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Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

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Parish Records




War Memorials



by Duncan Brownlie


UK and Commonwealth Great War service medals were worn in the following order of precedence:

1914 or 1914-15 Star

British War Medal

Mercantile Marine Medal

Victory Medal or South African Victory Medal

Territorial Forces War Medal


In previous conflicts it had been the custom of European countries to exchange war medals with allied nations.  The sheer number of countries and servicemen involved in the Great War however, made this practice impossible to carry out.


It was therefore agreed by the Allies at a meeting in Paris in March 1919, that each country should design and produce its own medal in commemoration of the victory.  It was initially proposal that the medal be called the 'Allies Medal', but the American delegate objected, arguing that America was not an Ally, but an 'Associated Power', and the French suggestion of 'Victory Medal' was eventually adopted.


The medal took various forms according to each country, though the rainbow pattern ribbon was common throughout.


The Victory Medal - obverse

The Victory Medal - obverse

©Duncan Brownlie


The obverse of the UK version, again designed by William McMillan, bears the image of a winged Victory holding aloft a palm branch, symbolic of triumph.  The reverse has the inscription, 'THE GREAT WAR FOR CIVILISATION 1914 - 1919' inside a wreath.  Some 6.3 million were issued.


The Victory Medal - reverse

The Victory Medal - reverse

©Duncan Brownlie


Initially this medal was to be restricted to those servicemen who had actually been engaged in the fighting, however this was eventually dropped due to the difficulty in accurately defining this criteria in modern warfare.  The qualification criteria were almost identical to those for the British War Medal, but conditional upon the following:

                            service must have been in a designated theatre of war and

               between the dates the 5th August 1914 to the 11th November 1918 inclusive.

It was never issued without the corresponding British War Medal.

The South African government was permitted to award its own version to those serving in South African units.  It is identical to the UK version, though has the reverse inscription in both English and Afrikaans, 'DE GROTE OORLOG VOOR DE BESCHAVING - 1914-1919'.  South Africans who served in British regiments were awarded the UK version.


In 1920 a bronze oak leaf was authorised for sewing onto the ribbon of the Victory Medal, for those receiving a Mentioned-in-Despatches (MID) between August 1914 and August 1920.  Only one MID oak leaf could be worn no matter how many times the recipient received a mentioned-in-despatches.  A smaller version of the oak leaf was produced for wearing on the ribbon-strip. 


No requirements were made for MID recipients who were only entitled to the British War Medal, except the unofficial wearing of an oak leaf on the wrong medal ribbon.


Impressed on the reverse with the recipient’s number, rank, name and unit on embarkation in France or Belgium, in two or three lines of impressed capitals.  Unlike the other Great War service medals the battalion is usually indicated e.g. 1/G.GDS (1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards).  Officers, off course, do not have service numbers, so only the rank, name and unit is shown.


The VICTORY MEDAL - Medal naming to the recipient: 

The recipient’s number, rank, name and unit is impressed in capitals around the rim, but not ship for naval personnel, except for the New Zealand Navy. The regiment is omitted in the case of officers, except for the Royal Artillery and Royal Navy. Civilians attached to the Navy and who served at sea had the words, 'SERVICE WITH THE ROYAL NAVY' impressed after their name, though this is not always the case.

Officially the regiment or corps impressed on the medal rim was that which the recipient was serving in on first embarkation to the theatre of war. Thus a man who served with the Army Service Corp in 1915, and later transferred to the Machine Gun Corps, would have ASC on all subsequent campaign medals. The exception to this was where men transferred between the three services; hence a man could have ASC on his 1914 or 1914-15 Star and Royal Marines on his British War Medal and Victory Medal.

The rank inscribed is the highest the recipient attained during service overseas prior to the armistice. It is therefore common to find a trio of medals to the same man where the rank on the 1914-15 Star is to a Private and on the British War Medal and Victory Medal to an officer.

Note that the post of Lance Corporal is in fact an appointment and not a rank and if the holder were killed or taken prisoner he reverted to the rank of Private. It is therefore not uncommon to find a 1914 or 1914-15 Star inscribed with Lance Corporal, whereas the corresponding British War Medal and Victory Medal are engraved with Private.

Medals that just bear the recipient’s first and surname in full, or first name, initial(s) and surname in full are usually to members of the Mercantile Marine. Those that just bear an initial(s) and last name are usually to civilian volunteers in semi-official organisation or French or Belgian agents. However, though this rule is generally correct, I have seen a few British War Medal / Mercantile Marine War Medal pairs that just bear the initials and surname

(The above text also applies to the BRITISH WAR MEDAL and previously appeared in Part 2)


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