Research your Ancestors Awards and Decorations of the Second World War

Awards and Decorations of the Second World War

Nearly two hundred decorations and medals were issued throughout the world during the period of World War Two

The George Cross and the George Medal of Great Britain were first announced by H.M. King George VI in a broadcast on September 23rd, 1940.

Announcing the new awards from Buckingham Palace, the King said:

“Many and glorious are the deeds of gallantry done during these perilous but famous days. In order that they should be worthily and promptly recognized I have decided to create at once a new mark of honour for men and women in all walks of civilian life. I propose to give my name to this new distinction, which will consist of the George Cross, which will rank next to the Victoria Cross, and the George Medal for wider distribution.”

Queen Victoria had, or course, named the Victoria Cross after herself, and King Edward VII the Edward Medal (for acts of bravery by miners, quarrymen and industrial workers in mines and factory accidents and disasters) after himself, but this was the first time a Monarch had announced in person to his people the creation of a new decoration. The Cross and Medal (the former ranking second only to the V.C.) are awarded solely for acts of the greatest heroism or the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger, the degree required for the Cross being of a higher standard then for the Medal. When the ribbon of the Cross is worn alone, a small silver replica of the Cross is worn upon it.

Victoria Cross

Lloyd’s War Medal (instituted December 1940) was a distinction which was awarded to those who kept Britain’s life line open – the men of the Merchant Service. “Lloyd’s” the world centre of Marine Insurance made grants of the medal in case of exceptional bravery in the working of merchant ships or of the saving of lives of their crews. The colours of the ribbon are white with a broad blue stripe near each edge.

When the Airbourne (Airforce / flying) troops were formed it was found that in certain cases none of the existing flying decorations fitted their particular cases of heroism, and it was decided, therefore to extend the award of the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (a Naval award) to them. The Medal is of the same design as the Naval one, but the ribbon has a pale blue (instead of white) centre between dark blue edges.

The Air Efficiency Award (established in August 17th 1942) is granted for ten years’ meritorious service to airmen, airwomen and part-time officers in the Auxiliary and Volunteer Air Forces of the United Kingdom and the Territorial Air Forces and Air Force Reserves of the Commonwealth and Empire services, officers and men alike. It is the counterpart of the Royal Navy Volunteers and Territorial Decorations. The ribbon is dark green with two narrow pale blue stripes in the centre.

To recompense those of the Allied Nations or other foreign subjects who rendered service of eminent character in the cause of freedom and those who displayed gallantry in doing so, H.M. the King created on August 28th, 1945 two medals – King George’s Medals for Service in the Cause of Freedom – the ribbons of which had been designed by 1946.

Announcement in 1943 of the institution of two British Campaign Stars, followed in May 1945, by that of six other Stars and a Defence Medal to be awarded for service in the British Forces, was the occasion of general approval inasmuch as many other Allies had already gone far ahead in this matter. The Stars were named to indicate the territory covered. Regulations for these Stars, consolidated in May 1945, were further revised in June 1946. Briefly the qualifications for eligibility were as follows:

1939/45 Star.

1939/45 StarOriginally the 1939/43 Star (announced in 1943), the currency of this was in June 1946, prolonged to May 8th, 1945, and again (in June 1946) to September 2nd, 1945. Six months; service in an operational area was required to qualify; certain exceptions such as Commando raids, Air Crew service of two months and service brought to an end within these periods by death, wounds or other disability also qualified. The granting of an honour or mention in despatches was also a qualification. Air crews of fighter aircraft who took part in the Battle of Britain in 1940 wear a special distinction in the form of a gilt rose on the red portion of the ribbon. Also, the Bomber Command Clasp was belatedly instituted on 26th February 2013, for award to air crew members on aircraft who participated in at least one operational sortie in a Royal Air Force Bomber Command operational unit between 3rd September 1939 and 8th May 1945 inclusive. A silver rosette worn on the ribbon bar denotes the award of this clasp.

The ribbon has three vertical stripes of dark blue, red and light blue. The dark blue stripe represents the Naval Forces and the Merchant Navy, the red stripe the Armies and the light blue stripe the Air Forces. The ribbon for this medal, along with those of the other Second World War campaign stars, is reputed to have been designed by King George VI, with the three equal bands representing the equal contributions towards victory of the Royal Navy, Army, and the Royal Air Force respectively.

Atlantic Star.

Atlantic StarThe Atlantic Star award was primarily intended to commemorate the Battle of the Atlantic and was given to those who, also being eligible for the 1939/45 Star, served six months at sea in the Atlantic zone. If the bearer is also qualified for the France and Germany or Air Crew Europe Stars (or both) he wears a silver rose in the centre of the ribbon.

The Atlantic Star ribbon has shaded watered stripe of blue, white and sea green to signify the Atlantic.  Worn with the blue edge furthest from the left shoulder.


Air Crew Europe Star.

Air Crew Europe StarThe Air Crew Europe Star was awarded for two months’ service and least one operational sortie over enemy territory, but the 1939/45 Star must have been earned. Army personnel qualified for this star if they served on air crew duties for 4 months, and that 2 months of this minimum 4-month period had been operational flying over Europe, with at least one operational sortie. A silver rose indicates the wearer has also qualified for the Atlantic or France and Germany Star.

The ribbon for the Air Crew Europe Star is light blue with black edges and yellow stripes, representing continuous service by day and night.


Africa Star.

Africa StarThe Africa Star was granted for operational service of any length in North Africa from the time Italy entered the war (June 10th, 1940) to the date when the last enemy resistance in that continent ceased (May 12th, 1943). The emblems “8” and “1” worn on the ribbon indicate service with those respective armies. A silver rose (North Africa 1942–43 Clasp) was awarded for service with the 18th Army Group Headquarters who did not qualify for either of the numerals between 15th February, 1942 and 12th February ,1943 inclusive, for Navy and Merchant Navy personnel in shore service, or for Air Force service in specified areas from 23rd October, 1942 to 12th May 1943.

It is reputed to have been designed by King George VI. The sand of the desert is represented by pale buff, the Royal Navy (and Merchant Navy), British Army, and Royal Air Force are represented by stripes of dark blue, red, and light blue respectively.

Burma Star.

Burma StarThe Burma Star was awarded to the forces of the British Commonwealth, who had served in operations in the Burma Campaign between 11th December, 1941 and 2nd September, 1945, both dates inclusive. This campaign medal was also awarded for certain specified service in China, Hong Kong, Malaya and Sumatra. Those recipients awarded the Burma Star medal or the Burma Star clasps on the Pacific Star were able to join the Burma Star Association.

The ribbon of the Burma Star was dark blue overlaid with a central red stripe to represent the Commonwealth Forces and two narrow stripes of bright orange to represent the sun.

Pacific Star.

Pacific StarThe Pacific Star was a campaign medal of the British Commonwealth, awarded for service in the Pacific theatre of operations between 8th December, 1941, and 2nd September, 1945.  It was also awarded for certain specified service in China, Hong-Kong, Malaya, Sumatra and numerous Japanese held islands and territories.

The ribbon for the Pacific Star was a stripe of green bisected by a central narrow yellow stripe to symbolize the forests and beaches of the Pacific, one stripe of dark blue and one of light blue with red edges to represent the three services of the Navy, Royal Air Force and the Army. The medal is worn with the dark blue stripe furthest from the left shoulder.

Italy Star.

Italy StarThe Italy Star was a campaign medal of the British Commonwealth, awarded for service in World War II.

This medal was awarded for operational service in Sicily or Italy during the period 11th June 1943 to 8th May 1945. The applicable operational area for Army personnel was Aegean, Dodecanese, Corsica, Greece, Sardinia, Yugoslavia and Elba between 11th June 1943 and 8th May 1945. Service in Sicily after 17th August 1943, Sardinia after 19th September 1943 and Corsica after 4th October 1943 did not qualify. The eligibility criteria for the award of the Italy Star was different for service in the air, on land and on the sea.

The Italy Star Association 1943-45 is a thriving body in the United Kingdom. Each year on 10th July, a service of dedication and remembrance has been held at the Association’s national memorial in Westgate Gardens, Canterbury, Kent. That date specifically commemorates the anniversary of Allied troops landing in Sicily. Members also take part in the march past the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day in London every year. The motto of the Association is: "When you walk in peaceful lanes so green - remember us - and think what might have been" We do remember them.

The ribbon colours represent the Italian colours, which is white with a central green stripe and red edges.

France and Germany Star.

France and Germany StarThe France and Germany Star was awarded for operational services on land or in the air in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany and adjacent sea areas between June 6th, 1944 (D-Day) and the May 8th, 1945, the German surrender and end of active hostilities in Europe during World War Two. Also awarded for Naval and Merchant Navy service directly in support of these land operations.

Due to British uniform regulations, neither the Atlantic Star nor the Air Crew Europe would be awarded to a recipient of the France and German Star.  The recipient of this medal could wear a silver rose emblem on the ribbon of the first star they earned when wearing the ribbons without the medals attached.

The Clasp with the title ‘Atlantic’ was awarded to the recipient qualifying for the France & Germany Star and the Atlantic Star. This was attached to the ribbon of the France and German Star to show service rendered.  A second clasp to this Star was not awarded for ‘Air Crew Europe.

The ribbon of the France and Germany Star is coloured with five equal stripes of (from left to right) blue, white, red, white and blue.  These were chosen as being symbolic of the national colours of France, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom Union Flag.  Being noted that Belgium is not represented in the colours of this ribbon.

The Defence Medal.

The Defence MedalThe Defence Medal was instituted in May 1945 and intended to recompense all who – if in the Civil Defence Services – had served for over three years and those also in the Armed Forces who had served three years at home or more than one year abroad in non-operational areas. This ribbon bears silver laurel leaves if the wearer has been awarded a King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct (Civil). The colours of the ribbon are centre flame coloured with green edges, symbolical of the enemy attack on our green land. The black-out will be forever commemorated by two thin black stripes down the centre of the green one.


War Medal 1939-45

War Medal 1939-45The War Medal 1939–1945 was a British decoration awarded to all full-time service personnel of the Armed Forces wherever their service during the war was rendered.  Operational and non-operational service counted provided personnel had completed 28 days service between 3rd September 1939 and the 2nd September 1945. In the Merchant Navy there was the requirement that 28 days should be served at sea.

Personnel who were eligible for a campaign star yet who had their service cut short by death, wounds or capture by the enemy, still qualified for this medal. It is upon this ribbon that the Bronze oakleaf for Mention in Despatches and King’s Commendation (Air) are worn

It is sometimes described as the "Victory Medal" for World War II, although that is not its correct name.

The ribbon was coloured with a narrow red stripe in the centre, with a narrow white strip either side, broad red stripes at either edge and two intervening stripes of blue.  This is to represents the colours of the Union Flag.

India was specially selected, because of her great area and the diversity of service rendered by her troops, for the award of a separate medal entitled the India Service Medal, 1939/45, which was given to all after three years’ non-operational service. It could not be awarded in addition to the Defence Medal. It will be noted that the ribbon colours selected – light blue and dark blue – were those of the two premier Indian Orders, The Star of India and the Indian Empire.

Medal Designs.

Designs of the various stars were approved in March 1946, these six-pointed stars, bearing in the centre the Imperial cipher surmounted by a crown with, below, a scroll giving the name of the relative campaign. All eight stars are similar except for the name on the scroll. The metal is a bright coppery colour and a ring is provided for suspension from the ribbon

Campaign stars prepared by the Royal Mint for issue
Campaign stars prepared by the Royal Mint for issue

Did King George VI design the World War II Campaign medal ribbons?

Eight different campaign stars were issued for the Second World War. The ribbons are believed to have been designed by King George VI personally and have symbolic significance, this is a belief quite widely shared and given some credence by Alanbrooke 's War Diaries. In fact, they were designed by WWI veteran Peter O'Brien ARCA, Forces War Records has the full story from Peters son Michael O’Brien. Read ‘Did King George VI design the World War II Campaign medal ribbons’ in the Forces War Records Blogs.

Meanings of Different Parts Of Military Medals.

Military medals have been awarded to soldiers for hundreds of years. This will help guide you through all the parts and descriptions of campaign and gallantry medals. READ MORE HERE

Discover the meanings of different parts of medals



For over 200 years these Campaign Medal awards have marked the wars, battles, conflicts and campaigns fought by British and Imperial forces across the world.  It should be remembered that some of these campaign medals, especially the WWI medals, commemorate service in some of the bloodiest battles ever fought by British and Commonwealth forces in history.

With photographs and medals being one of the most common forms of memorabilia that a family may have of their military ancestors, the use of this article may help identify details of their military career.  One military photo or medal may look like another, though with a careful look one can reveal incredible details and information about a Serviceman’s past.   A look above the left tunic pocket will show if a Serviceman is wearing any medals or ribbons for gallantry, campaigns or long service and a good look at a medal will help identify where service was carried out in a particular campaign or other similar geographic region.  Some medals even have details like name, rank or ship engraved on them.  Once these details are known you can check our records or medal rolls for that period.

Do you know enough about your ancestors who fought in the First or Second World War?

Log on to Forces War Records and find out more - there could be a war hero in your family just waiting to be discovered, and remembered



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