South African WW2 service medal and campaign stars are almost unique in that they are officially named.  The British did not name their campaign medals.

The decision to name the medals was made by the South African Union Defence Force Authorities to which we as collectors must be eternally grateful for.    

The format of the naming was a simple number, initials and surname. 

On the Campaign Stars, they are named in 3 lines.

Top line: Service (enlistment number)  

Middle line: Initials

Bottom line: Surname

Naming on SA WW2 Stars

On the War Medal, Defence Medal and African Service medal the number initials and surname are in one continuous line.

Unfortunately, the rank and regiment or branch of service is not shown; however, a roll of volunteer block numbers exist. The block numbers are a helpful guide to showing soldier unit/regiment he volunteered for.  The Permanent Forces (PF), or standing army did not renumber and continued to use their own number series during the war.  

The Medals are manufactured in South Africa

The medals themselves are also different in style to their British Counterparts. They were made by the South African Mint (SAM) under licence.  

All stars have a slightly different suspender and are gilded.  The gilding is very light, and once it wears off, they look similar to the British issues. 

SA 1939-45 Star and British 1939-45 Star
SA Italy Star and British Italy Star
Rarest South African Star – Air Crew Europe Star – South African Issue

 The War Medal, Defence medal and Africa Service Medal have larger suspenders than found on the British issue.   The Africa Service Medal is struck in sterling silver.  However, it appears that there are different issues with some are found to be Sterling Silver (925) disks and the suspenders only 600 silver. 

SA Defence Medal vs UK Issue – Note Suspender
SA Issue WM vs British Issue – Note the suspender
South African Africa Service Medal

The SA Mint started naming medal in the late 1950s, and the UDF started dispatching in 1951 in padded envelopes which are different to the box style used in the UK.   Each dispatch included an issue slip with the stars, medals and bars issued ticked and a total given.  A different sheet was issued to casualties with the person’s name written as “the late”.  Only casualty slips are named, and all others are generic.

Note that the size of the letters used to stamp the campaign stars is different to the war medals.  And the letter type is unique to UDF WW2 medals. 

In the 1990’s the SADF issued a new order to top up their stocks, and these medals are very different.  It was at this time that they stopped naming their medals and all medals are now issued blank. 

Original WW2 SAM mint made vs 1990’s “Top Up” issue

Volunteer Block Numbers 

The volunteer service numbers started with 1 and end with 640 640.  The UDF started issuing numbers in Natal and worked through all the ACF units before moving onto the corps.  This register of block numbers will be published in a separate article shortly.  

Please note that these numbers did not apply to the Permanent Forces (PF)

Examples of the block numbers are:

1-125                           A Battery Natal Field Artillery 

125-200                       B Battery Natal Field Artillery 

201-600                       1 Royal Natal Carbineers 

601-100                       2 Royal Natal Carbineers 

The first SAAF units to be numbered were:

3751-3850                   14 (B) Squadron SAAF

3851-3975                   1 (F) Squadron SAAF

The first Naval allocation was 

66376-69375               RNVR (South Africa)

69376-72375               Seaward Defence Force 

The first Southern Rhodesians (with prefix SR) are:

598207-598319           Southern Rhodesians with 1st City Regiment 

598230-598433           Southern Rhodesians with 1st Wits Rifles 

598230-598433           Southern Rhodesians with Artillery 

Many times, these numbers are seen with a V before or after the number. The V stands for Volunteer and is not seen on period issue medals but only on very late claims and this leads me onto the next part of this article. 

Medal Prefixes

Prefixes were allocated before to the numbers.  (I have noted if they are considered rare)

Prefixes proceeding the number  

M         Indian and Malay Corps 

H         Indian and Malay Corps (Hindu religion) (rare)

C          Cape Corps

CJ         Junior Cape Corp (rare)

CN       Cape Navy (coloured sailors serving in the Navy – rare)

F          Womans Auxiliary Air Force 

W        Womans Auxiliary Army Service 

WN      Womans Auxiliary Navy Service SWANS (rare)

P          SA Permanent Forces 

ACF      Other Ranks serving part time in Active Citizen Force eg NVB (not volunteers. (rare)

MN      Merchant Navy (rare)

ESPC    Essential Service Protection Corps (not in Cape Town Durban, East London or Port Elizabeth) (rare)

SAR     South African Railways (rare)

NRV     National Reserve Volunteers (rare)

RLY      Railways, ESPC/CPS Companies on railway protection (rare)

CT        ESPC/CPS – Cape Town (rare)

D          ESPC/CPS – Durban (rare)

EL        ESPC/CPS – East London (rare)

PE        ESPC/CPS – Port Elizabeth (rare)

SAP      South African Police 

SARP    South African Railway Police (rare)

SR        Southern Rhodesian, serving with SA UDF Forces

NN To a person without a service number (rare)

Now comes the interesting part.

  1. When you find the ACF, P, SAP, SARP prefix with no number and only the initials, this means these are to officers only.
  2. Nurses in the SAMNS do not have any prefix before the number even if they are a woman.
  3. N/N or NN is to a person without a service number.
  4. SAP before the number is to a member of the SAP who volunteered and who served outside of the Union of South Africa.  The number that follows this prefix is the SAP members military (UDF) number.  SAP in (SAP) after the number is to a SA Policeman serving within the Union. The number that appears with this prefix is the SAP members Police Force number.  These members volunteered to serve outside the Union but were instead utilized within the Country.
  5. Many times, with Pilots and other members who joined the Permanent Forces (PF) after being volunteers, they retained their numbers and just added the P before the number.    The most extensive early SAAF block number was 94076-104075.  This number can be found with a P prefix. 
  6. Normal P numbers are not in the block numbers unless as detailed in 6 above.  This will be the subject of another article. 
  7. WN is not always found before their numbers. 
  8. MN is never found on an Africa Service Medal. They did not sign the “red oath” to serve outside the borders of the Union and therefore did not qualify for the ASM.

At the beginning  of the war “J” for Jew was added to Jewish Servicemen and although “H”  for Hindu was being used, this was hotly opposed and was removed.  However, the SAMNS did not get this instruction till much later and many name (dog) tags with “J” before the number are found to Jewish nurses. 

The “SR” prefix found only the Africa Service Medal (ASM). Their other medals and campaign stars are issued unnamed by the Southern Rhodesian Army Council.  Southern Rhodesians not in the UDF did not receive the ASM. However, all medals to casualties were named in a specific style by a contractor in Bulawayo.   Again, this will be the subject of another article. 

The South African War Services Medal for 1939-1945, is not named so does not form part of this article. 

This is the first in many articles on South African WW2 medals.