Military decorations and medals
June2009

Unofficial military medals

SEVERAL semi-official and unofficial medals issued during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century have become well-known, and have acquired a certain status in the country's medal history as a result.

As a website on South African honours and awards would be incomplete without them, they are listed below, in chronological order.

Sir Harry Smith's Medal for Gallantry (1851) — Presented by Cape Colony governor Sir Harry Smith to local forces "for gallantry in the field" during the 8th Frontier War 1850-53. Although the British government initially disapproved of Sir Harry's action, it later paid for the medal, thus giving it official recognition if not official status. It is now regarded as the first South African military medal. At least 22 medals were awarded.

Insignia: A circular silver medal depicting a lion and a laurel wreath (obverse) and "Presented by His Excellcy Sir HGW Smith Bart GCB to ..... for Gallantry in the Field" (reverse). The ribbon was that of the British Sutlej Medal. The medal was designed by Charles Bell.

Johannesburg Vrywilliger Corps Medal (1899) — Issued by this short-lived Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek volunteer unit to its members, for service against the Jameson Raid (an unsuccessful British-backed attempt to overthrow the ZAR government), and in suppressing unrest in Swaziland.

Insignia: A circular bronze medal displaying the ZA Republiek arms (obverse) and "Johannesburg Vrijwilliger Corps - Commandant vh Corps Luitnt Kol S.H. van Diggelen 1894-1899" (reverse). Clasps were issued for 'Jameson-Inval en Revolutie te Johannesburg 1895-1896' and 'Swazieland Expeditie 1899'.

Mayor of Kimberley's Siege Medal (1900) — Presented by Kimberley mayor Harry Oliver, to commemorate the relief of the diamond-mining city after a 4-month-long siege during the Anglo-Boer War. A.k.a. 'Kimberley Star'.

Insignia: A 6-pointed gold or silver star displaying the Kimberley municipal arms (obverse) and 'Mayor's Siege Medal' (reverse).

Cape Copper Company's Medal (1902) — Presented by the company to the defenders of the Cape Colony mining town of Okiep during a month-long siege by Boer forces in 1902. Issued in silver to officers and in bronze to other ranks.

Insignia: A circular medal displaying the company's emblem (obverse) and "Presented to the Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Men of the Garrison of O'Okiep in recognition of their Gallant Defence of the Town under Lt Col Shelton DSO against a Greatly Superior Force of Boers April 4th to May 4th 1902" (reverse).

Pretoria Citizens' Service Medal (1919) — Awarded by the Pretoria municipality to Pretoria citizens who served in World War I.

Insignia: A circular bronze medal displaying the Pretoria city coat of arms (obverse) and "Pretoria Citizens Service Medal Great War 1914-19 - Dienst Medalje van Pretoria's Burgers Grote Oorlog 1914-19" (reverse).

References
  • Everson, G.R.; 'When Sir Harry Struck Silver in South Africa' in Military Medal Society of SA Journal No 26 (Aug 1985).
  • Fforde, J.P.I. & Monick, S.; A Guide to South african Orders, Decorations and Medals and their Ribbons 1896-1985 (1985).
  • Forsyth, D.R.; 'Johannesburg Vrywilliger Corps' in Africana Notes and News (Sep 1959).
  • Hibberd, M.G.; Boer War Tribute Medals (19..).
  • Loots, H.; 'Pretoria Citizens Service Medal' in Military Medal Society of SA Journal No 21 (Mar 1983).
 
© Arthur Radburn
 
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