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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- When you find the ACF, P, SAP, SARP prefix with no number and only the initials, this means these are to officers only.
- Nurses in the SAMNS do not have any prefix before the number even if they are a woman.
- N/N or NN is to a person without a service number.
- 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.
- 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.
- Normal P numbers are not in the block numbers unless as detailed in 6 above. This will be the subject of another article.
- WN is not always found before their numbers.
- 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.