First World War Medals

Armistice Day is always an emotive time and it often prompts people to look back to family members who served or were killed in the First World War.

If we are lucky, we have mementos of these men and women, which may include photographs, letters, medals or ‘death plaques’. The most common campaign medal awarded was the British War Medal, of which 6,500,000 were awarded to those who entered a theatre of war on duty or rendered approved services overseas between 1914 and 1920.

In terms of numbers issued, this is closely followed by the Victory Medal (5,750,000) earned by service in any theatre of war between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918.  Other medals were awarded to those who fought in 1914 and 1915, to pre-war Territorials and to merchant seamen.  In addition, silver war badges (often referred to as ‘silver wound badges’) were awarded to those invalided from the services due to disease or injuries.  Death plaques (know by the macabre nickname ‘Dead Men’s Pennies’) were issued to the next-of-kin of those who died in service.

For those who have a medal, what next? The first thing is to check what’s stamped on the rim (or in the case of stars, the reverse) of the medal.  This should include a service number, rank, name and unit.  In the case of officers, one would only expect to find a rank and name, and with civilians only the name.  With these key details you can now start your research. Military service papers are mainly held at The National Archives (TNA) in Kew, but in recent years many of these have been put on-line – with more to come.  These can be downloaded from TNA’s website or the Ancestry website.  Access to both of these websites are available free of charge at the Norfolk Record Office or through the Norfolk Library and Information Service.

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