British Military and Campaign Medals
Awards from Napoleonic Wars thru WW2
By Stephen Sherman, Dec. 2008. Updated July 19, 2011.
Collecting British military medals can be one of the most interesting aspects military history. Unlike the collector of military uniforms or weapons or equipment, those who collect medals can find direct, personal links to those who actually took part in the battles and campaigns. Research about the recipients of a medal can reveal much about the individuals, from their life before enlistment in the armed forces up to their point of discharge or death. This section concentrates on the individual medals struck to commemorate the many campaigns fought by Great Britain from the Napoleonic wars to World War Two. There is also a page on gallantry medals, awarded for valor, rather than for service in particular campaigns.
Including the famed Victoria Cross, the George Cross, the George Medal, and others.
This era saw the start of modern military medals, as we think of them: awarded to servicemen for acts of bravery or participation in a campaign. The also set the pattern for British campaign medals, that is, retrospective awards for campaigns with clasps for the particular action that the recipient was involved in.
During Queen Victoria's reign, the phrase "the sun never sets on the British Empire," became a reality. Campaigns in South Africa, India, China, and Afghanistan called for British troops. In this period, some of the most famous battles of the British Imperial age took place: Rorke's Drift in South Africa and Robert's epic 310 mile march from Kabul to Khandahar to relieve the besieged garrison.
Twenty medals are shown here, including an Indian Mutiny Medal, with two clasps: Lucknow, and Relief of Lucknow.
In the last twenty years of the Victorian era, Britain's imperial responsibilities (or colonialism) included: the defense of the foreign legations in Peking (now Beijing) during the Boxer Rebellion, the Boer War, campaigns in the Sudan, and other actions in India and Afghanistan. Of particular interest is the Queen's South Africa Medal (1899-1902), which could include many, many clasps for the battles of the Boer War.
A rather short list of Edwardian medals, including medals for service in Tibet and Natal, and the Naval General Service Medal, which remained in use for over 50 years.
Another short list of medals. It is noteworthy that the small conflicts of the Victorian era, each involving hundreds or a few thousands, generated scores of medals, with clasps for each minor engagement. But the Great War, involving millions, and correspondingly higher casualties, resulted in a handful of "Stars," with no clasps for the particular engagement. Maybe the authorities supposed that a "Somme 1916" clasp might not be well-received.
Over the course of Britain's long involvement in India, four different general service medals were issued the members of the British Army in India.
With Britain's involvement in WW2, her medal-issuing policy reverted to norm, with the issuance of seventeen Stars and Service Medals, including the prized Air Crew Europe Star.
The now-defunct Collecting British Military Campaign Medals, laboriously reconstructed here via the Internet Archive. (Note: that URL now has wholly different content, but on the same topic.)