War Medal 1939–1945

War Medal 1939–1945
Awarded by the Monarch of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth, and Emperor of India
Country United Kingdom
Type Military campaign medal
Eligibility Full-time personnel of all ranks
Awarded for 28 days of service
Campaign Second World War 1939–45
Established 16 August 1945
Order of wear
Next (higher) Defence Medal
Next (lower) Korea Medal

Ribbon bar

The War Medal 1939–1945 is a campaign medal which was instituted by the United Kingdom on 16 August 1945, for award to subjects of the British Commonwealth who had served full-time in the Armed Forces or the Merchant Navy for at least 28 days between 3 September 1939 and 2 September 1945.[1][2]


The duration of the Second World War in Europe was from 3 September 1939 to 8 May 1945, while in the Pacific Theatre it continued until 2 September 1945. The War Medal 1939–1945 was instituted by the United Kingdom on 16 August 1945 and was awarded to all full-time personnel of the armed forces and merchant marines for serving for 28 days, irrespective of where they were serving, between 3 September 1939 and 2 September 1945 inclusive, the full duration of the Second World War. In the Merchant Navy, the 28 days had to have been served anywhere at sea.[1][2][3][4][5]

Award criteria

The qualification requirement for the award of the War Medal 1939–1945 to full-time military personnel was 28 days of service, wherever rendered. Qualifying service in the Merchant Navy was 28 days of service anywhere at sea during the qualifying period. Foreign subjects commissioned or enlisted into British Forces, who did not receive a similar award to the War Medal 1939–1945 from their own Governments, were also eligible to qualify for the award of this medal.[3][4]

Full-time paid members of the specially approved colonial and other military forces, militarised police or militarised civilian bodies which were eligible to qualify for campaign stars, were also eligible to qualify by 28 days of service during the qualifying period as laid down for the force concerned, as follows:[3]

The qualification for the specially approved categories of uniformed civilians who were eligible to qualify for Campaign Stars was 28 days of service in the area of an army operational command overseas, or overseas from or outside the country of residence in non-operational areas subjected to enemy air attack or closely threatened. Service in the United Kingdom or in the territory of residence, other than in an army operational area, was not a qualification.[3]

The medal was awarded to personnel whose required service period was terminated prematurely by their death, disability due to service or capture as a prisoner-of-war and whose service qualified them for one of the Second World War Campaign Stars. Personnel who had received one of the Stars for a service period of less than 28 days were also awarded the War Medal 1939–1945.[4]

Order of wear

Campaign medals and stars are not listed by name in the order of wear prescribed by the British Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, but are all grouped together as taking precedence after the Queen's Medal for Chiefs and before the Polar Medals, in order of the date of the campaign for which awarded.[6]

In the order of wear of the Second World War campaign medals, the two campaign medals take precedence after the nine campaign stars, of which the order of wear was determined firstly by their respective campaign start dates, secondly by the campaign's duration and thirdly by their dates of institution.[6]

In the British order of wear, the War Medal 1939–1945 takes precedence before the Korea Medal.[6]

South Africa

With effect from 6 April 1952, when a new South African set of decorations and medals was instituted to replace the British awards used to date, the older British decorations and medals applicable to South Africa continued to be worn in the same order of precedence but, with the exception of the Victoria Cross, took precedence after all South African orders, decorations and medals awarded to South Africans on or after that date. Of the official British campaign medals which were applicable to South Africans, the War Medal 1939–1945 takes precedence as shown.[6][17][18]


The War Medal 1939–1945 is a silver or cupro-nickel disk, 36 millimetres (1.42 inches) in diameter. The non-swivelling suspender is attached to the medal with a single-toe claw mount and a pin through the upper edge of the medal. The British issue medals were struck in cupro-nickel, while those awarded in Canada were struck in silver. The medal is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the "Victory Medal" for the Second World War.[2][4][19]


The obverse shows the crowned coinage effigy of King George VI, facing left and signed "PM", the initials of designer Percy Metcalfe, below the truncated neck of the effigy. Around the perimeter is the legend "GEORGIVS VI D:G:BR:OMN:REX ET INDIAE IMP:".[1][2][5]


The reverse shows a lion standing wanton on the body of a double-headed dragon. The dragon's heads are those of an eagle and a dragon, to signify the principal occidental and oriental enemies during the Second World War. At the top, just to the right of centre are the years "1939" and "1945" in two lines. The initials "ECRP" of designer Edward Carter Preston are near the rim at the nine o'clock position. Preston also designed the bronze memorial plaque which was presented to the next-of-kin of British servicemen and -women who fell during the First World War.[1][2]


As with the other Second World War campaign medals, a no-engraving policy was applied by all but four British Commonwealth countries. The recipient's name was impressed on the rim of the medal for Australians, some Canadians, Indians and South Africans. Those awarded to personnel of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who served only on the RCMPV St. Roch and of the Canadian Merchant Marine were named. In the case of Indians, the recipient's force number, rank, initials, surname and service arm or corps, and in the case of South Africans, the force number, initials and surname, were impressed on the rim in block capitals.[4][20][21]


The ribbon is 32 millimetres wide, with a 6½ millimetres wide red band, a 6½ millimetres wide blue band and a 2 millimetres wide white band, repeated in reverse order and separated by a 2 millimetres wide red band. The colours are those of the British Union Jack.[1][5]


A bronze oak leaf emblem is worn on the ribbon to signify a Mention in Dispatches and a silver oak leaf emblem is worn to signify the award of a King's Commendation for Brave Conduct.[2][3]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 New Zealand Defence Force – British Commonwealth War And Campaign Medals Awarded To New Zealanders – The War Medal 1939–45 (Access date 23 April 2015)
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Veterans Affairs Canada – War Medal 1939–1945 (Access date 23 April 2015)
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 New Zealand Defence Force – The War Medal 1939–45 Eligibility Rules (Access date 22 April 2015)
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Stephen Stratford Medals site – British Military & Criminal History – 1900 to 1999 – War Medal (Access date 1 April 2015)
  5. 1 2 3 GOV.UK – Defence and armed forces – guidance – Medals: campaigns, descriptions and eligibility – War Medal 1939 to 1945 (Access date 23 April 2015)
  6. 1 2 3 4 The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 56878. p. 3352. 17 March 2003. (Access date 14 April 2015)
  7. New Zealand Defence Force – The 1939–45 Star Eligibility Rules (Access date 12 April 2015)
  8. New Zealand Defence Force – The Atlantic Star Eligibility Rules (Access date 4 April 2015)
  9. New Zealand Defence Force – The Arctic Star (Access date 12 April 2015)
  10. New Zealand Defence Force – The Air Crew Europe Star Eligibility Rules (Access date 12 April 2015)
  11. New Zealand Defence Force – The Africa Star Eligibility Rules (Access date 12 April 2015)
  12. New Zealand Defence Force – The Pacific Star Eligibility Rules (Access date 9 April 2015)
  13. New Zealand Defence Force – The Burma Star Eligibility Rules (Access date 12 April 2015)
  14. New Zealand Defence Force – The Italy Star Eligibility Rules (Access date 12 April 2015)
  15. New Zealand Defence Force – The France and Germany Star Eligibility Rules (Access date 12 April 2015)
  16. New Zealand Defence Force – The Defence Medal Eligibility Rules (Access date 21 April 2015)
  17. Government Notice no. 1982 of 1 October 1954 – Order of Precedence of Orders, Decorations and Medals, published in the Government Gazette of 1 October 1954.
  18. Republic of South Africa Government Gazette Vol. 477, no. 27376, Pretoria, 11 March 2005, OCLC 72827981
  19. Crompton, Ann, Edward Carter Preston 1885 – 1965, (Liverpool): University of Liverpool Art Gallery, 1999, ISBN 0-85323-792-1
  20. Memoirs – My Days With The I.A.F (1940–48) – V S C Bonarjee, IAS (Access date 14 April 2015)
  21. Rear Side of the Medals (Access date 14 April 2015)
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