Military decorations and medals
June 2009 / May 2017

Union Defence Forces and RN Volunteer Reserve

TWO defence organisations were established after Union in 1910 : the Union Defence Forces (later 'South African Defence Force') and the South African Division of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. They used British military awards, together with a few medals which were exclusive to South Africa.

Union Defence Forces : 1913-39

Union Defence Forces medal ribbons 1913-39
The Union Defence Forces (UDF) were formed in July 1912. They originally consisted of an army of Permanent Force and part-time Citizen Force units. Air and naval branches were added to the PF in 1920 and 1922 respectively.

The UDF used four successive series of decorations and medals during its 82-year existence: 1913 to 1939; 1939 to 1952; 1952 to 1975; and 1975 to 1994. The first series, established in June 1913, continued the colonial system, which enabled the South African government to award certain British medals directly. It consisted of eight decorations and medals. During World War I, South Africans also received orders and decorations from the British government.

Medal for Distinguished Conduct in the Field (1914-40) — An adopted British decoration, intended as an award for distinctly gallant and distinguished service in the field by "other ranks". Never awarded, but more than 300 UDF members received the original British decoration during the two world wars.

Insignia: Same design as the equivalent British award: a circular silver medal displaying the reigning king's head (obverse) and the words 'For Distinguished Conduct in the Field' (reverse).

Victory Medal (1921) — The South African variant, approved in 1921, of the British version of the medal established by the victorious Allies at the Versailles peace conference. Awarded, in addition to the British World War I service stars and medals, to service personnel who had served in any theatre of war between 4 August 1914 and 25 November 1918.

The UDF served in German South West Africa (1914-15), and the volunteer SA Overseas Expeditionary Force served in Egypt (1916), France and Belgium (1916-18), German East Africa (1916-18), and Palestine (1917-18).

Insignia: A circular gold-coloured bronze medal depicting the figure of Victory (obverse) and the words 'The Great War for Civilisation - De Grote Oorlog voor de Beschaving - 1914-1919' (reverse).

Medal for Long Service and Good Conduct (1914-39) — An adopted British medal, awarded for 18 years exemplary service in the ranks of the Permanent Force.

Insignia: A circular silver medal displaying the reigning king's head (obverse) and the words 'Permanent Forces of the Empire Beyond the Seas - For Long Service and Good Conduct' (reverse). Until 1920, recipients were paid cash gratuities.

Medal for Meritorious Service (1914-40) — An adopted British medal, awarded for long (minimum 21 years), valuable, and meritorious service in the ranks of the PF. Awarded to selected warrant officers and senior non-commissioned officers on retirement or discharge. Until 1920, recipients were paid cash gratuities. Only 46 medals were awarded.

Insignia: Same design as the equivalent British Army award, i.e. a circular silver medal displaying the reigning king's head (obverse) and the words 'For Meritorious Service' (reverse). It appears that three ribbons were used over the years : the first two were the British ribbons, while the third, apparently introduced in the 1920s, was exclusive to South Africa.

Colonial Auxiliary Forces Officers' Decoration (VD) (1913-39) — An adopted British medal, awarded for 20 years efficient service as an officer in the Citizen Force.

Insignia: A gilt royal cipher in a crowned oval frame inscribed "Colonial Auxiliary Forces" (obverse).

Colonial Auxiliary Forces Long Service Medal (1913-39) — An adopted British medal, awarded to all ranks of the CF after 20 years efficient service. An officer who later received the VD had to stop wearing this medal.

Insignia: A circular silver medal displaying the reigning king's head (obverse) and the words 'For Long Service in the Colonial Auxiliary Forces' (reverse).

South African Division of the RN Volunteer Reserve

RNVR medal ribbons
The South African Division of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve was established in July 1913. Its members were liable for service in the Royal Navy in wartime. They were transferred to the Union Defence Forces in August 1942, but the RNVR(SA) continued to exist, on paper, until June 1949.

The government was authorised to award the RNVR's long service decoration and medal to members of the South African Division. During World Wars I and II, RNVR(SA) members who served with the Royal Navy qualified for British decorations and medals.

RNVR Volunteer Officers' Decoration (VD) (1915-49) — An adopted British medal, awarded for 20 years efficient service as an officer in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve.

Insignia: A gilt crowned royal cipher in an oval silver frame of cable. Until 1919, the ribbon was plain green.

RNVR Medal for Long Service and Good Conduct (1915-49) — An adopted British medal, awarded to all ranks of the RNVR after 12 years efficient service. An officer who later received the VD had to stop wearing this medal.

Insignia: A circular silver medal displaying the reigning king's head (obverse), and a battleship at sea and the words 'Diuturne Fidelis' (reverse). Until 1919, the ribbon was plain green.

Union Defence Forces : 1939-52

Union defence forces medal ribbons 1939-52
During the period 1939-52, the UDF comprised a Permanent Force (land, air and naval forces), and a Citizen Force (land, air and, from 1942, naval forces). In 1951, the UDF were reorganised into the SA Army, SA Air Force, SA Navy, and the short-lived SA Corps of Marines, each containing PF and CF units.

The second series of UDF decorations and medals, established in December 1939, consisted of South African variants of British long service medals, which the rest of the Commonwealth had adopted a few years earlier, and two original South African awards. During World War II, UDF personnel received orders and decorations from the British government.

Africa Service Medal (1943) — An original South African medal, awarded to UDF members who volunteered for service outside South Africa during World War II, i.e. between 6 September 1939 and 2 September 1945. The medal originally covered only service in Africa, but from 1944 it applied to service anywhere in the world. The minimum qualifying service was 30 days full-time or 18 hours part-time.

UDF land forces served in East Africa (1940-41), North Africa (1941-43), Madagascar (1942), and Italy (1944-45). Air forces served in those campaigns, as well as in West Africa (1943-45), Sicily (1943), and South-East Europe (1943-45), and provided air support to the Warsaw uprising (1944). Naval forces and seconded personnel served in the Mediterranean (1941-45), Greece (1941), the Arctic convoys (1941-45), the Java Sea (1942), Sicily (1943), the Indian Ocean (1943-45), the D-Day invasion (1944), and the Pacific (1945).

Insignia: A circular silver medal depicting a map of Africa (obverse) and a springbok prancing through the veld (reverse). The medal was designed by E. Naylor, based on an idea by prime minister Gen Jan Smuts.

Medal for Long Service and Good Conduct (Military) (1939-52) — A South African variant of a British medal, awarded for 18 years exemplary service in the ranks of the Permanent Force. From 1945, a clasp could be added after 36 years service.

Insignia: A circular silver medal displaying King George VI's head (obverse) and the words 'For Long Service and Good Conduct - Vir Langdurige Diens en Goeie Gedrag' (reverse), with 'Staande Mag - Permanent Force' on the suspender.

Efficiency Decoration (ED) (1939-52) — A South African variant of a British medal, awarded for 20 years efficient service as an officer in the Citizen Force. A clasp could be added after 30 years service. 886 EDs were awarded.

Insignia: A gilt crowned royal cipher framed in an oval silver wreath of oak leaves, with the name of the country on a brooch bar at the top of the ribbon.

Efficiency Medal (1939-52) — A South African variant of a British medal, awarded for 12 years service in the ranks of the CF. Clasps could be added after additional 6-year periods.

Insignia: An oval silver medal displaying the head of King George VI (obverse) and the words 'Medalje vir Bekwaamheid - Efficiency Medal' (reverse), with the name of the country on the suspender.

Air Efficiency Award (1950-52) — A South African variant of a British medal, intended as an award for 10 years CF service in the SA Air Force. It was never awarded, probably because SAAF personnel were already eligible for the ED and Efficiency Medal.

Insignia: An oval silver medal depicting the head of King George VI (obverse) and the words 'Air Efficiency Award - Toekenning vir Bekwaamheid (Lugmag)' (reverse), with the name of the country on the suspender.

King's Commendation (1941) — An original South African award, for valuable services during World War II.

Insignia: A silver or bronze protea flower emblem, worn on the ribbon of the Africa Service Medal.

References
  • South Africa Government Gazette 381 (20.06.1913), 596 (24.10.1914), 686 (15.10.1915), 2779 (21.06.1940), 3407 (27.10.1944), 3526 (27.07.1945), 3579 (14.12.1945), 4532 (26.01.1951), and 5311 (16.07.1954).
  • Alexander, E.G.M., Barron, G.K.B. & Bateman, A.J.; South African Orders, Decorations and Medals (1985).
  • Crozet, S.L.; 'South African Awards for Long Service and Good Conduct' in The Nongqai (Jul 1944).
  • Monick, S.; South African Military Awards 1912-1987 (1988).
 
© Arthur Radburn
 
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