Many people go on battlefield tours and treat them as a pilgrimage to see where a relative fought in World War One and in some cases died. Many of them have their relative’s medals and some wear them with great pride, especially on our Armistice Day Group Tours, myself included. But what many do not know is what the campaign medals were awarded for. I hope I can help answer some questions.
Most campaign medals awarded to servicemen for the Great War were either trios or pairs, a trio of medals being a 1914 or 1914-5 Star, War Medal and Victory Medal, or a pair being a War Medal and Victory Medal (a pair would have been awarded when the serviceman joined up in 1916 or after).
The brief description below covers the standard awards and makes no reference to gallantry medals or some of the other medals awarded to servicemen during the 1914-18 Great War.
The 1914 Star (Bronze)
This medal (pictured left) is more commonly known as the ‘Mons Star’ and was instigated in April 1917 and awarded to those who served in France and Belgium between 5 August and 22 November 1914. A bar bearing the above date was also issued to those soldiers who were actually under fire during that period and is sown on to the ribbon just above the medal. The ribbon is of watered red, white and blue and on the medal itself are the words ‘Aug’ and ‘Nov’ above and below the crossed swords. In the middle of the crossed swords is the date ‘1914’ on a scroll.
The 1914-15 Star (Bronze)
This medal (pictured right) is very similar to the 1914 Star in appearance but varies in that the ‘Aug’ and ‘Nov’ are now missing and ‘1914’ has been replaced by ‘1914-15’ on the central scroll. This medal was awarded to all those who saw service in a theatre of war between 5 August 1914 and 31 December 1915 and were not eligible for the 1914 Star. Those who received the 1914 Star tended to be regular army and some territorial servicemen, whereas the 1914-15 Star would have been awarded to the new volunteer army recruits.
The British War Medal (Silver)
This medal (pictured left) was automatically awarded to those who received the 1914, 1914-15 Stars and Victory medals. The head of George V is on the one side with the figure of St George on the other. The ribbon has a wide central orange stripe edged with stripes of white, black and blue.
The Allied Victory Medal 1914-18 (Bronze)
This medal (pictured right) was automatically awarded to those who received the 1914, 1914-15 Stars and for the most part the British War Medal. It was never awarded by itself. To qualify for the award one had to have served in any theatre of war between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918. The ribbon is a watered rainbow design with a central red stripe flanked in order by yellow, green, blue and violet. The winged figure on the reverse side shows victory holding a palm branch. On the front are the words ‘The Great War for Civilisation 1914 – 1919’.
Next of Kin Memorial Plaque – ‘The Dead Man’s Penny’
This plaque was awarded to all those servicemen or women who lost their lives in the Great War. The idea for a special memorial plaque arose in 1916 when the design for the plaque was opened to public competition. It wasn’t until March 1918 that the winning design was chosen.
The plaque is just under five inches in diameter with a figure of Britannia holding a small laurel wreath crown. In the foreground is a lion and above the lion’s head a rectangular box containing the name of the deceased. A standard text was arranged around the edge of the plaque ‘HE * DIED * FOR *FREEDOM * AND * HONOUR. It was estimated that approximately 1,150,000 plaques were produced in the period directly after the war. They commemorated those who died between 4 August 1914 and 30 April 1920 and would have been sent in a stiff card box to the next of kin.
In addition to the plaques a scroll would have been sent out under a separate cover. This would have been issued in a seven and a quarter inch long cardboard tube and accompanied by a covering letter bearing a facsimile of King George V’s signature. It read as follows:
‘I join with my grateful people in sending you this memorial of a brave life given for others in the Great War’.
Over the years many of these plaques have been lost. More often than not the scroll became parted from the plaque which has made it virtually impossible to identify some of the servicemen. The scroll contains the name, number and regiment of the deceased, however the plaque itself bears only the name of the deceased. Therefore if one sees a Death Plaque with the name ‘John Smith’ it impossible to identify the recipient. According to ‘Soldiers Died in the Great war’ there are 844 John Smiths, and therefore without a middle name identification is impossible. It was also the custom amongst many people to clean and shine the Death Plaque which has led to the details, especially the recipients name, being erased.
Lest we Forget.