Medal Miscellany….

It seems appropriate at this time to reflect on the medals issued to those who fought in World War One. Considering the hardships and dangers endured by the majority, often over several years, the medals may appear to be scant recognition of service. The 1914 Star is a symbol of the heroic actions of the ‘Old Contemptibles’, the regular army of the time. Many survivors were not happy that the 1914-15 Star was of very similar design and with the same ribbon. However, the 1914-15 Star commemorates the New Army… enthusiastic volunteers from every walk of life who rushed to join up, the cream of a nation’s young men so many of whom were to perish on the Somme in 1916. A Gallipoli Star 1915-16 was designed but never issued. An unofficial specimen was made in Australia and presented to 200 ANZAC survivors in 1998.

The following is a brief description of the medals issued. I have not dabbled in prices as, at this time, that would seem to trivialise the human cost that these medals represent.

 

1914 Star, pictured below, often referred to as the ‘Mons Star’. Awarded to those serving in France and Belgium between 5 August – 22 November 1914. A clasp was awarded with those dates to all who had been under fire. A silver rose denotes the clasp on the ribbon bar. Almost 400,000 Stars were issued with 350,000 clasps. As with the following 1914-15 Star, it was never awarded singly but with the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. (Creating the trio known as ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’). The bronze oak leaf Mention in Despatches was affixed to the ribbon of the Victory Medal.

1914-15 Star, pictured below, some 1,800,000 Stars were produced which reflects the vast increase in numbers as the War developed. The area of operations is considerable; from Gallipoli and France and Belgium to Greece, Bulgaria, Egypt, East and South West Africa, Mesopotamia and the Pacific.

British War Medal 1914 – 1920, pictured below, this was to record the conclusion of the War but the dates were extended to incorporate mine-clearance and active service in Russia, the Baltic, Siberia and the Black Sea. Over 6,000,000 were produced in silver and 250,000 in bronze. The latter were awarded to Chinese, Maltese, Indian and other Labour Corps. There was a suggestion to add campaign or battle clasps. 79 were proposed by the Army when the price of that and 68 by the Navy; the idea was abandoned as impractical. The medal is made of one ounce of silver and when the price of that metal has been high, many have been melted down.

Mercantile Marine War Medal, pictured below, some 200,000 of the bronze medal were awarded by the Board of Trade to members of the Merchant Navy who had undertaken one or more voyages through a danger zone. Men, and women, of the Mercantile Marine were also awarded the British War Medal but were not eligible for the Victory Medal. No matter if they served throughout the War at sea, they would only receive the two medals. Royal Navy personnel seconded to merchant vessals to man defensive weapons, could be awarded the appropriate Star, War Medal, Victory Medal and the Mercantile Marine Medal. Almost 15,000 men and women were lost at sea. In honour of this sacrifice, George V granted the title Merchant Navy.

Victory Medal, pictured below, over 6,000,000 of this medal were issued. To commemorate the Allied victory over the Central Powers, it was determined that each country should produce a similar medal having the winged figure of Victory and a watered silk, rainbow ribbon.

An interesting list of countries issued a version of the Victory Medal; Great Britain and Empire, Belgium, Brazil, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Rumania, Thailand, Union of South Africa and the USA. A number only entered to War late in 1918.

All recipients of the Victory Medal received the War Medal. All those awarded 1914 Star or 1914-15 Star received the War Medal and the Victory Medal. Recipients of the War Medal were not automatically entitled to the Victory Medal.

Territorial Force War Medal 1914 – 1919, pictured below, this is the rarest of the medals for WWI. 34,000 were issued in bronze and it is worn immediately after the Victory Medal. It was awarded to members of the Territorial Force (including Nursing Sisters) who had served for four years before 4 August 1914 provided that they had re-joined before 30 September 1914. In addition, they must not have qualified for the 1914 or the 1914-15 Star.

Members of The Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars were the first Yeomanry to be sent to France in September 1914 and would not have qualified for this medal. Major Valentine Fleming, father of author Ian Fleming (007), was an officer in the Oxfordshire Hussars and killed in action in 1917.

Memorial Plaque, pictured below, not a medal but appropriate to be placed here, I think. A heavy bronze plaque 120mm across and having the name of the deceased in raised lettering. Around the circumference is the wording: ‘HE DIED FOR FREEDOM AND HONOUR’. About 1,400,000 were given to the next of kin along with an illuminated parchment scroll. Rare are the 600 plaques cast with ‘SHE DIED…..’

Cynically known on occasion as ‘the dead man’s penny’, they continued to be issued into the 1930’s to the nearest relatives of ex-servicemen dying as a result of wounds received in the War.

Silver War Badge, pictured below,  Service personnel who were invalided out as a result of wounds or sickness were frequently subject to abuse because they weren’t in uniform. In 1916 this silver badge, with the inscription ‘FOR KING AND EMPIRE + FOR SERVICES RENDERED’. All badges were numbered which now allows research as the records become available.

Rarely did veterans of World War One display more than three, often just two, of those campaign medals. In my youth, I can recall old men wearing them but scarcely gave their achievements a passing thought. Now I know better but even with that knowledge it is difficult to fully appreciate the scale of that conflict and the sacrifice that those pieces of bronze and silver represent.

Perhaps to reduce casualties to a scale most will understand.  For example, the Manchester United ground (75,000) would just about accommodate the British and Irish casualties from Gallipoli in 1915 (73,500). The Somme was a series of battles from 1st July 1916 to the Battle of Ancre in November 1916. On that fateful first day, the ‘Pals’ battalions, the cream of British youth, suffered over 57,000 casualties of which 19, 240 died. The Manchester City ground holds just over 55,000. By November, you will have needed more than Wembley Stadium (90,000) to accommodate the dead alone (96,000) let aside the total 324,000 wounded. There were more casualties on the Somme than the total of the Crimean War, the Boer Wars and the Korean War.

I won’t go on. You all know about the conditions that the soldiers had to fight in. You can only imagine the pressures on the medical services and hospitals. Just think of everyone who wore those faded ribbons as a hero.

Trevor Hodkinson

Trevor is our resident medal expert and can be contacted about any queries or research on medals from any period at tshodkinson@talktalk.net

(96,000) let aside the total 324,000 wounded. There were more casualties on the Somme than the total of the Crimean War, the Boer Wars and the Korean War.

I won’t go on. You all know about the conditions that the soldiers had to fight in. You can only imagine the pressures on the medical services and hospitals. Just think of everyone who wore those faded ribbons as a hero.

(96,000) let aside the total 324,000 wounded. There were more casualties on the Somme than the total of the Crimean War, the Boer Wars and the Korean War.

I won’t go on. You all know about the conditions that the soldiers had to fight in. You can only imagine the pressures on the medical services and hospitals. Just think of everyone who wore those faded ribbons as a hero.