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British Commonwealth War and Campaign Medals Awarded to New Zealanders - The British War Medal

Obverse View

The British War Medal obverse view

Reverse View

The British War Medal reverse view

About the British War Medal

The British War Medal was instituted in 1919 to recognise the successful conclusion of the First World War (1914-1918). Its coverage was later extended to recognise service until 1920, recognising mine clearing operations at sea, and participation in operations in North and South Russia, the eastern Baltic, Siberia, the Black Sea and the Caspian.

The obverse of this medal shows the uncrowned left-facing profile of King George V by Sir Bertram Mackennal. The reverse of the medal depicts St George on horseback trampling underfoot the eagle shield of the Central Powers, and a skull and cross-bones (the emblems of death).  Above, the sun has risen in victory.  The figure is mounted on horseback to symbolise man's mind controlling a force of greater strength than his own, and thus alludes to the scientific and mechanical developments and machines which helped to win the war.

Throughout the British Empire about 6.5 million medals were awarded in silver.  Approximately another 110,000 were awarded in bronze, mainly to Chinese, Indian and Maltese personnel in labour battalions.

About the ribbon

The ribbon consists of an orange watered centre, with thin stripes of white and black at each side, and borders of royal blue.

Clasps and Bars

Rather unusually, no clasps were issued for this medal, although it was originally intended to do so. However, there were so many operational areas and theatres of war to be included (79 clasps were recommended by the British Army and a further 68 clasps were recommended by the Royal Navy), that the proposal was abandoned as impractical. The very large cost to issue so many clasps also appears to have been a significant factor in the clasp proposals not being implemented.  The naval clasps were authorised in Britain on 7 July 1920, and miniatures of these clasps are known to exist, but the actual clasps were never issued.

Order of Wear

The position of this medal in the Wearing of Medals in New Zealand Table can be viewed here.

Media Statements and NZDF Feature Stories since 2008 concerning service by New Zealand personnel which qualified for the award of the British War Medal

Older Media Release concerning a New Zealand service person who qualified for the award of the British War Medal

Further information about First World War medals

Alec A. Purves. The Medals, Decorations and Orders of the Great War 1914-1918. 2nd revised edition (1989)

Captain H. Taprell Dorling. Ribbons and Medals. 20th edition (1983). Edited and revised by Alec A. Purves

John Wilson. 'British Battle Clasps of the First World War', in The Volunteers: The Journal of the New Zealand Military Historical Society (Inc), vol.39, no.2, November 2013, pp.94-103.

John Wilson's article is based on the documents in two files at Archives New Zealand, Wellington: