Collecting British and Commonwealth WW2 medals

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World War 2 Medals - British and Commonwealth

By Roy Bassett

To be a collector of World War 2 medals awarded to British and Commonwealth Forces, you should be diligent in your research and aware of all the variables.
Some groupings could involve payment of hundreds of dollars, so be on guard for the many forgeries known to exist.
Basically, two medals and eight campaign stars were awarded for British and Commonwealth campaign service between Sept. 3, 1939, and Sept. 2, 1945.
Medals awarded were The War Medal 1939-1945, and The Defence Medal 1939-1945, each with its own distinguishing ribbon.
The eight stars are the 1939-1945 Star; Atlantic Star; Air Crew Europe Star; Africa Star; Pacific Star; Burma Star; Italy Star and the France and Germany Star.
With exceptions to a few Commonwealth countries, the British medals and stars were issued without names.
Each medal ribbon is different and it is believed they were designed by King George VI. The maximum number of stars awarded to one person was five.
In addition to the stars, there were nine clasps awarded: Battle of Britain; Air Crew Europe; France and Germany; Atlantic; North Africa 1942-43; 8th Army; 1st Army; Burma and Pacific.
The system devised to decide who was entitled to which star and/or clasp is very complicated and great care must be taken to verify any set of medals.
Your most expensive group, not including any bravery awards, will be one that includes the Air Crew Europe Star or the Battle of Britain clasp. For either confirmed group, you will pay upwards of $400. This makes it essential to do your homework.
You may wish to collect an example of each medal and star together with the clasps for display purposes. There are copies available at a modest price and are, in my opinion, good quality. Go to and see what they have to offer.
Should you wish to collect genuine medals, Stars and clasps, here is a guide to how they were awarded.
The War Medal: Awarded to all full time personnel of the Armed Forces who served for 28 days or more between September 3, 1939, and September 2, 1945. Operational and non-operational service counted. There are certain exceptions to the 28-day rule, i.e. operational service terminated by death, wounds or disability due to service. This medal is made of cupro-nickel except the Canadian issue, which is made of .800 fine silver. Issued unnamed except to the Canadian Merchant Marine.
The Defence Medal: Awarded to service personnel who served three or more years at home, or, one year or more in non-operational service overseas or outside the country of residence, or, six months in territories threatened by the enemy or subject to bomb attacks, or, three months service in Mine and Bomb Disposal Units between September 3, 1939, and September 2, 1945. This medal was issued unnamed and made of cupro-nickel. Canadian issue in .800 fine silver.
The Stars are made of bronze, are six pointed and have a circular centre with the GRI/V1 monogram surmounted by a crown. The name of each Star is inscribed on the central circlet. All were issued unnamed.
The 1939-1945 Star. Basically, to qualify for this Star a member of the Navy and Army must have served for 6 months in an operational command or in areas of active operations. A member of the R.A.F. must have served in operations against the enemy providing that two months service had been completed in an operational unit.
The Atlantic Star: Was awarded for six months service anywhere at sea between September 3, 1939, and May 8, 1945, with one or more voyages in the Atlantic and/or Home Waters. To qualify for this Star a member must have first earned the 1939-1945 Star.
The Air Crew Europe Star: Was awarded for operational flying for two months from United Kingdom bases over Europe from September 3, 1939, to June 5, 1944. To qualify for this Star a member must have first earned the 1939-1945 Star.
The Africa Star: Was awarded for one or more day's service in North Africa from June 10, 1940, and May 12, 1943, in an operational unit or any service at sea in the Mediterranean or in the case of the R.A.F. to have landed in, or flown over, any of the areas or territory occupied by the enemy. This did not include West Africa.
The Pacific Star: Awarded for operational service in the Pacific theatre of war from December 8, 1941, and August 15, 1945. Service in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea as well as land service in these areas also qualified.
The Burma Star: Awarded for service in the Burma campaign between December 11, 1941, and September 2, 1945. Service in the Provinces of Bengal and Assam as well as in China and Malaya also qualified members for this Star.
The Italy Star: Awarded for operational service in Sicily or Italy as well in the Aegean, Dodecanese, Corsica, Greece, Sardinia, Yugoslavia and Elba between June 11, 1943 and May 8th 1945.
The France and Germany Star. Awarded for operational service in France, Belgium, Holland or Germany between D Day and the German surrender - June 6, 1944, and May 8, 1945.
The 1939-1945 Star could be considered as the qualifying star because except for the France and Germany and Africa stars, a member had to earn it before consideration for the other stars.
Qualifications required for the stars have been condensed here. You can get the full qualifications from a pamphlet issued by the Committee on the grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals, published by H.M. Stationary Office, or one of the many publications, such as The Medal Yearbook, published by Token Publishing Limited, or British Battles and Medals, Spink and Son Ltd., London.
As mentioned, a recipient could only be awarded five stars, so, should you see a group with six or more stars, then you know something is wrong.
Several Commonwealth countries issued a medal related to their country and some even issued all the medals named to the recipient.
All members of the Canadian military were volunteers and in recognition of this the Canadian government awarded the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal to all those who served. Unfortunately, these were also issued without names.
The Canadian Volunteer Service Medal: As the name implies, this medal was only issued to members of the Canadian military and Nursing Service providing they had completed 18 months voluntary service or had been honorably discharged before the full period had been completed. The qualifying period is from September 3, 1939, to March 1, 1947. Three clasps were awarded: Maple Leaf clasp, to denote overseas service,
Dieppe clasp (instituted April 28, 1994) for all servicemen who took part on the Dieppe raid of August 19, 1942, and the Hong Kong clasp (instituted April 28, 1994) for those involved in the Battle of Hong Kong from December 8 to December 25, 1941. The medal is made of silver.
The India Service Medal: Awarded for three years non-operational service in India.
The Africa Service Medal: Awarded to Union service personnel who served at home and abroad during the war for at least thirty days. These medals were named.
The Australia Service Medal: Awarded to all Australian personnel who had seen eighteen months overseas or three years home service. These medals were named.
The New Zealand War Service Medal: Awarded to all members of the New Zealand forces who completed one month full-time or six months part-time service.
The South African Medal for War Service: Awarded to men and women who served for at least two years in any official voluntary organization. Service must be voluntary and unpaid.
The Southern Rhodesia War Service Medal: This is a very scarce medal and was only awarded to those who served in Southern Rhodesia during the period of the war but were not eligible for one of the campaign stars or war medals.
The Newfoundland Volunteer War Service Medal: During WW2, Newfoundland was a separate British colony, which did not enter the Canadian Confederation until 1949, therefore, Newfoundland servicemen did not qualify for the CVSM. In 1981, this was rectified by the Newfoundland provincial government who instituted this medal.
Long Service medals and General Service medals are invaluable when included with groups of WW2 medals because they were all issued named.
Through research, you will be able to find out the entitlements to that person.
There are many groups of medals on the market today that are made up or were actually awarded to a veteran. Being unnamed, it is virtually impossible to identify the recipient and they just become "a group of WW2 medals."
Should you have friends or relatives who are veterans of WW2, ask them to record their war service, and ensure their documentation of Military Service is preserved with the medals.
You might even convince them to have their medals professionally engraved with name, service number, rank and regiment or ship etc.
1 - Group: Police Longservice medal (named); 1939-1945 Star; Defence Medal, War Medal, British Long Service Medal (named)
2 - Common 1939-1945 Star medal. Must be earned first before others can be awarded
3 - Air Crew Europe Star, rarest of the Star medals, therefore the most valuable. Many phony ones are on the market.
4 - Typical "Canadian" Group: 1939-1945 Star; France and Germany Star; Defence Medal; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, War Medal
Roy Bassett is a veteran of the British Army (1950s) and a retired Toronto policeman. He can be reached at
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