The campaign medal rolls are a vital source of information. The index cards were the original aid for locating a man’s entry or entries in the issuing rolls.
What are they?
An index card system (“medal index card”) was created to enable a man to be located in a given volume and on a given page of a roll. The original cards are held at the National Archives (collection reference WO372) but are now not available to see except in digitised form. Until digitisation, the index card provided the only practical way for locating an entry: now, the details in the rolls can be searched relatively easily and the entry found without reference to the index card.
Where are they?
Ancestry and its associated (mainly USA) site Fold3 are the only online places to see colour images of both sides of the index card. The examples shown on this page are all screen clips from the rolls at Ancestry.
National Archives Discovery and TheGenealogist provide black and white images of the front face of the card. These are digitised images from the microfiche version that was available at the National Archives for some years but which has now been withdrawn.
Findmypast and Forces War Records have transcripts of some of the details from the cards.
At present, no other provider offers details from the cards.
What do the cards show?
Especially if a man’s service record cannot be located, the rolls are a vital source of information.
Using examples of soldiers named John Smith, the variation in the detail included in the rolls can be seen below.
Let’s begin with the most common roll; that of the issue of the pair of the British War Medal and Victory Medal.
Example 1: colour version, front face of card
See also how to interpret a campaign medal index card – although with the rolls now being easily found via digital methods the principal need to interpret the card (for determining which roll to view) has almost disappeared.
Example 2: colour version, rear face of card
This is the rear face of the card shown in Example 1. In the vast majority of cases, the rear face contains no information (so the black and white front face versions are perfectly fine for use and you are unlikely to miss anything).
Example 3: transcript details
Example 4: black and white, front face only
Note that when locating and ordering a copy of the black and white card direct from the National Archives you will receive a sheet with up to six cards on it. They may all be of men with the same name and even of the same regiment: but they are six different men.
In most cases, a soldier will be represented by just one index card. But not all. For no really good reason that I have ever found, in some cases the man has two cards – one for his 1914 or 1914-15 Star and one for his British War and Victory Medals. His name on the former is often written as, for example, J. Smith rather than John Smith.