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Medals in New Zealand

1840 to today - A Quick History

Orders of Chivalry, Decorations and Medals of various types have been awarded throughout the centuries to military personnel and civilians who perform individual acts of bravery or meritorious service for their country or who have demonstrated outstanding levels of achievement in their particular fields. From its early days as a British Colony, New Zealand followed the British model of Royal Honours which were conferred by the Sovereign on the recommendation of the New Zealand Prime Minister. These were both State Honours such as the different Orders of Knighthood and memberships of British Orders, and military Honours such as the British Gallantry and Bravery awards.

The British Royal Honours system served the country well for over a hundred years, but as New Zealand began to assert its independence as a sovereign nation some small changes were made.

The first distinctively New Zealand award was the New Zealand Cross introduced in 1869 for acts of outstanding gallantry by the New Zealand Volunteers. At the end of the Second World War the service and sacrifice of New Zealanders was recognised with the award of a special New Zealand War Service Medal.

Since that time a system of distinctive New Zealand Honours, including New Zealand State Orders and New Zealand Gallantry and Bravery awards, has been developed in what has now become the New Zealand State Honours system. In addition, a new range of military campaign medals have been introduced by the New Zealand Government to recognise operational military service since 3 September 1945, including the operational service currently being performed by New Zealand military personnel throughout the world. In April 2011, the New Zealand Defence Service Medal was instituted to recognise non-operational military service since 3 September 1945.

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Principles for medallic recognition for operational service (since 3 September 1945)


In 2000 the New Zealand Government adopted a set of eight principles by which the award of medallic recognition for operational service, which exceeds the normal requirements of peacetime, is judged. These are summarised below.


Principle 1. Medals are awarded to recognise service that is beyond the normal requirements of peacetime service.

Principle 2. Deserving service by New Zealand personnel should be recognised by a New Zealand award.

Principle 3. There must be a balance between maintaining the exclusivity of awards and recognising significant service.

Principle 4. In all but exceptional circumstances, there should be only one New Zealand medal to recognise each period of operational service.

Principle 5. Awards will be continued only where the service rendered continues to meet all other requirements for the award of a medal.

Principle 6. Medals for operational service should be open for award to civilians in appropriate circumstances.

Principle 7. The fairness and integrity of any award must be transparent, and such awards should also be timely.

Principle 8. Approval will be sought to accept and wear medals awarded by foreign governments or international organisations, where the service performed by New Zealand personnel is consistent with the other principles for medallic recognition.

Definition of operational service

Operational service is service which exceeds the normal requirements of peacetime service, and which involves a credible military threat from enemy military forces, insurgents, or other hostile forces. If the service involves no threat, or is determined as having only a very low threat level, a campaign or operational service medal will not be instituted or awarded.

The New Zealand Defence Force defines three categories of operational service: warlike, hazardous, and non-warlike.

• Warlike – In a state of declared war, or with conventional combat operations against an armed adversary, or peace enforcement between belligerents who have NOT consented to any intervention.

• Hazardous - Peace enforcement between belligerents who HAVE consented to intervention or requested assistance, or missions where casualties may be expected.

• For example, service in Bougainville since 1997.

• Non-warlike – Military activities in which casualties are not expected, including peacekeeping or sanctions-enforcing missions in benign situations, disaster relief in locations where there are belligerents or other hostile groups, observer activities and other hazardous activities.

• For example, mine clearance operations in Mozambique and Cambodia from 1994 to 2005.

Medals for operational service

Information on medals for operational service can be found in the following sections of our website:

New Zealand Campaign Medals

British Commonwealth War and Campaign Medals Awarded to New Zealanders

United Nations Medals

Other Foreign Campaign Medals Awarded to New Zealanders (including NATO Medals and the MFO Medal)

Also see:

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Principles for the Medallic Recognition of Long Service in the New Zealand Armed Forces (from 2012)


These principles, approved by the Minister of Defence in April 2011, are the foundation for a seamless whole of military career personnel policy in relation to medallic recognition of long and efficient service, and good conduct.  All seven principles will need to apply to any award(s) instituted for military long service from 2012.


Principle 1. All Regular and Territorial members of the Armed Forces of New Zealand, as defined in the Defence Act 1990, who serve for the required period and have a record of irreproachable conduct and character, are to be recognised by a long service and good conduct award, governed by a New Zealand Royal Warrant.

Principle 2. Generally, only service in the Armed Forces of New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom is considered eligible service.

Principle 3. The qualifying service for any award is to include all military service undertaken by an individual whose conduct and character have been irreproachable during the qualifying period.

Principle 4. The design of any new long service award is to be tri-Service in nature.

Principle 5. Any award is to be egalitarian.

Principle 6. The length of qualifying service for an award, and clasps to an award, should be the same as that required for other long service awards approved by the Sovereign for public sector organisations in New Zealand that is, NZ Police, NZ Fire Service, NZ Prison Service and NZ Customs Service.

Principle 7. An award may be annulled, forfeited and restored.

Current awards

Information on the current range of NZ military long service awards can be found in the New Zealand Long Service Awards section of our website.

Updates and information on the long service awards review

Latest updates on the long service awards review on the Breaking News page of our website

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DFO 6, Part 1 - Defence Force Orders for Honours and Awards

28 August 2017

The Chief of Defence Force (CDF) has approved DFO 6, Part 1 - Defence Force Orders for Honours and Awards (pdf format 5.54 MB). (Note: This link will only work on the NZDF intranet).

This is the first part of a two-part series of orders that cover the operation of the New Zealand Royal Honours System in the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF).

Part 1 is a comprehensive document of 24 Chapters intended to provide a "one-stop-shop" on all things related to honours and awards. It explains the important relationships between CDF, the Prime Minister and the Sovereign, the structure of the Honours System and the conventions, customs and practices that guide its operation, as well as defining key responsibilities. There are detailed processes governing the management of nominations, how they are processed and assessed, and the way in which awards are notified and presented. Direction is also provided on the wearing of honours and awards and there is a new policy on forfeiture, cancellation and restoration.

DFO 6 reflects the changes that have taken place in the Honours System since the Prime Minister's Honours Advisory Committee issued its report in 1995 that signalled the end of awards of British honours in New Zealand. It provides for a modern system of official recognition that will support the strategic direction of the NZDF out to 2035.

DFO 6 supersedes most of the content of DFO 4 Chapter 11 Honours and Awards; the affected content of which will be deleted. Single Service Orders will also be amended.

SADFO 13/2014 Chief of Defence Force Commendation, Chief of Defence Force Letter of Recognition, dated 16 September 2014 is cancelled.

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Interest Today in Orders, Decorations and Medals

Interest in Orders, Decorations and Medals is high throughout the world and New Zealand is no exception. Those interested range from recipients of an award or military campaign medal to collectors, museums, military veterans organisations and increasingly from relatives of deceased persons who received recognition during their lifetime. This website is designed to provide information to all those interested in the Orders, Decorations and Medals which have been and are being currently awarded to New Zealanders.

 This page was last reviewed 18 March, 2019 and is current.