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British War Medal (1914-1918)

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The British War Medal is a campaign medal of the United Kingdom which was awarded to officers and men of British and Imperial forces for service in the First World War. Two versions of the medal were produced. About 6.5 million were struck in silver and 110,000 were struck in bronze, the latter for award to Chinese, Maltese and Indian Labour Corps.

Institution

The British War Medal was instituted on 26 July 1919 for award to those who had rendered service between 5 August 1914, the day following the British declaration of war against the German Empire, and the armistice of 11 November 1918, both dates inclusive. Consideration was given to the award of clasps to commemorate certain battles and theatres of operations and some 68 clasps were proposed for Naval recipients and 79 for the Army. While the Naval clasps were authorised in August 1920, none were awarded and the idea was abandoned in 1923.

Award criteria

Unlike the 1914 Star and the 1914–15 Star, the British War Medal could be awarded to all officers and men of British and Imperial forces who had served for a prescribed period during any stage of the war, or who had died on active service before the completion of this period. Eligibility for the award of the medal was subsequently extended to cover service in 1919 and 1920 in mine-clearing at sea as well as participation in operations in North and South Russia, the eastern Baltic region, Siberia, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

For the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and the Dominion and Colonial naval forces, the criteria were 28 days mobilised service, but without a requirement for overseas service. The medal was presented to the next-of-kin of all casualties, including those who were killed before the completion of this 28 days period. The medal was also awarded, with the same criteria, to members of the Women's Royal Naval Service, to members of Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service and Royal Naval Nursing Service Reserve, and to a number of non-Naval personnel who served on Royal Navy ships, such as canteen and medical staff.

Army

Officers and men of the British Army, including Dominion and Colonial forces, were required to have either entered an active theatre of war or to have left the United Kingdom for service overseas between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918, and to have completed 28 days mobilised service. The medal was also awarded in the event of death on active service before the completion of the prescribed period. The same criteria for eligibility were applied to members of the Women's Auxiliary Forces and staff of officially recognised military hospitals and members of recognised organisations such as the British Red Cross and the Order of Saint John who actually tended the sick and wounded.

Air Force

For the Air Forces, the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps which were amalgamated into the new Royal Air Force towards the end of the war on 1 April 1918, eligibility was broadly the same as for the British Army. It required overseas service, but members of the Air Forces who had seen combat whilst based in the United Kingdom, who had ferried aircraft to France or who had served on ships carrying aircraft were eligible for the award of the medal.

Order of wear

Campaign medals and stars are not listed by name in the order of wear prescribed by the British Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, but are all grouped together as taking precedence after the Queen's Medal for Chiefs and before the Polar Medals, in order of the date of the campaign for which awarded.

The order of precedence of the First World War campaign stars and medals is as follows:

  • The 1914 Star.
  • The 1914–15 Star.
  • The British War Medal.
  • The Victory Medal (United Kingdom).
  • The Territorial War Medal.
  • The Mercantile Marine War Medal.

South Africa

Description

The medal is a silver or bronze disk, 36 millimetres in diameter, with a straight clasp suspender without swivel. The medal was designed by W. McMillan and struck by the Royal Mint. The recipient's name, rank, service number and unit are impressed on the bottom edge of the medal. On medals awarded to Army officers, with the exception of the Royal Artillery, the name of the regiment or corps was omitted.

Obverse

The obverse shows Sir Bertram Mackennal's bareheaded effigy of King George V facing left, with the legend "GEORGIVS V BRITT: OMN: REX ET IND: IMP:" (George V, King of all the British Isles and Emperor of India).

Reverse

The reverse shows Saint George naked on horseback and armed with a short sword, an allegory of the physical and mental strength which achieved victory over Prussianism. The horse tramples on the Prussian eagle shield and the emblems of death, a skull and cross-bones. In the background are ocean waves and just off-centre near the right upper rim is the risen sun of Victory. The years "1914" and "1918" appear on the perimeter in the left and right fields respectively.

Ribbon

The watered silk ribbon is 32 millimetres wide, with a 3 millimetres wide royal blue band, a 2 millimetres wide black band and a 3 millimetres wide white band, repeated in reverse order and separated by a 16 millimetres wide orange band. The colours are not thought to have any particular symbolic significance.

Recipients

Some 6,610,000 medals were awarded, 6,500,000 struck in silver and 110,000 struck in bronze. The bronze medals were mostly awarded to Chinese, Maltese and Indians who served in the labour battalions of such organisations as the Chinese Labour Corps.

Altogether 427,993 medals were awarded to Canadians who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Nicknames

The trio of First World War medals, either one of the 1914 Star or the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, were collectively irreverently referred to as Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, after three comic strip characters, a dog, a penguin and a rabbit, which were popular in the immediate post-war era. Pip represented either of the two Stars, Squeak represented the British War Medal and Wilfred represented the Victory Medal.

Similarly, when only the British War Medal and Victory Medal are worn together, they are referred to as the Mutt and Jeff pair.