1914 – 15 Stars issues to the South African Forces

Herewith the general rules for the issuing of WW1 medals to South Africans.   But for any rules, there are always exceptions. This article contains the general rules and exceptions will be detailed in a later post 

The South Africans serving in WW1 received the following medals and I will be posting different articles on each of these during the following weeks.

1914-15 Star 

British War Medal (BWM)

Bilingual Victory Medal (VM)

Mercantile Marine Medal (MMM)

All the above medals were awarded and issued by the South African authorities and in a style particular to South Africa.

(Note – there are no 1914 Stars issued by the South African Authorities)

Please note that no regimental numbers are shown on the period issued WW1 medals.  When you encounter a regimental number, this will be a late issue.

The 1915 stars were issued first in 1920/1921 and the accompanying WM and VM were issued a few months later.   This explains why many 1915 stars were separated from their pairs.  A 1914-15 star is not issued without its pair unless it is an administrative error. 

The 1914-1915 Star was for service in German South West Africa, and along the border between South Africa and German South West Africa.  A little-known fact is that it is also for German East Africa and only a few units received it for GEA, mostly 1st and 2nd SAH (South African Horse) 

If the person served in a operational zone from August 1914 to 31 December 1915 they will get a 1914-15 Star 

  1. The 1914-15 Star is named in the following style

Top Line:  Rank (this is the 1st rank when they entered the operational area)

2nd line: Initials and Surname

3rd Line: Unit or Regiment 

  •  In addition to a 1915 Star, they will also receive a BWM and Victory medals named as (a) above, however the rank will be the highest received and the unit or regiment will be named to the last unit or regiment recorded in his records cards.
  • In the case of officers, NO unit or regiment is shown on the BWM and Victory medal.  It will only be Rank, initials and surname.

Herewith pictures of South African 1914-15 Stars naming and comparison to a British issued one in the center to compare.

Comparing SA Issue 1914-15 Stars to British Issues

If you find a WW1 trio all named to the same unit or regiment then one will know that this individual served in GSWA or GEA only and did no further service.  For Officers if the rank is the same on all 3 medals it will normally indicate service only in GWSA or GEA but it is not a rule. 

Naming to an Officer
South African Naming
South African naming

If the BWM or Victory medal is named to a different unit from the 1914-15 Star it indicates that this person went on and served in German East Africa, Central Africa, Palestine or France

If the naming between the 1914-15 Sar and the BWM and Victory medals it different it becomes confusing. I will try clarify this. 

South Africans who served in German East Africa, Central Africa, Palestine and France in an operational role would qualify and receive the BWM and Victory. These two medals are normally named to the same regiment and there are many articles dealing which what unit served in each area.  This is not covered in this article.

If one finds only a BWM and Victory pair it does not automatically mean that there is a missing star.  Many soldiers only qualified for the BWM and Victory medals and is known as a pair.   Some soldiers qualified only for a BWM if they did not serve in an operational zone.   Service only in the Union of SA would qualify for the BWM only. 

However, if the BWM and or Victory medal is named to a regiment that served in GWSA then it would indicate a broken group and a missing 1914-15 Star.  So if one finds a 1914-15 Star on its own you know there is a BWM and Victory Medal missing.

If all three medals are present are named to one unit/regiment it will indicate that the soldier only served in GWSA, unless it is to one of the few soldiers previously mentioned who served early enough in GEA to qualify for a star.  1914- 1915 Stars issued for any other theatre other than GWSA to a South Africa is rare.

If the BWM and Victory medal is named to a different unit/regiment in will indicate that the soldier went on to serve in another theatre. 

For groups named to officers this is not so simple to spot and will have to be the subject of another article. 

Normally when one finds a trio with the BWM and Victory named to another unit it is common.   Its only when you start seeing different units on each medal or different ranks that it becomes more interesting, complex and rare. 

If all three medals are named to different units it is considered rare because this will mean that the soldier served in 3 different theatres of war.   To illustrate, a soldier could serve in GWSA, then he was discharged and re-listed for service in GEA.  Most South African who served in GEA and Central Africa contracted malaria so they were unfit for further service.  But a very small percentage of them went on to serve in the Union of SA or very rarely were fit enough to go to France.   If this happened, then the 1914-15 Star will be named to his GWSA unit, his Victory Medal to his GEA, Central Africa, or Palestine unit and then his BWM medal will be named to his final unit. This is rare and extremely rare if final unit was for France. 

Examples of this would look as follows

One Theatre of War

1914-15 Star named: Pte XX 18th MR (18th Mounted Rifles)

BWM named: Pte XX 18th MR

Victory Medal: Pte XX 18th MR

This would indicate that the soldier served in GWSA only with the 18th Mounted Rifles 

Two Theatres of War

1914-15 Star named: Pte XX 18th MR (18th Mounted Rifles)

BWM named: Pte XX 6th SAI. (not to be confused with 6th Infantry) 

Victory Medal: Pte XX 6th SAI

This would indicate that the soldier served in GWSA with the 18th MR, then GEA with 6SAI 

Three Theatres of War

1914-15 Star named: Pte XX 18th MR ( 18th Mounted Rifles)

BWM named: Pte XX 6th SAI. (not to be confused with 6th Infantry) 

Victory Medal: Pte XX 2nd SAI (not to be confused with 2nd Infantry)

This would indicate that the soldier served in GWSA with the 18th MR, then GEA with 6SAI and was fit enough to serve in France with the 2SAI.

Three Theatres of War

1914-15 Star named: Pte XX 18th MR ( 18th Mounted Rifles)

BWM named: Pte XX 6th SAI. (not to be confused with 6th Infantry) 

Victory Medal: Pte XX MK (Military Constabulary) 

This would indicate that the soldier served in GWSA with the 18th MR, then GEA with 6SAI and was fit enough to serve in the Union of SA with the military police. 

Three Theatres of War

1914-15 Star named : Pte XX 18th MR ( 18th Mounted Rifles)

BWM named: Lt XX RAF

Victory Medal (Uniligual)  Lt XX RAF 

This would indicate that the soldier served in GWSA with the 18th MR, then joined the Imperial Forces and served with the RAF.  His BWM and Victory Medal would be British (UK) issue.

Three Theatres of War

1914-15 Star named : Pte XX 18th MR ( 18th Mounted Rifles)

BWM named: Lt XX RAF

Victory Medal: Pte XX 6th SAI.

This would indicate that the soldier served in GWSA with the 18th MR, then served with the 6SAI in GEA and finally joined the Imperial Forces and served with the RAF.  His BWM would be British (UK) issue.

Additional Notes

The South African Authority did not name medals to British Regiments.  They did issued 1914-15 Stars to

Rhodesia –  1st and 2nd Rhodesian Regiment 

Central Africa – Nyasaland Field Force 

East Africa – East African Forces 

The South African naming is distinct and although there are a few styles it is easy to spot South African naming.  If there in any doubt as to naming please feel free to contact me. I trust everyone enjoyed this 1st post and I hope to improve the quality and style in the future