Numbering and Naming of South African WW2 Medals – Illustrated – part II
This is Part II of a series of articles dealing with South African WW2 service medal and campaign stars. This article will illustrate the actual naming on the medals. (I am grateful to the following collectors who have allowed me to publish pictures of the naming styles on the medals – Jeff Ritsick, Alex Rice and Laurence Pettitt)
The format of the naming on the medals was a simple number, initials and surname. No rank or unit is indicated.
Campaign Stars are named in 3 lines :
Top line: Service (enlistment number)
Middle line: Initials
On War Medals, Defence Medals and African Service medals (ASM) the number initials and surname are in one continuous line.
Unfortunately, the rank and regiment or branch of service was not shown, however I have published the block number roll in previous article so it is now possible to see the unit of enlistment for each individual. This is a helpful guide to show which initial unit / service a soldier volunteered for. The Permanent Forces (PF), or standing army did not renumber and continued to use their own number series during the war.
Naming is particular to South Africa, and after handling these medals it is possible to clearly identify if the naming the correct and when it was done. The equipment to name the medals, including both the letter stamps and naming machines were supplied under contract by Edward Pryor of Sheffield. They were under the control of the Royal Mint Pretoria (RMP), which became the SA Mint. The SADF/UDF did not own or use any naming machines as this was all carried out by the RMP/SAM under instruction.
The letter stamps are unique for South Africa
The letter stamps were made in England under contract for the UDF by Edward Pryor of Sheffield. Two completely different types of naming machines were used, one for the stars and one for the war medals. The two machines used different size letters, hence the letters used on the Stars is larger than those used on the war medals on the first issues. The letters are fitted into round cartridges and as letters wear out they are the whole cartridge was replaced. On occasion, a letter or number was fitted incorrectly into its slot. The operator dialled in the letters on the machine and if the cartridge had such a fault the entire group would have the same error.
Edward Pyror produces standard fonts of letter stamps, however, the UDF ordered under contract, unique styles/font of lettering for their use Two styles/fonts were used. These two fonts are clearly identifiable by looking at the M and W. On one set the middle of the M and W only reaches ½ way down/up and on the other set, it goes all the way down/up. This is illustrated below. The letter stamps used are not the same as used on the British Issue medal hence the naming is unique to South Africa.
The SA Mint started naming medals in late 1950s and there are clear batches in the styles of naming. Each naming machine was hand and foot-operated and as such the depth of impression may vary slightly between machine and operator. But the spacing between the letters is almost always consistent even if not even. One can place the Defence Medal or War Medal on top of the Africa Service medal and the numbers and letters always line up. The operators became extremely skilled and naming always appears consistent and clear as opposed to the haphazard style of naming found on South African WW1 medals.
Naming of Campaign Stars
The stars were named using a special jig designed to hold the stars. This jig prevented distortion on the medal. A sperate attachment on the side of the naming machine moved the jig upwards in 3 steps, one for the number, and second for the initials and finally the surname.
Generally, for the first original issues, there are two styles of letters. First is the standard UDF font 1.5mm letter. This style of naming is the most common and easy to identify. However, these letters gradually wore out from use and were replaced by a 2nd type smaller and thinner letter.
The larger 1st type font is most the common and eaasiest to identify. The small, 2nd thinner letters were used for the later issues but has also been found in 1950’s issues where the service number is high. It is my understanding that as the medals were named in batches per machine. If a machine fitted with the smaller letters was used, this style naming is found. However, as a general rule if these thinner smaller letters are encountered it will indicate a later issue.
The naming on the stars should be uniform and consistent on the whole group, and if not it may indicate a problem.
Naming of War Medal, Defence Medal and Africa Service Medal
The naming was done on a specific, Edward Pryor naming machine designed for round medals. The medal was clamped into the machine and it turned automatically as each letter was stamped. It is because of this, that the spacing on each medal will be the uniform and repetitive. I.e. if there is a slightly different gap between letters on one medal it will/should repeat on all the others.
It is very important to note that the size of the letter is different to that found on the campaign stars but the font always remains the same. I.e. the special style of M and W will be consistent on the entire group.
Again, it is important to raise the issue that medals were named in batches, hence on “SR” Southern Rhodesians, ASM, the font always similar. If not, then check the issue date, or consult an expert.
Late Issue Styles
Questions are always raised regarding late issues or the styles of naming on late, or reissued groups. I have discussed the two types of naming used during the main issue period however in the 1960s onwards the smaller thinner letters are always used.
In the 1980s, the medals were no longer stamped but rather engraved. Two styles have been encountered and are illustrated below. This engraving was normally carried out using a machine.
After 2000 the SADF no longer had the ability to stamp or engrave their medals and as such issued the medals blank. Letters to this effect always accompany a blank issue of the medals.
Renamed and erased Medals
Batches of blank medals were sent by the UDF/SADF to the RMP/SAM for naming. It is understood that in 1950’s that stocks were held by the SAM and were named according the instructions from the UDF/SADF. The dispatch of medals, once named, was dealt with by the UDF/SADF.
In the 1960’s all the stocks of medals were returned to the UDF/SADF. Only the dies of the Stars and Medals were held by the SAM for the account of the UDF/SAM.
The RMP/SAM never erased a campaign star for reissue. Any damaged or erroneously named medals were scrapped and new star used. However, as the ASM was sterling silver and considered valuable, many of these were erased and renamed. Erased medals were only used for the issue to non-whites or to the ACF or NRV. As ACF and NRV medals issued as singles, many have been found erased and renamed.
Authors note – in the 1980’s when I was shown the stocks of medals in the SADF safes I noted many of the ASM’s in stock were name erased.
Illustration of Medal Prefixes
Prefixes were allocated to the numbers. These are found in front of the numbers. Some of these Prefixes are extremely rare. Fellow collectors have shared pictures from their collections and I trust more will help to complete illustrations of all the Prefixes.
Prefixes proceeding the number
M Indian and Malay Corps
H Indian and Malay Corps (Hindu religion) (rare)
C Cape Corps
N Native Military 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)
WN is not always found before their numbers. They were allocated a block number.
P SA Permanent Forces
The Permanent Force retained their pre war numbers and are not in the block numbers. 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 largest early SAAF block number was 94076-104075. This number can be found with a P
ACF Other Ranks serving part time in Active Citizen Force eg NVB (not volunteers. (rare)
Officers have only Prefix AFC without number. It is estimated that there are only 20.
MN Merchant Navy (rare) – never found on ASM
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.
ESPC Essential Service Protection Corps (not in Cape Town Durban, East London or Port Elizabeth) (rare)
Most medals do not have this Prefix and only show the service number. Block numbers allocated to ESPC are 639640-640640 and 700000 to 705016
SARP South African Railways (rare)
Policemen who remained on service in SA and SWA and had signed the Africa Service Oath. There is a roll of 93 names only. Very rare.
NRV National Reserve Volunteers (rare)
Although the NRV had over 30 000 members, only 1583 medals were claimed and issued.
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
SAP before the number is to a member of the SAP who is serving or volunteered to serve outside of the Union of South Africa. SAP in (SAP) after the number is to a SA Policeman serving within the Union. However, there are a few exceptions.
SARP South African Railway Police (rare)
SR Southern Rhodesian, serving with SA UDF Forces – only found on ASM
N/N N/N or NN is to a person without a service number
Individual with no military service number who applied for and received WW2 medals. There are only 80 such people. The roll of names is available and will be published.
The Africa Service Medal in South African Groups
If one questions any collector of South African WW2 medals they will always state that the Africa Service Medal, which is unique to South Africans, is always found in South African groups other than to groups to the Merchant Navy.
But this statement is incorrect. In 1949 when the applications for medals were being reviewed, a panel, in terms of authority AG(3)1602/4 dd 23-5-49 and routine order 1491 dd 14-5-49 (a huge mouth full) reviewed cased of European volunteers and decided that a number would not receive medals. There were simple reasons ranging from Expiry of Term of engagement and returned to civil employment and surplus no longer required to very complex issues including ignominy, unsuited for duties of the corps, underage and “in the interest”. One wonders what “in the interest” not to be entitled to medals actually means? Many of these men did not receive the ASM but only a single War Medal. Such single War Medal would be officially named and be the only entitlement and I would consider this, other than the Air Crew Europe Star, to be one of the rarest of South African medals.
So next time one finds a single named South African War Medal, and comments that it is missing its silver ASM, look again as it may be correct and very rare.
Changing units and some fun
If individuals changed units they did not change their enlistment number unless they were discharged prior to re-enlistment. I illustrate an interesting group to a man who served in both the Merchant Navy, the SAAF and SAMC. He did not qualify for the ASM with the MN but his previosu service withUDF qualified him for an ASM. Alexander R Bronstein was a pre-war volunteer who had served with the Natal Mounted Rifles. A bookkeeper by trade he enlisted in SAAF (93467) in May 1940 and was discharged 6 months later as medically unfit. This did not deter him, as he re-enlisted in the SAMC (176684) one month later in November 1940 and was attached to the bomb assembly and shell filling Depot in Pretoria before being transferred the Zonderwater POW camp as a medical orderly. Once again, he was discharged as medically unfit. This still did not deter him and he joined the Merchant Navy. Somewhere in his travels he also served with the BOAC and many years later as a Police Reservist in the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya. This all resulted in an interesting medal grouping and his father, whose group is pictured has an ASM to the ACF.
1939-45 Star – MN (Merchant Navy – official SA stamping)
Atlantic Star – MN (Merchant Navy – official SA stamping)
Africa Star – British issue (privately named BOAC AR Bronstein)
Defence Medal – British issue – unnamed
War Medal – 176684 AR Bronstein – official SA stamping
Africa Service Medal – 176684 AR Bronstein – official SA stamping
Africa General Service Medal – bar Kenya – IP – Inspector of Police
Service no 176684 fall in the block number for the SA Military Hospital
Service no 93467 fall in the block number for the SAAF Depot