Precedence for wearing Commemorative Medals with officially sanctioned medals

From time to time Commemorative medals are issued which ex-servicemen deem acceptable to wear with their officially sanctioned medals, rightly or wrongly, and we list some with a distinctive South African flavour to hopefully, ONCE AND FOR ALL, put this debate to rest.

Generally speaking, Commemorative medals are never worn with officially issued medals, especially so if the person is still in uniform. HOWEVER, once out of uniform there are two schools of thought on this matter.

1)      “PURISTS, who insist that only medals to be worn on the Left chest will be the officially sanctioned ones, and then

2)      “Non Conformists” (for wanting of a better word) who wear their Commemorative medals, but in an inferior position to their official medals.

To this end we wish to highlight a few examples where the latter approach has become “acceptable” … and in the Medal Collection fraternity, a group with any of the below “Commemorative Medals” commands much higher prices that those without.

1st Example:  Blow is a group (from a respected collection) which was worn by a South African lad, born in Pretoria, who joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1916 and ended WWI as an ACE (by shooting down 5 German aeroplanes in combat) 

The group consists of the WWI Trio (1914/15 Star –won in German SWA prior to his service with the Royal Flying Corps) the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal. In addition he was awarded the Italian Cross for War (the blue and white ribband) and the last medal is the PRETORIA PEACE COMMEORATIVE MEDAL.  This medal was issued to all Pretoria Citizens who returned from the War by a grateful City and presented during a Parade in 1919.

Below pic the Pretoria Medal is on the extreme right hand side

This is an UNOFFICAL medal that was worn together with his OFFICIAL medals, by an ACE pilot….  No one DARE tell an ACE to remove the medal as it was “not-PC” … ?

 2nd Example: We wish to highlight is the so-called “Kimberly Star”. After the Siege of Kimberley, by the Boer forces during the Boer War, the Mayor of Kimberley issued a siege medal, later to be known as the Kimberley Star, to all who defended the town during the siege. This medal, although an unofficial medal and never sanctioned by the Queen, was proudly word with the official British Boer War Campaign Medal, the Queens South Africa or QSA medal and is highly sought after today.

Below pic the Kimberley Star is on the extreme right hand side


3rd Example: This is the O’Kiep Medal, issued by the O’Kiep Copper Company after the siege of the town of Springbok and O’Kiep, by non other than Gen Smuts’ forces during the Anglo Boer War. Although a non-official medal, this medal was worn in tandem with the official QSA, and today commands prices in excess of $3000 … if you can get one !


We have other examples of Commemorative medals like the Ladysmith Siege Medal, the Children’s Commemorative Medal, the Sir Harry Smith's Medal and more that from the Boer War period have been worm by recipients with pride. All these medals were “unofficial” yet have been worn on many parades and no government or Veteran Council approval was required nor the desire to be “PC correct” was the nature of things.

More recent examples are the Dunkirk Commemorative Medal, issued to all veterans of the Dunkirk evacuation after the British Expeditionary Force was soundly defeated by the Germans early on in WWII.  Even today you find British Vets who wear their officially sanctioned WWII Medals and the Dunkirk Medal TOGETHER, and no one dares tell the Dunkirk Vets they are not to wear that medal. 


This 93 year old British Vet is a War hero who evaded the Nazi’s and escaped capture at Dunkirk and went on to serve in the forces against tyranny.He has framed his Official WWII Medals PLUS his Dunkirk Commemorative Medal … anyone going to deny him his Dunkirk medal ?




This group belongs to Pte Toogood, another who experienced the horrors of Dunkirk … are we going to call him a “Tin Soldier” as well ?





This group photo was taken at the Imperial Museum on the 70th Anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuations (taken on the 18th May 2010) ... the Vet 3rd from right is wearing his, and what is more remarkable he is wearing it SUPERIOR to his OFFICIAL WWII Medals !

Are you the purist going to deny any of these brave me his Dunkirk medal ? 


Whilst in the UK context, we even find court mounted official Service Medals with unofficial Legion instituted Commemorative Medals as common practise for ex-servicemen even today.

Official British WWII War Medal + Commemorative British National Service Medal Court Mounted.

 Are you the purist going to deny brave me WW2 conscript his medal? …. for these Vets hard times.

4th Example:  A further example is the ST Johns Medal, which during the Anglo Boer was  worn SUPERIOR to the QSA, and even today the Order of ST Johns Brothers wear their St Johns Medal SUPERIOR to their official medals - below the Order of St Johns medal SUPERIOR to the WWII Defence Medal which is an Imperial (government) authorised medal.


5th Example:  A current example pertaining to the SANDF is of this ex-SADF senior officer and later SANDF Colonel who is a highly respected expert on all matters Ceremonial. Here is this internationally renowned individual  and who is consulted on matters of protocol , medals and diplomacy wearing his official SADF medals with his Order of St Johns (a non SADF medal) on the same deck….and it’s all legitimate whilst a serving officer.

You can also see from the image below, taken when he was a serving officer, his “unofficial” association / organisation Medal is worn on the right chest.


Medals’ to the Non-statutory forces, a final note, and think carefully about this fact :

All the NON-STATUTORY   so called “Liberation forces” that were running around the bush (ANC, APLA, AZANIA Liberation Army…) proclaiming victory over the SADF left right and centre – they all wear chest full of medals today, handed out on a whim by the so called new SANDF … yet they were NOT a properly constituted force, and were never recognised as such….

So why should they be allowed to have a chest full of bling yet our own boys, many who received NOTHING, are being ridiculed by a small number of ex-SADF purists and who now want to deny these lads from being recognised by their own, because they are afraid of upsetting the current regime?

The current Regime does not give a FIG about you, the purist, so stop wasting your time trying to appease them, and the sooner the wider audience realises this, the better.

--------------------- a final thought ---------------------

So, if you are against it – DON’T BUY, but please don’t deny others who deserve a little recognition or those thousands’ who were maimed and injured and even those often forgotten loved ones of the boys who never came home … they will never get recognition. However through this initiative, we can extend thank you, whilst bringing a little light and closure into the lives of so many of our Veterans who are struggling through life. 

We hope this answers your queries adequately, "ouman groete" .......the Veterans who are trying to make it better.

Comments and opinions shared above are not necessarily those of SAMVOA or its members. They are the informed insight of ex-SADF servicemen, medal collectors, militiay historians and ceremonial experts.