The British campaign medals for the Great War

Only five types of campaign medal were issued.

The British War Medal, 1914-1920

This is the most commonly issued medal.


Essentially the requirement was that a member of the fighting forces had to leave his native shore in any part of the British Empire while on service. It did not matter whether he/she entered a theatre of war or not.

All men who served in the main theatres of war qualified for this medal, as did those who left their native shore for service in, for example, India.

The medal is silver and circular. A truncated bust of King George V is on the obverse, while there is a depiction of Saint George on the reverse. There is a straight clasp carrying a watered silk ribbon. This has a central band of golden yellow with three stripes of white, black and blue on both sides. The blue stripes come at the edges. An attempt was made to draw up a list of bars, but it was found to be an overwhelming task and was abandoned.

6,610,000 British War Medals were issued.

The soldier’s regiment and number are inscribed around the rim.


The Victory Medal, 1914-19


This medal was awarded to all those who entered a theatre of war. It follows that every recipient of the Victory Medal also qualified for the British War Medal, but not the other way round. For example if a soldier served in a garrison in India he would get the BWM but not the Victory Medal. In all, 300,000 fewer Victory Medals were required than British War Medals. All three armed services were eligible. The Victory Medals continued to be awarded after the Armistice for the British forces who saw action in North Russia (up to 12 October 1919) and Trans-Caspia (up to 17 April 1919).

The medal was struck in bronze. On the obverse is a full-length figure of Victory. On the reverse is the inscription “The Great War for Civilisation”. There is no clasp, but a ting attachment through which the ribbon is passed. The official description of the colour of the ribbon is “two rainbows with red in the centre”. An oak-leaf emblem was sanctioned for those who were mentioned in despatches.

5,725,000 Victory Medals were issued.

The soldier’s regiment and number are inscribed around the rim.


The 1914-15 Star


A Star similar to the 1914 Star (see below) was issued to all personnel, with certain exceptions, who served in a theatre of war before 31 December 1915 and who did not qualify for the earlier star.

2,078,183 1914-15 Stars were issued.

Simple rule: if a man did not qualify for a 1914 or 1914-15 Star, he did not see service in a theatre of war before 1916.

The soldier’s regiment and number are inscribed on the flat rear face of the Star.


The 1914 Star
sometimes (unofficially) called the Mons Star

This medal was awarded to all officers, warrant officers, non-commissioned officers and all men of the British and Indian Forces, including civilian medical practitioners, nursing sisters, nurses and others employed with military hospitals; as well as men of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, who served with the establishment of their unit in France and Belgium between August 5th 1914, and midnight of November 22/23rd, 1914.

The decoration consists of a lacquered bronze star, the uppermost ray of the star taking the form of the imperial crown. Resting on the face of the star is a pair of crossed swords, and, on them, is a circular oak wreath. A scroll winds around the swords : it is inscribed with the date “Aug.- Nov. 1914.” The ribbon is red merging into white and then into blue.

Note that men who served in Egypt and elsewhere at this time do not qualify for this medal. Note also that men who crossed to France after 23 November do not qualify for this medal, but the 1914-15 Star.

365,622 1914 Stars were issued.

The soldier’s regiment and number are inscribed on the flat rear face of the Star.


Clasp to the 1914 Star

A bar clasp inscribed “5 Aug. to 22 Nov. 1914” was given to all those who qualified for the 1914 Star and who served under fire. Since the same ribbon is used with the 1914-15 Star, holders of the 1914 Star were permitted to wear a small silver rosette on their ribbon when the decoration itself is not worn. On the medal index cards this is usually noted as the “Clasp and Roses” or “C&R” .It was necessary to apply for the issue of the clasp.


The application made by Lance Corporal George Hales for Bar to his 1914 Star is approved for issue.


“Pip, Squeak and Wilfred” or “Mutt and Jeff”?

The combination of a Star, Victory Medal and War Medal was fairly commonplace (more than 2.5m trios were issued). This combination earned for itself the nickname “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred”.

The pair of the Victory Medal and British War Medal is however seen more often (3.2m issued) simply because more men and women began service overseas after 1 January 1916 than before. This combination was often called “Mutt and Jeff”.

Pip, Squeak and Wilfred of the Daily Mirror, and Mutt and Jeff originally of the San Francisco Chronicle, were popular cartoon characters of the day.

Medal groups consisting of a Star and Victory Medal are often seen nowadays. This is reputed to be because the British War Medal, with a silver content, was more valuable and many former soldiers or their families sold the medal when times were hard. The Star and Victory Medal were never issued without the British War Medal.


The Territorial Force War Medal, 1914-1920

This is the least commonly issued campaign medal. It was instituted in 1920 and only applicable to men or women who had served in a unit of the Territorial Force. To qualify, the recipient had to have been a member of the Territorial Force on or prior to 30 September 1914, and to have served in an operational theatre outside of the United Kingdom between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918.

Only 33,944 of this medal was issued, to members of the TF and the TF Nursing Service.


The India General Service Medal

Not really a campaign medal as such, but as some battle or campaign clasps were issued we include it here for completeness. It was instituted in 1909 for service on the Indian frontiers and elsewhere. The medal was not issued without one or more of the clasps.

In the period relevant to the Long, Long Trail, clasps issued included “Afghanistan NWF, 1919”, “Mahsud, 1919-1920” and “Waziristan, 1919-1921”.


Other medals

There are medals rewarding long service that are of relevance to some of men who served during the Great War.

The Territorial Force Efficiency Medal

Instituted in 1908 when the Territorial was established, the TFEM was awarded after twelve years service. Embodied war service counted double toward this total IF the man had been embodied at the outbreak of the war; and that he had signed the Imperial Service Obligation by 11 November 1918; and that he re-engaged or re-enlisted within three months of his discharge. If he failed on any of these criteria his war service did not count as double. The medal was renamed as the “Territorial Efficiency Medal” in 1920.

The Long Service and Good Conduct Medal

This award was to recognise 18 years service in the regular army.