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The Historical Background to the Manufacture and Distribution of the Campaign Medals for WWII.
Following the end of the war there were several articles in the press about the approval of design, manufacture and time-scale for distribution of these medals. However the war had almost
brought Britain to bankruptcy and both labour and materials were hard to come by. Much effort was being put into bringing Britain back to normality, the medals were the frequent source of
enquiry by the public.
Sir Ian Fraser M.P. was concerned about the lack of information and on December 1st 1947 asked questions in the House of Commons.
"On 12th November of this year I asked the Prime Minister a question about war decorations and medals. He told me that those granted to individuals, presumably for acts of gallantry or good
service, were given to the individuals as their names appeared in the Gazette. That is satisfactory so far as it goes, but I would like to ask the Under-Secretary of State for Air to tell us whether
these awards for gallantry and good service are up-to-date or whether they are in arrears in any way. I have noticed in the daily newspapers within the last day or two, since I put down this
Question, a statement that some thousands of decorations due to airmen are in fact in arrears, and I would like to know how far the Fighting Services are up-to-date or in arrears, and what steps
are being taken to expedite delivery of these awards.
But the main matter about which I want to speak is not awards for gallantry and for exceptional services, but ordinary medals which ordinary soldiers, sailors and airmen and their women
equivalents are to receive for having served in the Armed Forces; that is, the Campaign Stars, the Defence Medal and the War Medal. I have looked up the history of this matter very briefly so far
as the period after the first world war was concerned, and I find that on 16th November, 1920, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition—it is curious to look up HANSARD over the
last 30 or 40 years and to find that, whether the matter be important or relatively important, he was answering these Questions—said that 3,000,000 war medals had been struck by 16th
November, 1920. On 25th November he said that the Victory Medal was being distributed. Within two years, almost exactly, after the end of the first world war, millions of medals had been struck
and were being distributed.
The Prime Minister, in answering me last week, said that none of the ordinary service medals would begin to be issued until towards the end of next year—three to three and a half years after the
end of the war. I ask the Government whether they cannot expedite this matter, and whether it is necessary that there should be so much delay. I have a few questions to ask the Under-
Secretary about this whole subject, because I think it is of some interest to some seven to eight million people. We must know just where we stand.
The Mons Star, the General Service Medal and the Victory Medal were the three medals issued to the ordinary fellow after the first world war. The Mons Star was made of bronze, and the General
Service Medal of silver—I think it was made of the ordinary coinage silver, which is 92 per cent. pure silver. The Victory Medal was made of a gilding metal 80 per cent, copper and 20 per cent.
zinc. It is to be presumed that the Stars for the last war will be made of bronze. I do not know whether the General Service Medal and the Defence Medal are to be made of silver, or of gilding
metal, but whatever metal it is to be, there is plenty of copper and zinc about to supply the tonnage required. As for the silver which might be required, the Government have taken away all our
silver coinage, and therefore must have the few tons of silver which would be necessary.
So it cannot be shortage of metal which is causing delay. It may be said that there is a shortage of labour, or of the plant needed for pressing these medals, or for "striking" them, as it is termed;
but the technique of mass production has improved enormously in 30 years, so there is surely no reason why it should take three and a half years this time to do a job which was well on the way
two and a half years after the 1914–1918 war. After the 1914–1918 war, the medals were made at the Royal Arsenal factories and by private firms, and I want to ask who is to make them now?
My second question is whether the designs for these medals have been approved, and whether these designs have been placed in this House for hon. Members to inspect, or whether they will be
placed in the House for such inspection? I have given the Under-Secretary notice of these questions, so I hope he can answer them. I want to know, also, of what metals the medals are to be
made, and who is to make them. Do the Dominions make their own medals, do we make them for the Dominions, or do we send them the dies so that they can strike their own Medals? Are the
names of the recipients to be stamped on the side of each medal, as was the case after the 1914–18 war? Are we to wait until all the medals are ready before distribution is begun, or will they be
distributed as they are ready? Will those eligible for them have to apply individually, or will the medals be sent to them in accordance with names supplied by the Record Offices? Those are the
questions I wish to ask.
In conclusion, I would say that I was in Sunderland the other day when there was a British Legion parade and rally in which some 3,000 ex-Service men and women took part. They were people
who had taken part in the 1914–18 war and the last war. I was surprised to see that not one was wearing medals, and inquired the reason. I was told that with the notice convening the gathering
was a suggestion that the older men of the first war should leave off their medals out of a sense of respect for the younger men, who had no medals to wear. It seems to me to be a pity to have to
suggest to people that they should leave off their medals for any reason; and it seems to me to be a pity to disappoint the younger men by keeping them waiting unduly long for their medals.
After all, whether it is for gallantry or for good service or whether it is an ordinary medal for serving in the Armed Forces, a medal is something of which a man has a right to be legitimately
proud. It seems to me that men should be encouraged to wear medals on ceremonial, or quasi-ceremonial, occasions. Cause for discouraging this should not be given. Could we not have the medals
by next Remembrance Day, instead of waiting until the end of the year before distribution begins?
It may be suggested that if we make all these medals in the next few months, we shall be prejudicing the export drive; but many of those medals will be exported to men who came from the
Dominions and Colonies to help this country during the war. Whether they pay for them or not, I do not doubt that the export of medals from the old country will be cherished and the export will
bring a decent reward in loyalty and good feeling. Lastly, this is surely the time when a little symbolism and a little colour will help those who have served King and country so well to think well of
their service and to speak well of the Armed Forces, and it may do something to liven up an otherwise drab and dreary world."
The response to these questions came from Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas:
"General Service Stars and Medals, that is, Campaign Stars, the Defence Medal and War Medal, the hon. Member compared the position to-day with the position after the last war. The conditions of
the 1939–1945 war were very much more damaging to our economy. The industrial effort of the 1914–1918 war was so different that the manufacture of Campaign Stars actually started during
that war. One Campaign Star—the Mons Star—began during the period of the war. Furthermore, of course, there were only a few hundred thousand of them, and it was not long before they were
made. Our production task is very different now, and instead of a few hundred thousand Campaign Stars, we need eight millions of them. Of course, there was no question of their being
manufactured during war time; but, in spite of that, by the end of this month we expect to have finished all the Campaign Stars, and the machines will then tackle the Defence Medal
immediately, and the War Medal as soon as possible.
I was asked about the Defence Medal. It is ready for striking to start; this will start very early next year. So far as the War Medal is concerned, it is designed, and I expect the sample medal will be
approved soon. There are 12 million of these medals, in addition to the eight million stars, and I expect that these 12 million will be finished in two years. This will be a high rate of production—
about half a million a month—and we shall only reach that because we shall not be stamping the name of the owner on the back of the medal. With the huge number of 20 million, the manpower
needed would be far in excess of our resources.
The distribution problem is one which has given us a great deal of thought. We had to bear in mind the need, in dealing with these 20 million, of speed as well as accuracy, and at the same time
the necessity for using manpower and materials carefully. One decision which has been made is fundamental. We shall make one distribution, and one only, to each person. To do otherwise would
involve not only an enormous amount of clerical work, but also the increased consumption of scarce materials such as cardboard. It might also very well lead to considerable misunderstanding and
disappointment if an ex-Service man or woman, expecting three or four medals or stars, received only one, and that in turn would doubtless lead to a great deal of correspondence. It follows that
distribution cannot begin until each of the distributing authorities has several hundred thousand, at least, of the medals, and large supplies of the packing boxes. The Prime Minister said that he
did not expect the distribution to start until late next year. I would like to assure the House that we shall do our best to improve on this, but I cannot be too hopeful. It may well be that the boxes
will hold us up.
The hon. Gentleman asked me certain specific questions. He asked, for instance, what the stars and medals are to be made of. The Campaign Star is made of bronze, and in appearance it will be
the same colour as the old Victory Medal of the last war. The Defence Medal and the War Medal are made of cupro-nickel, which is the same material as that of which the 1947 shillings, florins and
half crowns are made. The hon. Gentleman further asked me what the stars and medals looked like, and whether we could have samples in the Library so that they could be inspected. The public
has seen photographs of the Campaign Stars, for these appeared in most national newspapers in March, 1946. Photographs of the Defence Medal appeared in some newspapers in August this year.
The War Medal, as I said earlier, has not yet been finally approved. I expect that approval very shortly, and, of course, photographs will be available for publication."
In December 1947 the position was that 20 million medals were to be made, the Campaign Stars production was almost completed, the Defence Medal was ready for production to start and the War
Medal was at the design stage and awaiting approval. One fundamental difference was that the medals for the Great War of 1914-1919 had each been individually named. The Government knew
that this was a very time consuming process and would have slowed down the issue of the medals for WWII as well as adding to the cost, so the decision was made not to name the medals issued
for General Service in WWII, in an effort to minimise any delays in distribution. At the end of the day it was the supply of cardboard that held distribution up, not so much the availability of
Despite having the records and last address of all servicemen and women the Government decided that instead of writing to each person with an application form for medals they would require
war veterans to apply for the medals using a postcard available at the Post Office. These cards were stocked in Post Offices from Monday 31st May 1948.
Here are sample application cards,
On 31st May 1948 The Coventry Evening Telegraph wrote: "WAR MEDALS ISSUE TO BEGIN SOON - The issue of campaign stars and clasps, the Defence Medal and the War Medal, awarded for service
in the war, is to begin shortly. Issue will be made to ex-members of the Regular Army, the R.A.F., and the Army and Air Force women's services, the Merchant Navy and the Home Guard, as well
as members and -ex-members of the supplementary reserve and of the Territorial Army. So that up-to-date addresses Will be available, official postcards will be obtainable from any Post Office in
Britain and N. Ireland. Those eligible are asked to complete and post these as soon as possible. A legatee or next-of-kin of a deceased member of the Merchant Navy should fill in a special form
which can be obtained from any Mercantile Marine office. AWARDS TO "REGULARS" Awards to those serving in the regular Army and Army women's services will be made through units. The
Defence Medal for service in Civil Defence is being undertaken by the Home Office. Several months must elapse before many of the issues can be completed. and changes of address should be
notified. The Admiralty will be unable to begin the issue because the entitlement of prize money has to be determined. It is the intention to invite applicants for campaign stars, medals and prize
money on a single form.
In June 1948 the Yorkshire Post published an article: "RUSH FOR MEDALS Leeds Post Offices have had many applications since the announcement that cards are again available for notifying Army
and Air Force, record offices addresses men eligible for Campaign Stars, the Defence Medal and the War Medal. Merchant Navy men should call a Mercantile Marine Office write to the Registrar-
General Shipping and Seamen. Arrangements for the Navy will be announced later".
published a letter on from, a person who signed themselves as Northener II:
As the result of filling and despatching a printed official postcard, I have just received my ration of medals for the Second World War. It came by post in a tidy little package, accompanied a
courteous note from the appropriate Ministry. Apart from the fact that the medals do not bear a name—an example Departmental cheeseparing which I, for one, consider a disgrace—l have no
fault find with the design. The glittering baubles are neat and not gaudy, compare favourably with those served out after the earlier struggle. At all events they make no extravagant claim, such
as that which Is implicit in the Inscription on the reverse of the Victory Medal, awarded to Allied troops after the Armistice of 1918 —* The Great War for Civilisation.” That war was certainly
great, though perhaps not great enough, seeing that we had to take arms again 21 years later. But where the civilisation? Northerner II.
In July 1949 the Daily Mirror had a point to make about the campaign medals in its "Live Letters" section.
"Medals- Wife of an ex-gunner writes: After reading of the four million unclaimed medals, my husband remarked that the War Office knew where to find the men to whom the medals are due when
they needed them for active service. The Old Codgers replied about this to say "The point is lady, that the medals aren't worth a damn, since they do not bear the name of the recipient a piece of
economy which is a damned insult to the men who won them, and a disgrace to the Government which so ordained it. Nobody wants the bits of anonymous iron".
In August 1948 the Belfast Newsletter wrote:
"UNCLAIMED MEDALS 1,000,000 R.A.F. Decorations. More than 1,000,000 campaign stars and medals awarded to wartime members of the R.A.F. still await claimants, it was revealed yesterday.
- all, 1.375,000 are entitled to awards, but so far only about a quarter have applied for them About 86,000 medals have been sent from the R.A.F. Record Office, Gloucester, but some claimants
complain that they have not received all the medals to which they believe they are entitled. It Is officially explained that the war-time assessment authorising the wearing of particular ribbons
was only provisional. In cases where qualifications were involved it was sometimes found that the provisional assessment was incorrect and all such cases are being carefully examined."
In September 1948 the Belfast News Letter wrote:" CAMPAIGN STARS AND MEDALS An announcement from 10, Downing Street, states: If you are eligible for a Campaign Star, the Defence Medal, or
the War Medal for service In the Army or Royal Air Force during the war of 1939/45 and have not already sent In a notification of your present address you should do this now on the official
postcard provided for the purpose. “The cards are available again for a few weeks in all Post Offices. Whatever other claim you may have made awards cannot be Issued unless this notification
address is received. Serving personnel of the regular Army need not apply. you were in the Merchant Navy you should call at Mercantile Marine office or write to the Registrar-General of Shipping
and Seamen. Arrangements for the Royal Navy will be announced later.”
In November 1948 the Bury Free Press wrote "Unclaimed medals - The War Office announced this week that large numbers of campaign stars, Defence and War Medals have not been claimed by
ex-Servlcemen or their relatives. Official postcards for this purpose will be available up to 30th November in all Post Offices".
In November 1848 there was a series of newspaper articles detailing medal claiming such as this in the Western Gazette:
"WAR MEDALS - The War Office reminds those who have left the Service and the legal beneficiaries of deceased soldiers, that large numbers of campaign stars. Defence and War Medals have not
been claimed. Official postcards for this purpose will be available up to November 30th in all Post-offices and should be completed by all who have not done so since June lst, 1948, no matter
what earlier claim has been made. Residents outside the United Kingdom should notify their address letter to the War Office.
In December 1948 Johnson Stores ran a few lines about the unclaimed medals in an advert for their sores. "UNCLAIMED MEDALS The heads of the Services are worried because of the enormous
number of unclaimed war medals. The Air Ministry has 300 miles of ribbon and near 3,000,000 stars and and medals awaiting owners. There's always keen competition for the finer variety of
quality groceries and provisions offered by Johnston's Stores. Benefit by a visit to your nearest banch of Johnson Stores - KINGSWAY BREAD sale at our Branches".
As the medals were sent out various voices were raised giving their concerns about them. In June 1949 the Gloucestershire Echo published a letter from a Mr A. H. Edwards, to the Editor, entitled
'No Name' Medals a 'Disgrace' . The letter stated:
"Sir,—A friend of mine showed me his three medals which he had received from Records on Thursday morning-. He, like many of his Service pals, was thoroughly disgusted with them, and I, as a
civilian, thought they were very shoddy, a disgrace to the nation, and an insult to all those who receive them. There was no name or number on them to prove that anyone with the medals was the
rightful owner. All the 1914-18 medals had the persons' name and number on, and no one could dispute the ownership. Yet thousands of these medals have never seen daylight since they were
received. The authorities are crying out because thousands of ex- Service men and women have never claimed their medals, and if they have seen the sample I did, they never will want to claim or
own them. The least the authorities can do, to right wrong, is to call all the medals in and reissue them with the name and number on them of the person who should own them with a certain
amount of pride and pleasure, rather than with disgust. A. H. EDWARDS Coln St. Aldwyns".
The press ran news items about the rate of medal claiming.The Fifeshire Advertiser ran an article in February 1950.
"UNCLAIMED CAMPAIGN MEDALS -Many members of the Services have not yet claimed the campaign medals which they became entitled during the war. In June. 1945 it was estimated that more
than four million officers and men who served in the Army were eligible, most of them for two or more medals. far only 4,931.100 awards have been distributed to 1,538,600 recipients. The
unclaimed medals are being stored at the records offices of the various regiments. Applications may still made to A.G. Records (Medals). Droitwich. A total of 238,000 officers and men who served
with the Navy have already received their medals, and applicants have been received from 663,000. - Salvage money is being dealt with first, but all medals will sent out April. More than 100.000
have not yet applied. the average, officers and men the R.A.F. qualified for three campaign medals each, and so far 353,071 have applied".
In May 1950 there was a news item in which Mr Attlee stated that 6,480,000 members or ex-members of the full-time United Kingdom forces were eligible for 20,000,000 campaign stars, defence
and war medals. Some 2,350,000 personnel have claimed and been issued with medals and some 630,000 claims are being processed. Some 3,500,000 have not claimed their stars or medals.
Little was done to promote the uptake. Presumably many men literally gave up requesting their medals, my own father did not get his until the 1960's.
In August 1950 the Birmingham Daily Gazette wrote: "Unclaimed medals - Applications for Defence Medals have been coming in rather faster in recent weeks. This seems to be a by-product of Civil
Defence recruiting. The recruits have a new reason to ask for their last-war medals. But there are still 300,000 Civil Defence workers who have not claimed the Defence Medal. Less than half the
6,480,000 men and women who served in the Forces during the war have put in their claims. Many have not claimed their campaign stars.
The Government obviously decided that a six month window of time was adequate for the nation to apply for war medals, it was obviously not long enough but was probably seen as a way of
curtailing the cost of war medal supply. The fact that the medals were not named is also a factor in the lack of enthusiasm to apply for them, a decision that was clearly a mistake.
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