Questions about Medals.

What's the history of medals?

Some of the first commemorative medals were issued in the 14th century in Italy. The words we use when we talk about medals and decorations are important. Medals are not ‘won’ they are awarded. The first example of a naval medal is the Naval Reward medal that was issued 1588-1590 and may have been issued to commemorate the defeat of the Spanish Armada. The medals in our collection were introduced in the 19th and 20th Century.

What is/are the rarest medal/s in the Museum?

In the Navy Museum medal collection we have a number of medals which are uncommon these include: New Zealand Medal 1845-1846 there were only 155 issued. We also have the New Zealand Meritorious Service Medal instituted in 1985, which was limited to 10 RNZN members per year, which has now been discontinued (circa 2013), approximately 280 were issued. The Colonial Auxiliary Forces Officers’ Decoration was only issued for 30 years so is another uncommon medal in our collection.  The Royal Navy only issued 80 Conspicuous Gallantry Medals. United States Navy Cross has only been issued by the US Navy and Marine Corps to 124 non-US citizens and we believe that only three were issued to RNZN personnel.

Is there a national database of medals received by New Zealanders who have served in the Navy?

No there isn’t a national database for the public to access. Prior to 2008, the recording of medal issues was made in handwritten ledgers. Each medal had its own ledger. Some medals had a ledger for each service. Some ledgers were kept in alphabetical order and have entries are listed by the day they were issued. After 2008, spreadsheets came into use. The most common resource to determine if a medal has been issued is on the individual’s Personal File. These files are held centrally at NZDF Personnel Archives and Medals. Veterans and family members of deceased veterans can request information from NZDF Personnel Archives and Medals:

Can you get replica medals made if they are lost or stolen?

Yes, but only during the lifetime of the Serviceperson. Ex-service personnel (or their families) may apply for replacement awards direct to NZDF Personnel Archives and Medals. The application must be accompanied by a statutory declaration as to the circumstances in which the original was lost and the steps taken to effect recovery, which must include a report of the loss to the Police. The cost of replacement awards for ex-service personnel are not covered by NZDF. All replacement medals are issued with (R) engraved after the name. This indicates that the medal is a replacement.

Who awards the medals?

Medals are awarded by the nation that the individual was serving with, however, some individuals whose medals are in the collection, have been awarded by other nations to New Zealanders, for example the US Navy Cross to Campbell Buchanan. 

How do service personnel receive their medal/s?

Medals are dispatched by signature required courier package to the address advised in the application form (unless presented at a official medal ceremony). Current medals on issue are contained in a black leather presentation case.

What are medals made from?

Each medal is different. Some examples in our medal collection include: 1914-15 Star which is made of bronze, the ribbon is watered silk. The Defence Medal is made of cupro-nickel although the Canadian issue medals are silver. The New Zealand Operational Service Medal is silver. One of the older medals in our collection, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Decoration is silver with gold accents.

Is the recipient's name engraved on the medal?

Medals were engraved/impressed in the First World War with the recipient’s name but not in the Second World War, as there were so many to send out. Long Service & Good Conduct medals are still always engraved. Many individuals choose to get their medals engraved themselves, once they have received them.

Are military medals a standard size and shape?

There are many States and agencies around the world that issue medals that New Zealand personnel may be entitled to wear such as the New Zealand (or other) governments, the United Nations, NATO etc. Most of these medals are of a similar size, but there are variations with shape for example some are circular, or oblong and others in the shape of a star.

Do all medals have a ribbon?

Historically medals did not have ribbons as we know them now. The coloured ribbons were introduced in the 19th century. A decision was made to differentiate medals by the colours used for the ribbon e.g. the New Zealand Memorial Cross has a purple ribbon.