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British Commonwealth War and Campaign Medals Awarded to New Zealanders - The Queen's South Africa Medal

The Queen's South Africa Medal

The Queen's South Africa Medal obverse view

The King's South Africa Medal

The King's South Africa Medal obverse view

About these medals

The Queen's South Africa Medal was instituted by Queen Victoria to recognise service in the Boer War in South Africa between 1899 and 1902. On her death in 1901, a new medal called the King's South Africa Medal was struck bearing the effigy of King Edward VII. These medals were the first awarded to New Zealand servicemen for military service outside New Zealand.

Ten contingents of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles, totalling 6,128 officers and men, and a contingent of 31 New Zealand nurses served in South Africa. Almost all these persons received the Queen's South Africa Medal only.

To qualify for the King's South Africa Medal a soldier or nurse had to be serving in South Africa on or after 1 January 1902, and have completed 18 months' total service before 1 June 1902.  Approximately 200 New Zealand military personnel, and six New Zealand nurses, were awarded the King's South Africa Medal. All the awards of the King's South Africa Medal to members of the New Zealand Contingents were issued with both the “South Africa 1901” and “South Africa 1902” clasps.

Clasps and Bars

These medals were usually issued with at least one clasp. However, most nurses (including the 31 New Zealand nurses) never received the clasps they were entitled to. Twenty-six clasps were awarded for the Queen's South Africa Medal (twelve of which were awarded to New Zealand military personnel - indicated in boldface and with an asterix below) and two clasps were awarded for the King's South Africa Medal.

Queen's South Africa Medal Clasps

  • Cape Colony *
  • Rhodesia *
  • Relief of Mafeking
  • Defence of Kimberly
  • Talana
  • Elandslaagte
  • Defence of Ladysmith
  • Belmont
  • Modder River
  • Tugela Heights
  • Natal
  • Relief of Kimberly *
  • Paardeberg *
  • Orange Free State *
  • Relief of Ladysmith
  • Driefontein *
  • Wepener
  • Defence of Mafeking
  • Transvaal *
  • Johannesburg *
  • Laing's Nek
  • Diamond Hill *
  • Wittebergen *
  • Belfast
  • South Africa 1901 *
  • South Africa 1902 *

King's South Africa Medal Clasps

Further information from Richard Stowers's book Rough Riders At War

The number of clasps on the medals awarded to New Zealand personnel varied from about six clasps allocated to the 1st Contingent of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles down to one clasp allocated to personnel of the 10th Contingent.

“State” clasps were issued for service within that state when no “battle” clasp(s) was issued to the recipient for a specific action within the same state. This meant a Queen's South Africa Medal (QSA) medal could not carry both a “state” clasp and a “battle” clasp(s) for actions within the same state. For example, a medal with “Diamond Hill” and/or “Johannesburg” clasps would not have the “Transvaal” and vice versa.

Many QSA medals had the bars misrepresented… “one chap, reading the legends on his gong remarked – ‘Driefontein? Where the ration biscuit is that? I was never at Driefontein!’ Quite a number who were at Diamond Hill didn’t get the bar [clasp], but as, on the whole, they appear to be a matter of luck!” This quote is from the 1st New Zealand Mounted Rifles Association Bulletin. This may explain why some men’s wanderings don’t correspond with their awarded clasps. It must also be noted that within the ten Contingents, hundreds of names have similar spellings, obviously making clasp allocation difficult.

Many medals were issued as men boarded ship to leave South Africa. Logistically this would provide problems as men returned to New Zealand and England in small groups and at different times. Other medals were issued in New Zealand by the Government or handed out by dignitaries at official occasions.

Clasps often were issued loose with the medal, or separately at a later date. Clasps were usually attached to each other but not to the medal. Date clasps were usually issued loose and at a later date, relying on the recipient to find a jeweller to attach them to the medal. This is why many medals today are seen with no clasps, or with not all the awarded clasps. If clasps are attached to the medal, usually the bottom rivet is different, as this had been added by a local jeweller. Some men placed no great importance on clasps, giving them away or using them to purchase beer or similar on their return.

Medals were mostly issued officially named around the rim. On the QSA, commissioned officers’ medals were often named in cursive script engraving and other ranks impressed in sans serif capitals. On the King's South Africa Medal (KSA) all naming was in sans serif capitals.

But there was an exception. Because of an administration problem, men of the 2nd and 3rd Contingents had medals issued unnamed when they left South Africa for home. As a consequence one man would gather his mates’ medals and have these named by a local jeweller. The wording on these medals was engraved and usually takes up the whole rim. Because of this, rank and unit titles vary and styles differ. Many early collectors of medals disregarded these medals, thinking them to be fakes, inferior or renamed medals. So generally medals from the 2nd and 3rd Contingents are rare today. The few men of the 2nd and 3rd Contingents who remained in South Africa to later in the war or went from South Africa to England before returning home usually received medals with official impressed naming.

The sequence of clasps (starting from the bottom, nearest the medal) is set out by the medal commissioners. “State” and “battle” clasps are nearer the medal while “date” clasps were always at the top. Loose clasps were often attached in the wrong order as the recipients knew no better or did not care.

Source: Richard Stowers, Rough Riders At War (3rd updated edition, Hamilton, 2004). Please note that the extract above has been published on the NZDF Medals website with Richard Stowers's permission.

Further information

Information on the medals and clasps awarded to New Zealanders who served in South Africa is also provided in Geoffrey P. Oldham and Brett Delahunt's book, Orders, Decorations and Medals Awarded to New Zealanders: An Illustrated Guide for Collectors (First edition, Auckland, 1991), pp.47-51. This book lists the number of officers and men in each of the New Zealand Contingents, and which clasps the members of each contingent were awarded.

Order of Wear

The position of these medals in the Wearing of Medals in New Zealand Table can be viewed here.