Campaign Medals

The first Campaign Medals, being a military decoration, were awarded in the early 19th Century, to acknowledge general military service in war. The first medals were awarded by Napoleon Bonaparte to soldiers under his command in the Napoleonic Wars fought from 1803 to 1815.

The first medal awarded to an officer of the British Army was in 1815 to signify involvement in the Battle of Waterloo, the Army Gold Medal issued in 1810 only being awarded to those who had a rank of battalion commander or above.

Documents listing people who received campaign medals can give an idea as to where and when a person served, and to the time they served.

Waterloo Medal (1815)

One of the first Campaign Medals, this was issued after the Prince Regent declared on 10 March 1816 in a memorandum from Horse Guards that every officer, non-commissioned officer and soldier who took part in the battle should receive a medal, this being announced in the London Gazette on 23 April 1816.

It was awarded to people who saw action at any of the following battles - The Battle of Ligny on 16th June 1815, Battle of Quatre Bras on 16th June 1815 and Battle of Waterloo on 18th June 1815.

Awarded to every soldier who was present at one or more of the three battles, regardless of rank, 39000 were awarded when the medal was issued in 1816-17.  

Men who were granted this award had an extra 2 years added to their service record.

It was unique because it was the first medal also awarded to the next of kin of those soldiers who were killed in action. The recipient's name, his rank and unit was also engraved around the edge of the award.  If a man had been killed in action, the medal was presented to their next-of-kin.

The effigy of the Prince Regent, with the inscription George P. Regent, was on one side of the medal, whilst the other showed the figure of Victory and was inscribed with the words Wellington and Waterloo, along with the date of 18 June 1815.

Many soldiers refused to wear the medal in solidarity with other soldiers who had served in the Peninsula War between 1807-1814 and had not received a medal, this not being rectified until 1848.

You can search the Medal Roll at the National Archives.

It is possible to discover more about soldiers issued with this medal and their careers by looking for their service or pension records, which can be accessed at the National Archives. My ancestor Thomas McJannett fought at the Battle of Waterloo and his discharge paper listed his regiment, rank, birthplace, age on enlistment, duration of service and injuries sustained.

It also included a brief description of his appearance along with his trade, and his date of enlistment and discharge. The paper also included Thomas's signature.

It was wonderful to be able to imagine what Thomas may have looked like and to see his signature on the paper. Who knows what you may discover on your ancestor's discharge paper?

Crimea Medal (1854-56)

Another of the Campaign Medals, this award was issued to men who fought in the Crimean War and may have had five bars to signify the following battles:

  • Battle of Alma on 20th September 1854
  • Battle of Inkerman on 5th November 1854
  • The Sea of Azov Naval Campaign which was fought from 25th May 1855 to 22nd November 1855
  • Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854
  • Siege of Sevastopol which was fought from September 1854 to September 1855

Campaign Medals - Victoria Cross (1856-)

It was introduced on 29th January 1856 to honour acts of bravery during the Crimean War. It is the highest decoration of all and was awarded for outstanding bravery in the face of enemy action. It supersedes any other order, decoration or medal and may be awarded to a person of any rank in any of the armed services and can also be awarded to civilians who are under military command. This can be awarded posthumously.

Distinguished Service Order (1886-)

The DSO was introduced on 6th September 1886. It is awarded for distinguished service by officers of the Armed Services during wartime, especially in combat. It was usually given to officers of a high rank such as a Major, but has been issued to junior officers too. The was sometimes awarded under circumstances which could not be classed as actually ‘under fire’ during 1914 to 1916 in the First World War. In 1917, this was changed so that only officers or personnel who were ‘under fire’ could be recommended to be awarded the Order.

In 1942 the Order was also issued to those officers of the Merchant Navy who had performed acts of bravery whilst under attack by the enemy. In 1993 it was decided to only issue the Order to those officers who had showed distinguished service. If a person has been awarded the Order, they have the right to put the letters DSO after their name.

Volunteer Long Service Medal (1894-1908) 

This was issued to a volunteer of any rank who had served for 20 years or more in the Volunteer Force, but he had to still be serving in 1893. The Force was disbanded in 1908 so the award was then awarded to volunteers who had served for over 16 years, but who had decided not to transfer to the new Territorial Force.

Queen's South Africa Medal (1899-1902)

This award could have been granted to members of the Armed Services who served in the Boer War from 11th October 1899 to 31st May 1902.

Africa General Service Medal (1902-1956)

This was introduced in 1902, and could have been awarded for what were classed as minor campaigns in Africa and was still current in 1914 so nine additional clasps were issued. Most of these campaign medals were granted to local forces in Africa, so it is quite rare.

Military Cross (1914-)

Please see World War 1 Medals

Naval General Service Medal (1915-62)

This was introduced in 1915 and recognised service by the Royal Navy and Royal Marines in what were classed as minor campaigns where personnel wouldn’t normally be awarded a medal.  They were replaced by General Service Medals in 1962.

British Empire Medal (1917-)

This medal was introduced in 1917, and was awarded for civil or military service that was worthy of recognition by the Crown. It was usually issued to people who were below management or professional level and was also awarded to non-commissioned officers of the Armed Services, Police Officers below the rank of Superintendent and fire service officers below divisional officer level.

India General Service Medal (1936-39)

This was introduced on 3rd August 1938, and was issued to the officers and men of British and Indian armies and covered various minor military campaigns in India from 1936-1939.

George Cross (1940-)

Please see World War 2 Medals

United Nations Medal for Korea (1950-54)

This award was introduced on 12th December 1950, and recognised the multi-national defence forces which participated in the Korean War and was the first international award ever created. One of these Campaign Medals was awarded to those who participated in the defence of South Korea from North Korea between 27th June 1950 and 27th July 1954 and who was a member of any Armed Force.

Campaign Service Medal (General Service Medal) (1962-)

The Campaign Service Medal, introduced in 1962, was a result of combining the General Service Medal that was awarded to the Army and RAF, with the Naval General Service Medal that was awarded to members of the Navy.



Further information regarding campaign medals can be found at the National Archives.