South African Medals Website
South Africa, and the former homelands and South West Africa
Arthur Radburn Online since 2001
Military decorations and medals
British colonial and Boer military forces
BEFORE the Union of South Africa was established in 1910, there were separate military organisations in the British colonies (Natal, Cape Colony, and Transvaal) and the Boer republics (Orange Free State and the South African Republic). These forces had a few decorations and medals.
British colonial forces
The Cape Colonial Forces (CCF) comprised a small Permanent Force and a part-time Volunteer Force. Natal had the para-military Natal Police (NP), and a Volunteer Force, which was reorganised as the Natal Militia (NM) in 1904. The NP and NM amalgamated to form the Natal Colonial Forces (NCF) in 1908. The Transvaal had the Transvaal Volunteers (TV), formed in 1902. All three organisations were absorbed into the new Union Defence Forces (UDF) in July 1913.
In May 1894, Queen Victoria authorised colonial governments throughout the British Empire to adopt various military medals, and to award them to their local forces. Natal and the Cape introduced this system in August and September 1894 respectively, and the Transvaal followed in December 1902. These colonial medals were used until June 1913.
Medal for Distinguished Conduct in the Field (1896-1913) An adopted British decoration, for distinctly gallant and distinguished service in the field by "other ranks". Adopted by the Cape in 1896, by Natal in 1897, and by the Transvaal in 1902. Only 8 awards were made, all by Natal.
Insignia: Same design as the equivalent British award: a circular silver medal displaying a trophy of arms (until 1901) or the reigning monarch's head (obverse) and the words 'For Distinguished Conduct in the Field' with the name of the colony (reverse).
Cape of Good Hope General Service Medal (1900) Issued, on application, to surviving veterans of the Transkei campaign and the Basutoland Gun War (both September 1880 to April 1881), and the Bechuanaland campaign (December 1896 to July 1897). Clasps inscribed 'Transkei', 'Basutoland', and 'Bechuanaland' were issued to identify the campaigns. A total of 5252 medals was issued.
Insignia: A circular silver medal displaying the head of Queen Victoria (obverse) and the Cape Colony coat of arms (reverse).
Natal Native Rebellion Medal (1907) For service (minimum 20 days) in operations to suppress the Bhambatha uprising in Natal between 11 February and 3 August 1906. A clasp was added if the recipient had served for 50 days or longer, which most of them had. Although primarily intended for the Natal forces, the medal was also issued to Cape and Transvaal units which supported them. A total of 9622 medals was issued.
Insignia: A silver circular medal depicting King Edward VII (obverse), and Natalia and Britannia (reverse).
Medal for Long Service and Good Conduct (1896-1913) An adopted British medal, introduced in the Cape in 1896 and in Natal in 1897. Awarded for 18 years irreproachable service in the ranks of the Permanent Force (Cape) or the Natal Police. If a recipient later received the Medal for Meritorious Service, he had to stop wearing the long service medal.
Insignia: A circular silver medal displaying a trophy of arms (until 1901) or the effigy of the reigning monarch (obverse) and "For Long Service and Good Conduct" and the name of the colony (reverse).
Medal for Meritorious Service (1896-1913) Another adopted British medal, introduced together with the long service medal. Awarded to PF and NP warrant officers and senior non-commissioned officers, usually on retirement, after long and valuable service.
Insignia: Similar design to the long service medal, but with a "For Meritorious Service" and the colony's name on the reverse.
Volunteer Officers' Decoration (VD) (1894-1901) Instituted for the British forces in 1892 and adopted by both Natal and the Cape in 1894. Awarded to volunteer officers after 20 years efficient commissioned service.
Insignia: An oval silver wreath of oak leaves framing a gilt royal cipher.
Volunteer Long Service Medal (1895-1901) Instituted for the British forces in 1894 and adopted by Natal and the Cape in 1895. Awarded to all ranks of the volunteers after 20 years efficient service. An officer who later received the VD (either version) had to stop wearing the medal.
Insignia: A circular silver medal displaying the effigy of the reigning monarch (obverse) and 'For Long Service in the Volunteer Force' (reverse).
Colonial Auxiliary Forces Officers' Decoration (VD) (1900-1913) Instituted in 1899 to replace the Volunteer Officers' Decoration in the colonies, and adopted by Natal in 1900, the Cape in 1901, and the Transvaal in 1906. Awarded to volunteer or militia officers after 20 years efficient commissioned service.
Insignia: A crowned oval silver frame enclosing a gilt royal cipher.
Colonial Auxiliary Forces Long Service Medal (1900-1913) Instituted, and adopted, at the same time as the CAF Officers' Decoration. Awarded to all ranks in the volunteer or militia forces, after 20 years efficient service. An officer who later received the VD had to stop wearing the medal.
Insignia: A circular silver medal displaying the effigy of the reigning monarch (obverse) and 'For Long Service in the Colonial Auxiliary Forces' (reverse).
Boer republican forces
The Orange Free State and the South African Republic had their own military forces until they were defeated in the Anglo-Boer War in 1902. Neither republic had an official honours system. This became a problem after the Union Defence Forces were formed in 1912, because the ex-colonial forces personnel wore medals for the Anglo-Boer War, while their ex-Boer colleagues had none. The problem was solved in December 1920, by instituting a series of three awards for the Boer veterans.
The medals, which were designed by Ernest(?) Stokoe, were innovative (and unique in South Africa) in each having a ZAR side and an OVS side, with reversible ribbons, so that recipients could wear them whichever way round was appropriate for them.
Dekoratie voor Trouwe Dienst (DTD) (1920) The 'Decoration for Devoted Service', awarded to former officers for distinguished and especially meritorious service during the war (equivalent to the British Distinguished Service Order). Altogether, 645 decorations were granted, some of them posthumously.
Insignia: A silver circular medal, displaying the ZAR arms on a cross on one side and the OVS arms on a cross on the other, and the words 'Voor Trouwe Dienst 1899-1902' on both sides.
Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek en Oranje Vrystaat Oorlogsmedalje (1920) The 'SA Republic and Orange Free State War Medal', often referred to as the 'Anglo-Boere Oorlog Medal', was issued to veterans who had served in the field between 11 October 1899 and 31 May 1902, provided they were still serving on the latter date. Around 13 750 medals were issued, some as late as the 1980s.
Insignia: A silver circular medal depicting the ZAR arms in an ornamental frame on one side, and the OVS arms on the other, and 'Anglo-Boere Oorlog 1899-1902' on both.
Lint voor Verwonding (1920) This 'Wounds Ribbon', granted to those who had been wounded in action, was unique both in its purpose and in consisting only of a ribbon.