Military decorations and medals
June 2009

SA Defence Force : 1952-1975

THE Union Defence Forces, established in 1912, were renamed 'South African Defence Force' in 1958. The third series of decorations and medals, established in April 1952, consisted of substitutes for the British and Commonwealth awards which had previously been used. There were initially eleven decorations and medals, to which a further nine were added between 1965 and 1970.

This series was superseded in July 1975 by a new series, to which seven of the existing awards were transferred.
SA Defence Force medal ribbons 1952-75
During the period 1952-75, the UDF/SADF was organised into the SA Army, SA Air Force, SA Navy, and the short-lived SA Corps of Marines, each containing PF and CF units. The army and air force also had part-time Commando (home defence) forces.

Until 1958, the top three awards were reserved for conferment by the queen, while the rest were awarded by the governor-general. From 1958 to 1961, the governor-general was authorised to award the top three decorations too. From 1961, the state president was the awarding authority.

All the decorations and medals were designed by SADF heraldic artist Major George van Rhyn. With one exception, all displayed the national coat of arms on the reverse, and those minted before the country became a republic in 1961 had Queen Elizabeth II's royal cipher above the arms.

Castle of Good Hope Decoration (CGH) (1952-2003) — Designed as a substitute for the Victoria Cross, to be awarded for a signal act of valour or most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of self-sacrifice or devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy in wartime. It was never awarded.

Insignia: A gold pentagon, representing the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town, depicting three ships sailing into Table Bay in 1652 (obverse). It was designed with a neck ribbon and, in the tradition of the VC, it was prescribed that a miniature decoration should be worn on the service ribbon.

Louw Wepener Decoration (LWD) (1952-75) — Awarded for most conspicuous courage in circumstances where purely military decorations were not appropriate, i.e. usually non-operational situations. Only seven decorations were awarded, the first two (1961) being won by Lt Dirk van Zyl and Sgt Willem van Aswegen, who rescued the crew from a burning armoured car at a public display.

Insignia: A circular silver medal depicting two horsemen at the foot of the flat-topped mountain (Thaba Bosigo) where Afrikaner hero Louw Wepener was killed in action in 1865.

Star of South Africa (SSA) (1952-75) — Awarded to officers, for meritorious service. Only twenty decorations were awarded, all to general- and flag-rank officers.

Insignia: large silver star made up of eight stars superimposed and juxtaposed with each other. It is worn on a neck ribbon.

Van Riebeeck Decoration (DVR) (1952-75) — Awarded to officers, for distinguished service in the field. The only two recipients (1974) were Cmdt Jan Breytenbach and Lt Cdr Lambert Woodburne, for a Special Forces operation in Tanzania.

Insignia: A silver-gilt "Castle of Good Hope"-shaped medal, displaying the figure of Jan van Riebeeck, founder of the first European colony in South Africa (obverse).

Honoris Crux (HC) - 1st Type (1952-75) — Awarded for gallantry in action against the enemy. Only five HCs were awarded, all to helicopter aircrew in operations in South West Africa – the first recipient (1973) was Capt Andries Möller, who airlifted casualties under enemy fire.

Insignia: A green-enamelled silver-gilt Maltese cross with eagles between the arms, displaying an orange/ white/ blue roundel (obverse).

Van Riebeeck Medal (VRM) (1952-75) — Awarded to "other ranks", for distinguished service in the field. Only five VRMs were awarded (1974), all to Special Forces personnel for an operation in Tanzania.

Insignia: Same design as the DVR, but in silver.

Louw Wepener Medal (LWM) (1967-75) — For bravery in saving lives. Only eight LWMs were awarded, the first recipient (1969) being Gnr E.J.J. Godfrey, who saved a man from drowning in the sea.

Insignia: Same design as the LWD, but in bronze.

Southern Cross Medal (SM) - 1st Type (1952-75) — For outstanding devotion to duty, awarded annually from 1960 onwards. Originally open to all ranks, but reserved for officers from 1967.

Insignia: A circular silver medal displaying the stars of the Southern Cross on a dark blue background surrounded by silver oak leaves (obverse).

Pro Merito Medal (PMM) - 1st Type (1967-75) — Awarded annually, to "other ranks", for outstanding devotion to duty.

Insignia: A circular silver medal, displaying a red disa flower inside a wreath of protea flowers (obverse). The original ribbon was replaced by a new design in 1968.

Danie Theron Medal (1970-2003) — For exceptionally diligent and outstanding service in the Commandos. Originally reserved for officers, but opened to all ranks in 1975. Named after an Afrikaner hero of the Anglo-Boer War.

Insignia: A circular silver medal depicting an eagle perched on a crag (obverse).

Jack Hindon Medal (JHM) (1970-75) — Awarded to "other ranks" of the Commandos, for exceptionally diligent and outstanding service. Only 18 medals were awarded. Named after an Irish-born Afrikaner hero of the Anglo-Boer War.

Insignia: An oval bronze medal depicting three men raising the Vierkleur flag on the Spioenkop mountain-top after the Boer victory over British forces in 1900. (obverse).

Korea Medal (1953) — Issued to UDF volunteers who served in the Korean War. Qualifying service was one day in the Korean theatre of operations between 19 September 1950 and 27 July 1953. About 800 medals were issued: the UDF provided a small military staff to the British Commonwealth Division, and an air force squadron which served under American command.

Insignia: A circular silver medal depicting maps of South African and Korea, joined by a two-way arrow (obverse).

Permanent Force Good Service Medal (1952-75) — Initially (1952-61) called the "Union Medal". Awarded for 18 years exemplary service in the Permanent Force. A clasp was added after 30 years service.

Insignia: A circular silver medal with a scalloped edge, displaying the national coat of arms (obverse) and on the reverse either the E II R cipher (until 1961) or the words "Vir Langdurige Diens en Goeie Gedrag - For Long Service and Good Conduct" (from 1961).

John Chard Decoration (JCD) (1952-2003) — For 20 years efficient service in the Citizen Force. A clasp was added after 30 years service.

Insignia: An oval silver medal depicting the mission station at Rorke's Drift, scene of the 1879 battle in which Chard and ten others won the Victoria Cross. Arm-of-service emblems (crossed swords, an eagle, or an anchor) are worn on the ribbon, but not on the service ribbon, which has a silver disc inscribed JCD instead.

De Wet Decoration (DWD) (1965-2003) — For 20 years efficient service in the Commandos (officers only). A clasp was added after 30 years service.

Insignia: A circular silver medal depicting Afrikaner hero Gen Christiaan de Wet on horseback (obverse).

John Chard Medal (1952-2003) — For 12 years efficient service in the CF. After a further eight years, a recipient could qualify for the JCD, but once he received the decoration he had to stop wearing the medal.

Insignia: Same design as the JCD, but in bronze. Arm-of-service emblems are worn on the ribbon, but the service ribbon is plain.

Cadet Corps Medal (1966-67) — For 20 years efficient service in the school cadets organisation (officers only). The medal became obsolete when the cadets were absorbed into the Commandos in 1967.

Insignia: A circular silver medal depicting a prancing springbok (obverse).

Commandant General's Medal (1965-2003) — Awarded annually to the overall winner of the SADF shooting championships from 1962 to 1975. After 1975 it was called the 'SADF Champion Shot Medal', and was awarded in four categories each year.

Insignia: A circular silver medal depicting crossed rifles over a target, in the centre of a a 5-pointed star on a wreath of protea flowers (obverse). A clasp bearing the year of award was issued to each recipient.

Mentioned in Despatches (1967-2003) — For brave conduct, meritorious service, or devotion to duty, which did not justify the award of a decoration.

Insignia: A bronze miniature of the national coat of arms, worn on the ribbon of the relevant campaign medal.

Commendation by the Chief of the SADF (1968-74) — Originally (1968-73) called the 'Commendation by the Commandant General'. Awarded for service of a high order, which did not qualify for a decoration. About 500 awards were made.

Insignia: A bronze protea flower emblem, worn on a strip of cloth which was mounted like a medal ribbon.

  • South Africa Government Gazette 5311 (16.07.1954), 6694 (26.05.1961), 1018 (05.02.1965), 1293 (03.12.1965), 1515 (19.08.1966), 1788 (14.07.1967), 1891 (17.11.1967), 1902 (01.12.1967), 2667 (13.03.1970), 4792 (18.07.1975), and 4828 (29.08.1975).
  • SADF Order 119/68 and 69/73.
  • Alexander, E.G.M., Barron, G.K.B. & Bateman, A.J.; South African Orders, Decorations and Medals (1985).
  • Bellwood, W.A.; 'South Africa's New Decorations and Medals' in Outspan (05.12.1952)
  • Engelbrecht, H.L.; 'Honours and Awards' in Commando (Jun 1957).
  • Monick, S.; South African Military Awards 1912-1987 (1988).
  • Uys, I.S.; Cross of Honour (1992).
  • Van Wyk, A.; Honoris Crux (1982).
© Arthur Radburn
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