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1939 - 1945

Great Britain & Commonwealth

 

Great Britain awarded a number of its already existing decorations for bravery or distinguished service during WW2 but also instituted a fair amount of new awards. Only the latter are the subject of this page.

The George Cross

George Cross

Instituted on 24 September 1940, this award was intended to reward only acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in extreme danger and was primarily intended to be bestowed on civilians. Military personnel (including the Home Guard) could only receive it for actions where military honours were not normally granted. The George Cross ranks immediately after Britain's highest decoration, the Victoria Cross, and before all other orders, decorations and medals. Subsequent awards are indicated by a bar on its ribbon.

 

The George Medal

George Medal, obverse George Medal, reverse

Instituted on the same day as the George Cross, this medal was awarded under the same criteria but for lesser acts of heroism or courage. It ranks after the Conspicuous Gallantry and Distinguished Conduct Medals.

 

The Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (Flying)

The awarding of the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal was extended to Warrant Officers, NCOs and men of the air forces of Great Britain and the Commonwealth on 10 November 1942. The medal itself is identical to its already existing naval counterpart but hangs from a different ribbon : pale blue with dark blue edges.

 

The Stars for 1939-1945

top left to bottom right : 1939-45 / Atlantic / Air Crew Europe / Africa / Atlantic / Burma / Italy / France and Germany Stars

Eight campaign stars were created for the 2nd World War but the maximum any individual can wear is five. A number of bars were also instituted but only one could be worn on any one of the stars. The criteria for award and the dates, services, areas and exceptions concerned are quite elaborate and complicated and would fill several pages, so only the main details are given below.

THE 1939-1945 STAR

Mainly awarded for a minimum of 180 days operational service between 3 September 1939 and 2 September 1945 (60 days for RAF in an operation unit engaged in operations against the enemy). A bar "BATTLE OF BRITAIN" was authorised for fighter aircraft crew that participated in this battle between 10 July and 31 October 1940. The ribbon colours symbolize the Royal and Merchant Navies (dark blue), the Army (red) and the Royal Air Force (pale blue).

THE ATLANTIC STAR

Generally awarded for a minimum of 180 days service afloat between 3 September 1939 and 2 September 1945 (60 days for RAF), this star served to commemorate the Battle of the Atlantic. However, the qualifying period only started from the moment the 1939-1945 Star had been earned. Bars "AIR CREW EUROPE" and "FRANCE AND GERMANY" were created to be added in case the recipient subsequently qualified for those stars (a maximum of one bar only can be worn !). The ribbon colours are symbolical of the Atlantic Ocean's waters throughout the seasons.

THE AIR CREW EUROPE STAR

This star was awarded for operational flying from UK bases over Europe between 3 September 1939 and 5 June 1944. Once again, the criteria for the 1939-1945 Star had to be fulfilled first before the qualifying period started. Thus this qualifying period was set at 120 days serving as a member of an air crew in an operational unit : two months for the 1939-1945 Star and a further two months to obtain the Air Crew Europe Star. Bars "ATLANTIC" and "FRANCE AND GERMANY" were created to be added in case the recipient subsequently qualified for those stars (a maximum of one bar only can be worn !). The ribbon colours represent the air force (pale blue) and its day and night continous service (yellow and black).

THE AFRICA STAR

No prior award of the 1939-1945 Star is necessary for this star which was awarded for one or more day's service in North Africa between 10 June 1940 and 12 May 1943. Three bars (of which only the first awarded can be worn) were instituted : "EIGHT ARMY", "FIRST ARMY" and "NORTH AFRICA 1942-43". Service with the 8th Army between 23 October 1942 (Battle of El Alamein) and 12 May 1943 and service with the 1st Army between 8 November and 12 May 1943 qualified one for the first two of these bars. Service between 23 October 1942 and 12 May 1943 for those outside of both these armies (i.e. personnel of the 18th Army Group HQ, naval and air force personnel, merchant navy members etc.) was the qualification for the final of the above bars. The ribbon colours represent the desert and the colours of the Royal Navy, Army and RAF.

THE PACIFIC STAR

Service between 8 December 1941 and 2 September 1945 in the Pacific theatre of operations was the requirement for this star (although, for Navy and Merchant Marine personnel, the 1939-1945 Star had to be earned first). When the recipient later also qualified for the Burma Star, a bar "BURMA" was worn. The ribbon colours represent the jungles and beaches (green and yellow) and the armed forces (dark blue for the Royal Navy, red for the Royal Army and pale blue for the Royal Air Force).

THE BURMA STAR

After qualifying for the 1939-1945 Star, service in the area between 11 December 1941 and 2 September 1945 was the criterion for this star. Subsequent qualification for the Pacific Star led to a bar "PACIFIC" being worn. The ribbon colours represent the British and Commonwealth armed forces (blue and red) and the sun (orange).

THE ITALY STAR

Operational service in Sicily or Italy between 11 June 1943 (capture of the island of Pantellaria) and 8 May 1945 was the main criterion for this star. However, service elsewhere in the Mediterranean, the Aegean, Dodecanese, Corsica, Greece, Sardinia, Yugoslavia, Elba and indeed even the entry into Austrian territory in the later stages of the war could serve to qualify although for some of these areas time limits were set. The Italy Star was always awarded in addition to other stars so that no bars were instituted for it. Only Royal Navy and Merchant Navy personnel had to qualify for the 1939-1945 Star first; this prior time qualification was not necessary for the other services. The ribbon colours represent the national colours of Italy.

THE FRANCE AND GERMANY STAR

This star was awarded for operational service in France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg or Germany between D-Day and the German surrender, i.e. between 6 June 1944 and 8 May 1945. Prior qualification for the 1939-1945 Star was not required and a subsequent fulfilling of the criteria for the Atlantic Star was denoted by a bar "ATLANTIC". The ribbon colours, besides being those of the Union Jack, represent the national colours of France, Holland and Luxembourg ... little Belgium seems to have been forgotten !

Defence Medal, reverse War Medal, reverse

The Defence Medal

Various criteria and rules apply for this medal's award also, the main one is service in non-operational areas subjected to air attack or closely threatened for a minimum three years. The ribbon colours are symbolic of the enemy attacks (flame colour) on the (green) British Isles whereas the black stripes stand for the black-out during the war years.

 

The War Medal 1939-1945

A minimum of 28 days of service, whether operational or non-operational, in the Armed Forces (including the Merchant Navy when served at sea) sufficed for this medal. The ribbon colours represent the Union Jack. Servicemen who had received a Mention in Despatches or the King's Commendation for Bravery wore a bronze oakleaf on this medal's ribbon.

 

The King's Commendation for Brave Conduct

King's Commendation for Brave Conduct, 2nd type

Instituted in 1943 for award to civilians who had received a "Commendation for Brave Conduct". Gold coloured plastic badge with a red background consisting of an oval laurel wreath with an upraised sword in it and a crown above. In the centre is a panel with "FOR BRAVE CONDUCT". This badge was later replaced by a silver laurel spray to be worn on the Defence Medal's ribbon (or directly on the recipient's coat if he had not qualified for the medal).

 

The King's Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air

Instituted in September 1945 for award to civilians that had received this commendation. Silver badge, shield shaped and consisting of a pair of stylised wings with a crown above and with a band at the top in which is the text "FOR VALUABLE SERVICES".

 

The King's Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom

King's Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom, obverse King's Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom, reverse

Instituted in August 1945 this medal was destined for award mainly to allied civilians or other foreigners to recognize their courage and risking torture or death in helping British service personnel to escape from the enemy or for other dangerous activities in the interest of the British or allied cause and which required exceptional courage.

 

The King's Medal for Service in the Cause of Freedom

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Instituted together with the previous medal, it was awarded for civilian services where the element of danger was less likely to arise. Same obverse but the reverse shows a knight being offered food and drink by a woman. The surrounding legend says "FOR SERVICE IN THE CAUSE OF FREEDOM" and in the exergue is "THE KING'S / MEDAL". The ribbon is white with three equally spaced stripes of blue-red-blue at the edges.

 

Commonwealth Awards

The Order of Burma

This rare order is a long service award but its date of institution, 10 May 1940, merits it to be mentioned here.

The Burma Gallantry Medal

This silver medal was awarded to personnel of the Burma Armed Forces for conspicuous gallantry and instituted on 10 May 1940. The obverse has the crowned head of George VI while on the reverse is the text "FOR GALLANTRY" in an open laurel wreath with "BURMA" on top. The ribbon is dark green with a crimson centre stripe. A bar for multiple awards was also created (three were awarded) and the medal fell into disuse on Burma's independence in January 1948, at which time only 207 medals had been issued.

Australia Service Medal, reverse Canadian Voluntary Service Medal, obverse Canadian Voluntary Service Medal, reverse Canadian Memorial Cross

The Australia Service Medal

Instituted in 1949 and awarded to the members of the Australian Armed Forces, Merchant Marine and civilians serving fulltime overseas for at least 18 months (or 3 years part-time) between 3 September 1939 and 2 September 1945. About 177,000 medals were issued. In 1996, the required service period was reduced to 30 and 90 days respectively.

The Canadian Voluntary Service Medal

This silver medal was authorized in 1943 for award to all ranks of the Canadian Armed Forces who volunteered for service and effectively served a minimum of 18 months during WW2 (between 2 September 1939 and 1 March 1947 if enlisted before 1 September 1945). Serving abroad qualified for a maple leaf bar and participation in the Dieppe raid also entailed the issue of a bar. A further bar exists for service in Hong Kong between 8 and 25 December 1941.

Hong Kong bar

The Canadian Memorial Cross

Similar to the WW1 Memorial Cross, this medal was instituted on 27 August 1940 for award to the next-of-kin of those that died while on active service during the war.

India Service Medal, reverse New Zealand War Service Medal, reverse

The India Service Medal 1939-45

This medal, instituted on 6 June 1946, was awarded for three years of non-operational service in the Indian Forces between 3 September 1939 and 2 September 1945 excluding those that were entitled to the British Defence Medal. Its ribbon colours represent those of the Order of the Star of India (light blue) and the Order of the Indian Empire (dark blue). Some 222,000 medals were awarded.

The New Zealand War Service Medal

Awarded to the members of the New Zealand Armed Forces (including e.g. the Home Army) and Merchant Marine who served an aggregate of at least 28 days of full-time service or 6 months part-time. Some 238,000 medals were struck.

The Newfoundland Service Medal

Newfoundland Service Medal, obverse Newfoundland Service Medal, reverse

No doubt the rarest of the British WW2 awards, this medal was created as late as 14 July 1981 for award to any Newfoundlander that had volunteered to serve in the British Imperial Forces during WW2. Awarded medals are numbered.

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Any information on the recipient of the above medal, numbered 2463, is welcomed ! email2.gif (25222 bytes)

New Zealand Memorial Cross Africa Service Medal, obverse Africa Service Medal, reverse

The New Zealand Memorial Cross

Similar to the Canadian Memorial Cross, this award was instituted in December 1946.

The Africa Service Medal

This silver medal was authorized on 16 November 1943 and awarded to those members of the South African forces (indeed for all uniformed services of the country) who saw service in Africa before 13 May 1943, that being the day that Africa was declared to be free of enemy forces.

South Africa Medal for War Services, obverse South Africa Medal for War Services, reverse Southern Rhodesia Service Medal, reverse

The South Africa Medal for War Services

Created on 29 December 1946, this silver medal was awarded to those who served for a minimum aggregate period of two years (with at least one year of continuous service), between 6 September 1939 and 15 February 1946, in unpaid voluntary service in one of a number of recognized organisations (e.g. the Red Cross of South Africa). Approximately 17,000 of these medals were struck.

The Southern Rhodesia Service Medal

About 1,700 of this medal were awarded to members of the Southern Rhodesia armed forces who served at home during the war. Anyone that qualified for the UK War Medal or a campaign star was not entitled to receive this medal as well. As most of these servicemen served overseas, this accounts for the low number of medals issued.

Missing pictures of the medals described above are always welcome ... email2.gif (25222 bytes)

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Copyright Hendrik Meersschaert 2002-2009