Grand Pop’s WW1 South African medal rack explained

Understanding your Great Grandfather’s or Grandfather’s World War 1 medals. Now this is the standard set issued to many who fought for British and Commonwealth (Empire) side in WW1, affectionately known by the veterans as “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred”. The affection comes from a popular British cartoon series at the time called The adventures of Pip, Squeak and Wilfred and consisted of three characters.

The origins of the characters is interesting. Pip, a dog, was discovered begging by a policeman on the Thames Embankment and was sent to a dogs’ home, where he was bought for half a crown. Squeak was a penguin, who was found in the London Zoo after hatching on the South African coast years before. Wilfred, a rabbit, was found in a field near his burrow and was adopted by Pip and Squeak.

In terms of their military meaning and importance, these are them in order of precedence – left to right.

Now, “Pip” is The ‘1914 – 1915 Star,’ campaign medal awarded to officers and men of British and Imperial forces (including the South African Army) who served in any theatre of the First World War against the Central European Powers during 1914 and 1915. Distinguished by the ribbon in the colours of the British Union Flag/Jack “washed” out.

“Squeak” is the ‘British War Medal,’ campaign medal of the United Kingdom which was awarded to officers and men of British and Imperial forces (including South Africa) for service in the First World War. The front depicts King George V with a latin inscription about the King, similar to what you would find on coins. The back shows the dates of the First World War and St. George on horseback. The colour of the ribbon has no known significance.

Finally “Wilfred” – The ‘Victory Medal’ (South Africa) is the Union of South Africa’s version of the Victory Medal (United Kingdom), a First World War campaign medal of Britain and her colonies and dominions. The medal, never awarded singularly, was awarded to all those South Africans who were awarded the 1914–15 Star, or to all those who were awarded the British War Medal. 

What makes the South African version of the Victory Medal unique to all the others issued to veterans of Britain and her Imperial Allies around the world is found on the Reverse. All Victory Medals have the words “The Great War for Civilisation” written in English on the back, the South Africans ones have it in Dutch in addition.

Note; the date on the back ‘1914-1919’ does not depict the end date of the war which was 1918 instead it commemorates the date from which the war was formally remembered – 1919.

The Victory Medal’s ribbon represents the combined colours of the Allied nations, with the rainbow additionally representing the calm after the storm. The ribbon consists of a double rainbow with red at the centre.

These medals are worn in precedence to the World War 2 medals if your ancestor or parent fought in both WW1 and WW2. If your ancestor also fought in the Boer War, those medals i.e his Boer War campaign medals (whether he fought on the British side or the Boer side) will precede these WW1 ones in the more ‘senior’ position. The basic rule with medals basically is the closer to the centre of the body (the heart), when the medals are worn on the left breast, the more senior the medal or decoration.

The first ‘war’ a veteran fights in – all his campaign medals for that war – will precede the next war that he fought in and all those campaign medals. Decorations (higher awards for bravery and the like) precede ‘all’ campaign medals regardless of the war in terms of seniority. Service medals i.e. for years of service and medals (and even decorations) awarded by another country are worn in the junior position (furtherest from the ‘heart’).

Here are two interesting examples of this – one showing a South African War (1899-1905) Veteran fighting on the Boer Side – his ‘Boer War’ medals precede his First World War Medals and the other shows a South African 1st World War Veteran who went on to fight in the 2nd World War.

A rare example of someone with all three campaign medal sets from the three different wars – The South African War 1899-1902 (on the Boer side), the 1st World War and the 2nd World War is Field Marshal Jan Smuts’ medals.

For more on you’re Pop’s 2nd World War set, follow this link: Pop’s WW2 South African medal rack explained

Note: This is a very complex field, and I’m no expert and the intension is to show the basic outline for WW1 medals commonly found, each of the medals has rather extensive qualifying criteria.

Have a look at your Great/Grandfather’s medals and see if they are in the right order and which of these three medals you now recognise.

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Witten and Researched by Peter Dickens

4 thoughts on “Grand Pop’s WW1 South African medal rack explained

  1. An excellent summary Peter. Added to the medals are also the bars indicating campaigns (e.g. Alamein, etc) and the Oak Leaves for MIDs (Mentions in Dispatches). Since you mentioned him, Field Marshal J C Smuts had twelve Commonwealth and South African war medals as well as fourteen foreign decorations and medals. To which may be added honorary degrees from 29 universities as well as Britain’s two highest honours: the Order of Merit and the Companion of Honour. In addition he had a few other trimmings too. A truly phenomenal South African. whose memory some have sought to erase from the country’s history – to their eternal shame.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have my grandfathers ‘pip’ medal, but want to purchase the ‘squeak’ and ‘wilson’ to complete the set. The originals were lost over time. How would I be able to acquire them? I now live in New Zealand and am a member of SAMVOA. We commemorate our ancestors each year and pay tribute to their life by wearing them during ANZAC and Armistice Day.

    Like

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