry and to date seventeen third bars have been awarded, seven of them during the First World War, eight during the Second World War and one during the Korean War. Since its inception, nearly 17,000 initial awards have been made.

The first awards to New Zealanders were made during the Boer War in 1900, when five were awarded. During the First World War 141 Orders and eight first bars were awarded to members of the New Zealand Army. During the Second World War members of the New Zealand Army were awarded 112 Orders, sixteen first bars, two second bars and one third bar. Members of the Royal New Zealand Air Force were awarded seventy five Orders and four first bars, while members of the Royal New Zealand Navy were awarded eight Orders and one first bar. Four Orders were awarded to members of the New Zealand Army in Korea and one in Malaya.

The Distinguished Service Order is issued unnamed, but from 1938 the year of the award has been recorded on the reverse of the suspender bar.