Meanings of Different Parts Of Military Medals


Obverse:         The side of the medal that usually bears the Sovereign’s head.  There are however a few medals which bear other heads, such as those awarded for Waterloo, the Sarawak Long Service Medal.  Also, early naval and military Long Service Medals bore no head.  In such cases the side with the design is usually considered to be the obverse.  

medal obverse
Medal obverse

 Reverse:               The opposite side to obverse.  This generally bears the design or inscription, and sometimes both.

Medal Reverse
Medal Reverse

Coinage Head:           This is the Sovereign’s head as used on coins. (see Obverse for picture)

Classic Head:            See above. (Medal reverse)

Rim:                           The raised part of the medal edge which prevents damage to the piece when it is laid flat.

Edge:                          The outside circumference of the medal which usually bears the recipient’s name, rank, reg etc.

Impressed:                 This means that the recipient’s details on the edge have been impressed.

Indented:                    This means that the recipient’s details on the edge have been indented.

Embossed:                 This means that the wording or matter referred to is raised, such as the recipient’s name on the reverse of the Abyssinian medals issued to Europeans.

Engraved:                  This means that the inscription of such matter as is found on the edge, such as the particulars of the recipient, is engraved.

Piece:                          This is the lower circular, or octagonal part of the medal.

Exergue:                     The space below the horizontal line on the reverse.

Claw:                          This is the fitting on the medal which joins it to the suspender.

Suspender:                 This is the fitting which takes the ribbon and joins on to the claw either rigidly, or in such a way as to enable the piece to be swivelled.  It can be found in the form of either plain, straight and ornate.  Some medals are suspended by a ring connecting the ribbon directly to the piece.

Medal suspender 'ornate' example
Medal suspender 'ornate' example

Ribbon:                      Medals are worn suspended from their own specific ribbons. These were first made of silk but cotton was increasingly used as the nineteenth century developed.  Their own colours often have a symbolic significance: the equal stripes of the ‘1939 to 1945 Star,’ for example, are dark blue to represent the service of the Royal and Merchant Navies, red, to represent that of the Armies and light blue to represent that of Air Forces.

1939-45 Star with Ribbon
1939-45 Star with Ribbon

Bars:                           They are single-faced metal bars carried on a ribbon attached to the medal, indicating the recipient’s service in a particular campaign or battle.  The bars carry side flanges to enable them to be attached to the medal and riveted to each other, so that new ones can be attached as earned.  Usually the first earned Clasp is closest to the medal, so that the latest earned should be at the top, although they can be found in the wrong order. For example, the Queen’s South Africa Medal had twenty-six bars issued.  The bars come in different patterns, plain rectangular, thin, or wide, fishtail as used on the China, 1860, and Indian Mutiny Medals.  In some cases, like the 1914 Star the bar was affixed to the ribbon.

Medals with 'bars'
Medals with 'bars'

Clasp:                         This is another term used to quote the bars awarded of the recipients (as above, see picture).

Rosettes:                     These are small circular roses placed on the ribbon when it is worn alone, this rosette denotes award of the clasp.

Medal ribbon with attached Rosette
Medal ribbon with attached Rosette

Oak Leaf:                   Soldiers of the British Empire or the Commonwealth of Nations who are mentioned in dispatches but do not receive a medal for their action, are nonetheless entitled to receive a certificate and wear a decoration.  Soldiers can be mentioned multiple times.  Award of a Mention ranked below MC or MM and could be for gallantry in action or for a wide range of services on and off the battlefield.

Oak leaf
Oak leaf - Mentioned In Despatches

Ears:                           These are the fitting at both ends of the bars to enable subsequent bars to be fitted.

Group:                       This means a group of medals awarded to one individual. 

Medal group
Medal group

Available for purchase from Forces War Records are a range of official military replacement medals from WWI and WWII. Made to a very high standard, the medals are sourced from an MOD approved supplier with a very subtle "copy" stamp on the reverse which is blended into the design work.


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