The Great War of 1914-18 was fought on a scale never before witnessed and caused casualties and damage beyond any battle or war previous to it. In military, social and eonimic terms it was simply immense, touching practically every single Britsh family with millions of people, military and civilian, men and women involved from Britain and all over her empire.
It was quickly agreed that the large number of combatants that had taken part in the war were deserving of distinctive campaign medals. A first it was proposed to follow the same precedent as previous medals and produce appropriate clasps for individual campaign and battles. This is exactly how it worked for the Boer War of 1899-1902, for which there were no less that 26 clasps issued. And so, after the war a army and navy committees were set up to draw up a list of clasps..the army came up with 79 different clasps and the navy came up with 68 of the little blighters. Granted, these medals and clasps would have made researching the individual soldier/sailor much easier (you would know which battles he served in for starters!) but it would have meant that particular ‘busy’ soldiers/sailors would have had medals with ribbons that stretched down to their belly button!! Not a good look when on parade. Plus there was the small issue that Britain was economically on her knees after the end of the war, and as such the issue of the clasps to the medal was deemed to complex and costly to put into practise.
So, in the end all serving personnel of the army/navy/airforce received the same standard campaign medals. These were distributed to serving and discharged personnel as well as next of kin as quickly as possible but still it took until well into the1920’s
Each medal will be dealt with seperately in more detail at a later date, but below is a brief description of what they all got (depending on when they served).
The 1914 Star
A single sided bronze star approved by the King for the army in April 1917 and to naval forces in 1918 to reward those who had served in France and Flanders on the strength of a unit from 4th August up to midnight of 22nd/23rd November 1914. A dated clasp was instituted in 1919 to distinguish those who had been ‘under the close fire of the enemy’ (i.e. they were shot at!) between those dates.
The 1914-15 Star
Sanctioned in 1918, this star is very similar to the above 1914 star except it carries the ‘1914-1915’ date across its centre. The 1914-15 Star was awarded to British and imperial forces for service in any theatre of war up to 31st December 1915. No clasp was associated with this award.
The British War Medal, 1914-1920
The standard silver war medal for The First World War, the British War Medal was awarded to all forces of the Empire and given to everyone who had served in uniform or had rendered ‘approved’ service. Unlike the previous stars it could be awarded singly. There was also a bronze version of this medal which was awarded to various members of non-combatant labour corps (Chinese, Indian, Maltese and the Macedonian Mule Corps).
The Victory Medal
This is specificall the British version of the Allied Victory Medal as all members of the Allies agreed to issue a similar medal – thus the VM of Britain, France, Belgium, Japan, USA and other allies such as the Czech Republic all bear the same symbolic figure of Victory and the same rainbow-coloured ribbon. The reverse dates on this medal are ‘1914-1919’ to include the Russian Civil War. South African awards were bi-lingual.
The Mercantile Marine Medal, 1914-1918
This bronze award, with it’s dramatic reverse scene, recognised the vital role of the Merchant Navy during the war. Just over 133,000 were awarded with one or more voyages in a designated war zone qualifying. Recipients who served only in the Merchant Navy were awarded this medal along with the British War Medal.
The Territorial Force War Medal, 1914-1919
A bronze medal awarded to members of the Territorial Force (i.e. part time soldiers and nurses) who were already members of the TF on 4th August 1914 and who had completed four years’ service by this time. In addition, they had to have (a) undertaken on or before 30th September 1914 to serve overseas, and (b) to have served overseas but not be eligable for weither the 1914 or 1914-15 Stars. It is the rarest campaign medal of this war, with only 34,000 issued..