South African Military History 

P.O. BOX 12926


Our Speaker on 11th January 2006 was Commander Mac Eoin Bisset who gave a talk on the British and South African campaign stars and medals of both world wars, well illustrated with slides.

He pointed out that the number of medals which veterans were awarded often depended on whether they were in the right place at the right time or not. He prefaced his talk by reading part of Mr. Winston Churchill's speech in the House of Commons on 22nd of March 1944 in which he had said how difficult it was drawing up regulations governing the awards which would satisfy as many veterans as possible.

In his first slide the three well known British campaign medals of the First World War were depicted: the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and the Allied Victory Medal 1914-1919.

South Africans who served in the German South West African Campaign received all three medals. A very small number of South Africans arrived in German East Africa before the end of 1915 and also received them. South Africans who served in the UDF during the 1914 Rebellion were not entitled to any medals for this service though most of them later served in German South West Africa and thus received the usual medals.

South Africans who served in the Senussi Campaign, on the Western Front, in East Africa after 1915, and in Russia during the Civil War received the British War and Victory Medals. Those who were mentioned in dispatches wore one oak leaf emblem on the Victory Medal regardless of the number of mentions they had received.

The speaker pointed out that most British Army and Air Force personnel who only served in England during the First World War received no medals, whereas Royal Navy personnel all received the British War Medal for the same services. The few exceptions were RAF airmen who took part in operations against Zeppelins and coast gunners who fired on German warships attacking coastal towns. Only a handful of South African airmen received the 1914 or Mons Star.

The speaker explained that when the first two Second World War campaign stars, the 1939-43 Star and Africa Star were instituted in 1944, it was decided that recipients could only receive one of them. This was later changed and the 1939-43 Star became the 1939-45 Star which was usually awarded for six months in an operational war zone. It could also be awarded for service of a shorter duration, for commando raids, service in Norway, at Dunkirk, Dieppe and Madagascar. (The latter campaign lasted for 5 months.) The colours of the ribbon represent the Navy, Army and RAF.

The Africa Star and Italy Star were awarded for operational service in these war zones. South Africans received the Africa Star for service in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somaliland and North Africa.

This star was also awarded to personnel who served on the island of Malta. Three clasps were awarded with this star: "1st Army", 8th Army" and "North Africa 1942-43".

Those who served in the Far East were eligible for the Burma or Pacific Stars, or if they qualified for both, the first one earned, and a clasp in place of the second star. Almost all of the South African recipients of the Pacific Star were in the Navy or Merchant Navy, and the most remarkable men were the former SATS GENERAL BOTHA cadets who served in a former Finnish barque which had been taken over as a prize of war by the Railways and Harbours and sailed between Australia and South Africa.

Air Crew who served in operations over Europe from 1939 to 5th June 1944 were eligible for the Air Crew Europe Star. Those who served on or after D-Day qualified for the France and Germany Star, or, if they had qualified for the Air Crew Europe or Atlantic Stars, a France and Germany clasp. In many instances air crews flying over Europe received only three medals as did naval personnel who served in the battle of the Atlantic.

For all who 'did their bit' in the Battle of Britain, the Blitz and served in England until VE-Day for a minimum of three years, there was the British Defence Medal. It was awarded to members of the Armed Services as well as the Home Guard, Police, Fire Services, Red Cross, St. John etc. (Bomb disposal personnel qualified after three months and Commonwealth citizen after six months).

Many South Africans qualified for the Defence Medal for six months service in Egypt after 12th May 1943 or in England. South Africans serving in the Union could qualify for the 1939-45 Star for service in the Navy in SA Waters as could SAAF crash boat personnel. SAAF air crews in the Union could qualify for the Atlantic Star for eight months service, whereas SA Naval Forces personnel had to serve for 12 months afloat before qualifying for the Star.

All members of the UDF in the Union qualified for the War Medal 1939-1945 (a minimum of 28 days service) and Africa Service Medal (a minimum of 30 days service) if they were full-time volunteers. Part-time personnel in the ACF and NRV (Active Citizen Force and National Reserve of Volunteers) were eligible for the Africa Service Medal if they had completed a minimum of 18 hours part-time service. The youngest members of the UDF were the boys in the Youth Training Brigade (some aged 14.1/2 years) and Junior Cape Corps.

For distinguished service in a war zone personnel could earn a mention in dispatches, oak leaf emblem, or for good work on the home front they could earn the King's Commendation Protea emblem.

Civilians were only eligible for the SA Medal for War Services 1939-45, and South Africa's only civil honour was the King's Commendation Protea emblem. A handful of civilians in the SAWAS received campaign stars and the War Medal 1939-45 for service in Italy.

The speaker spoke about the important role played by HM the King, Mr. Churchill and General Smuts in designing and instituting the awards and their own medal entitlements which were very similar. He also spoke about Major the Hon. Piet van der Byl and Miss Lucy Bean.

It was a most interesting talk showing Mac's expert and detailed knowledge on the subject and the audience was fascinated. If anyone would like to know more about this field of his research, Mac may be contacted at 021-686-6309.


Forthcoming Lectures:

9th February:
A Prussian Officer's Career from 1909 to 1947.

An illustrated Talk by Jochen Mahncke based on the Memoirs of General der Flieger a.d. Alfred Mahncke (1888-1979).
Part one: 1909 - 1933. Army-Pilot in 1911; in World War One service on Western and Eastern Fronts and Turkey; promoted to staff officer in Army and "Fliegertruppe" High Command, serving in east and west. Retired in 1919; joined Security Police in East Prussia. Lecturer at Higher Police Academy in Potsdam.

9th March:
My years as Naval Chaplain in Simon's Town and my service to the Army National Servicemen at Youngsfield.
Speaker: Bishop Reginald Cawcutt MMM:

13th April:

A study of military Operations in order to give the big picture of the night bombing raids of the RAF.
An illustrated Talk by Brigadier-General R.S. "Dick" Lord

11th May:
Illustrated Talk by Francois de Wet who researched the disappearance of three SAAF BLENHEIMS in North Africa in May 1942. His uncle, Major de Wet, was one of the pilots, and Francois travelled to Libya a few times to investigate the sad story. He will present his findings to our Society.

8th June:
In the footsteps of the South African Brigade 90 years on.
An illustrated Talk by Johan van den Berg.

13th July:
A detailed illustrated Talk by Simon Norton

14th Sept.:
Speaker: Major Helmoed Heitman

12th Oct.:
Speaker: Colonel Lionel Crook

August and November: Title of Talks to be advised


Meetings are held on the 2nd Thursday of each month, except December, at 20h00 in the Recreation Room of the SA LEGIONíS ROSEDALE COMPLEX, Lower Nursery Road (off Lisbeek Parkway/Alma Road - Traffic Light), opposite Rosebank Railway Station. Secure parking inside the premises. All visitors welcome. Tea and biscuits will be served.


Jochen (John) O.E.O. Mahncke, Vice-Chairman/Scribe,
Tel.: 021-797-5167

South African Military History Society /