British Military Medals – A Guide for the Collector and Family Historian
By Peter Duckers
Pen and Sword (www.pen-and-sword.co.uk)
RRP GBP £19.99
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This is the second edition of this highly useful and interesting book. This edition builds upon the merits of the first edition and provides a useful update. This review should be read in conjunction with the review of the first edition at
The author has kept to a similar format for this book as he used in the first edition. Most books on the subject of (British) medals tend to list them in chronological order of their institution or the action which they commemorate. However this book takes a different angle and lists the medals under “category” or “type” and then chronologically.
He starts with the early campaign medals for 1650 to 1800 and those principal medals awarded by the East India Company between 1778 and 1839. The Napoleonic wars saw the introduction of campaign medals issued to all ranks and in particular the Waterloo 1815 medal is often seen as the “first real” campaign medals. The author discusses the merits of this claim and how the British Government wished to recognise the victory by producing this medal.
In the chapter on “The Earliest British Campaign Medals 1815-42” there is much useful information on how to research these early awards. As well as the Waterloo medal he discusses the 1st Afghan War (Ghuznee 1839, Jellalabad 1841-42, Khelat-i-Ghilzie 1842) and the first China War (1840-42).
Perhaps some of the best known early campaign medals are the “Retrospective Medals for 1847-51”. These are the Military General Service Medal, the Naval General Service Medal and the Army of India Medal. These famous medals are given a detailed treatment and much useful information is presented.
The next chapter deals with the “Victorian Campaign” medals and those for the early twentieth century (pre-1914). Once the idea of issuing of standardised awards had become established by 1850 all the major conflicts following in which British forces were employed were henceforth commemorated with a distinctive medal. This started with the Crimean War (1854-56) and it carried on to the Khedive’s Medal for Campaigns in the Sudan (1910-25). Like the proceeding chapters there is lots of beneficial information on how to research these awards.
There have been a number of campaigns which were not considered major but the Government still wished to recognise service in these smaller battles. These smaller battles are usually commemorated by General Service Medals and there has been a whole series of these medals. These medals often bore the same disk but the addition of clasps gave the battles in which the holder had served. These medals are interesting in themselves and the author has presented an excellent discussion about them.
The seventh chapter is devoted to researching medals and their recipients for 1815 – 1914. Although the author says it is a basic guide don’t be fooled by the treatment of this topic. There are many useful nuggets that would help both the inexperienced and the experienced researcher.
The (campaign) medals for the Great War are detailed. They are probably the most researched medals and there is yet another outstanding chapter on them. Other chapters cover General Campaign Medals of the Twentieth Century, medals for the Second World War and post-WW2 Major Campaigns. There is then a short section on researching Medals and their Recipients (1920-2008) which is slightly disappointing due to its brevity.
No book on medals is complete without a section on Gallantry Awards. These medals have been issued to both military personnel and civilians and their origins are noted. The final chapter deals with Awards for Long and Meritorious Service.
Overall the author has given the subject an outstanding treatment and deserves to be highly complemented on his efforts. Indeed if you are researching or wishing to know more on this topic then this definitely is a “must have” book.