How to look for records of... British military campaign and service medals

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

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 British military gallantry medals research guide.

2. Campaign and service medal categories

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 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.

2.3 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. Campaign and service medal records

3.1 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 are lists of men entitled to a particular medal, they do not give detailed information about individuals, recording only:

  • the recipients’ regimental/service number
  • a note of the clasps to which he or she was entitled
  • whether the medal was received or not (a tick against the name indicates it was received; a cross against the name indicates that the delivery of the medal failed or that it was returned)

3.2 Medal index cards

Medal index cards were used for recording First World War campaign medals issued to individuals. They contain more detail than the medal roll. Unlike the long lists which make up the medal rolls, for which these cards provided the index, each medal index card is unique to the soldier for whom it was completed.

Typically each card contains:

  • regiment or other unit (but not battalion)
  • service number
  • rank
  • list of medals awarded
  • a reference to the medal roll

Less consistently, cards may also contain:

  • the date the soldier first entered a theatre of war
  • the theatre of war in which the soldier served

In the space on the card headed ‘Remarks’ the following information is sometimes recorded:

  • date of death
  • if the soldier was taken prisoner
  • cause of discharge (usually indicated by a code reference to the King’s Regulations)

4. How to find records of campaign medals

4.1 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).

4.2 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. Army officers were not automatically issued campaign medals, they had to apply for them, so there may not be a card for an officer. Each card 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 (£) 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 operations in the First World War.

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 personnel research guide for more information.

4.3 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 7 below.

4.4 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 7 below.

5. 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.

5.1 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.

5.2 Royal Navy and Royal Marines

See ADM 171, ADM 1 and ADM 201.

5.3 RAF

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

6. 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).

7. Replacing and claiming medals

Refer to the Ministry of Defence Medal Office for details of medals and eligibility.

8. Further reading

Visit the National Archives’ bookshop for a range of available publications about British military campaign and service medals. 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, IRCP, MRCS 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)

9. 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 to 22 November 1914. Includes sailors serving ashore.
1914-1915 Star For service in all other theatres of war, 5 August 1914 to 31 December 1915; and for service in France and Belgium, 23 November 1914 to 31 December 1915.
British War Medal For service abroad (including India) 5 August 1914 to 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.

10. 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