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Guide reference: Military Records Information 76
Last updated: 25 March 2011

1. Why use this guide?

This research guide provides information which will prove useful if you are searching for records of a campaign or service medal awarded to someone who fought with the British armed services prior to the Second World War. Though far less detailed than most service records, documents of campaign medals can provide useful clues to a person's time in service, particularly where and when they served. These records are distinct from those detailing awards of gallantry and bravery medals, information on which can be found in the Medals, British armed services: gallantry medals research guide.

2. Essential information

2.1 What are campaign medals?

Campaign or war medals were awarded to members of the armed services and eligible civilians, for taking part in a campaign or for service in time of war. Awards for service in a particular battle within a war often took the shape of clasps attached to medal ribbons.

2.2 What are medal rolls?

Information about the award of campaign medals is recorded on medal rolls. These are usually arranged by regiment/battalion (for the Army) or by ship (for the Royal Navy), then by rank, then name. Medal rolls do not give detailed information about individuals: they record the recipients' regimental/service number, and a note of the clasps to which he or she was entitled.

2.3 What are long service and good conduct medals?

These medals were awarded to warrant officers, non-commissioned officers and other ranks. They were not dependent on having seen action.

2.4 What are commemorative medals?

Commemorative medals are not awarded for military service and are not worn on service uniforms. Instead, they are awarded for attendance at a particular event or for service in a non-military operation.

3. How to find records of campaign medals

3.1 Before 1914

For records of medals awarded for service before 1914, search by name on the Ancestry website. There are separate search pages for the Army (sourced from WO 100) and for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines (sourced from ADM 171).

3.2 First World War, 1914-1918

All servicemen, some women, and some civilians, were eligible for one or more campaign medals if they served abroad. These records are the nearest we have to a full 'roll-call' for the First World War. The medal rolls are variously arranged and accessed for each service. Details of what each medal was awarded for can be found in Appendix 1 below.

a. Army and Royal Flying Corps
For the Army and the Royal Flying Corps there are medal index cards as well as medal rolls. There are medal index cards for over 5.5 million men who served abroad in the First World War and each one should contain the soldier's name, corps (regiment), rank, regimental number, perhaps the first theatre of war served in and the date of entry to it, as well as other remarks and of course the medals awarded. The cards are in document series WO 372 but copies can be viewed online and are name-searchable. Each card also provides a reference number which refers to an entry on the medal rolls (WO 329). These medal rolls are available online via Ancestry (£There may be a charge for accessing this information. Searching indexes may be free.) and you can search them by name and regimental number. The only additional information sometimes available on the rolls is the soldier's battalion number, which you will need if you want to find the battalion war diary: see British Army: First World War diaries

b. Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Naval Air Service
Search for an individual by name on the Ancestry website. The original medal rolls are in series ADM 171, split into several sequences as detailed in the table below. Entries in the medal rolls are in alphabetical order, so there is no need for an index. Explanations of the abbreviations used in some of the medal rolls can be found in Appendix 2 below.

Service and rank Series reference
Royal Navy: Officers ADM 171/89, ADM 171/90 and ADM 171/91
Royal Navy: Ratings ADM 171/94-119
Royal Marines: Officers ADM 171/92 and ADM 171/93
Royal Marines: NCOs and Men ADM 171/167
Royal Naval Reserve: Officers ADM 171/92 and ADM 171/93
Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve: Ratings ADM 171/125
Mercantile Marine Reserve: Ratings ADM 171/130
Miscellaneous: e.g. WRNS, canteen staff ADM 171/133

c. Royal Air Force
Though RAF airmen did receive campaign medals, there are no medal rolls in The National Archives for men who joined after the formation of the RAF in April 1918, only for those who had already served with the Royal Flying Corps and went on to serve in the RAF. See the Royal Air Force, RFC and RNAS service record from 1914 onwards research guide for more information.

3.3 Inter-war period, 1920-1939

Army medal rolls for the inter-war period can be searched by name on the Ancestry website. The original documents are available in WO 100/411-493. A number of other campaign medal rolls for the Army up to 1939 can be found in WO 100/398-410, including medal rolls for operations in Iraq, Africa and India. Royal Naval and Royal Air Force campaign medal rolls for the inter-war period are not kept at The National Archives. Write to the relevant Medal Offices at the addresses given in section 6 below.  

3.4 Second World War, 1939-1945, and later

Campaign medal rolls for the Second World War are not kept at The National Archives. Write to the Armed Services Medal Office at the address given in section 6 below.

4. How to find records of long service and good conduct medals

These medals were awarded to warrant officers, non-commissioned officers and other ranks. They were not dependent on having seen action.

4.1 Army

Use Discovery, our catalogue to browse record series WO 101 and WO 102 and to search WO 32, using 'code 50' as your keyword.

4.2 Royal Navy and Royal Marines

See ADM 171, ADM 1 and ADM 201

4.3 RAF

Search the Air Ministry Orders in series AIR 72 for Long Sevice and Good Conduct Medal, George V.

5. How to find records of commemorative medals

For recipients of the Jubilee Medal 1897; the Royal Victorian Medal 1901 (for taking part in Queen Victoria's funeral); the Coronation Medals 1901 and 1911; and the Delhi Durbar Medals 1903 and 1911, see WO 100, WO 330 and ADM 171.

Rolls for the 1935 Jubilee are in QLIB 4 and for the 1937 Coronation in QLIB 5.

The 1953 Coronation and 1977 Jubilee rolls are available in The National Archives' Library.

Medals have been awarded for service in the Arctic between 1818 and 1855 and 1875 and 1876. Service between these dates included the search for the North West Passage and the searches for Sir John Franklin. The Polar Medal was introduced for Arctic and Antarctic exploration from 1904.

The National Archives' Library has a copy of The Polar Medal Roll (1902-1999), which includes alphabetical and chronological lists of awards, with National Archives references to the main sources in ADM 1, ADM 171 and the London Gazette (online and in ZJ 1).

6. Replacing and claiming medals

  • It is no longer possible to replace campaign medals issued for service before 1920.
  • Replacement of medals issued for service after 1920 is still possible.
  • Write to the Armed Services Medal Office at Ministry of Defence Medal Office, AFPAA (JPAC), Building 250, RAF Innsworth, GL3 1HW. Tel: =44 (0)800 085 3600

7. Further reading

The following recommended publications are available in the The National Archives' library. The National Archives' library also holds medal rolls for all major wars.

A Handbook of British and Foreign Orders, War Medals and Decoration Awarded to the Army and Navy: chiefly described from those in the collection of A. A. Payne, l.R.C.P., M.R.C.S. of which there are some 2,500 (Polstead, 1981)

W H Fevyer and J W Wilson, The 1914 Star to the Royal Navy and Royal Marines (London, 1995)

Lawrence L Gordon, British Battles and Medals: A description of every campaign medal and bar awarded since the Armada, with the historical reasons for their award and the names of all the ships, regiments and squadrons of the Royal Air Force whose personnel are entitled to them (1979)

E C Joslin, A R Litherland and B T Simpkin, British Battles and Medals (London, 1988)

William Spencer, Medals: The Researcher's Guide (Kew, 2006)

8. Appendix 1 - First World War campaign medals and what they were awarded for

Medal Awarded for
1914 Star For service under fire in France and Belgium, 5 August - 22 November 1914. Includes sailors serving ashore.
1914-1915 Star For service in all other theatres of war, 5 August 1914 - 31 December 1915; and for service in France and Belgium, 23 November 1914 - 31 December 1915.
British War Medal For service abroad (including India) 5 August 1914 - 11 November 1918, or 1919-1920 in Russia.
Victory Medal For military and civilian personnel who served in a theatre of war.
Territorial Force War Medal For members of the Territorial Forces who joined before 30 September 1914 and served in a theatre of war between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918.

9. Appendix 2 - Abbreviations found in ADM 171

Interpretation of the abbreviations used in some of the medal rolls:

1914 ST. or 14 ST. = 1914 Star 1914 ST. C. = 1914 Star and Clasp
ST. = 1914-1915 Star B. = British War Medal
V. = Victory Medal  

Comments and remarks:

R. = Run (See F. below)
D. = Discharged with Disgrace
DUPS. = Duplicates issued
I.C.1000/1914, etc. = Refers to relevant N.L. (Wills paper)

Issued details:

 S.  = Self  A.M.  = Issued to Air Ministry for disposal to man
 FR.  = Father  W.O.  = Issued to War Office for disposal to man
 MR.  = Mother  B.o.T.  = Issued to Board of Trade for disposal to man
 SR.  = Sister  By A.M.  = Issued by Air Ministry (for service in RAF)
 BR. = Brother   By W.O.  = Issued by War Office (for service in Army)
 W. = Wife   By B.o.T.  = Issued by Board of Trade (for service in the Merchant Service)
 WW. = Widow   F.  = Forfeited ("R"(Run) or "D"(Discharged with Disgrace) normally a code or reason is given
 DR. = Daughter   C. of P.  = Commissioner of Police
 GODMR. = Godmother   N.O......  = Navy Office Wellington etc.
 GODFR. = Godfather   D.N.D. Ottawa  = Dept.of National Defence Ottawa
 GRDMR. = Grandmother   Nav.Rep.  = Naval Representation, Commonwealth of Australia
 GRDFR. = Grandfather   B.N.M. Athens  = British Naval Mission to Greece
 UNIV. LEG. = Universal Legatee   D.R.I.M.  = Director Royal Indian Marine
 RES. LEG. = Residual Legatee   392000 etc.  = Refers to relevant medal issue paper
 LEG. REP. = Legal Representative     
 EXECR. = Executor    
 EXECX. = Executrix     
 ADMINR. = Administrator     
 ADMINX = Administratix     
Guide reference: Military Records Information 76

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