The South Africa Medal (1879 SAM) was instituted in 1879 and was awarded by the British Government to members of the British Army and Royal Naval Brigade involved in a series of South African tribal wars between 1877 to 1879, but most notably for the Anglo-Zulu War made famous by the films Zulu (1964) and Zulu Dawn (1979). In 1854 Queen Victoria had given approval for the award of a South Africa Medal to members of the British Army who had served in any one of the three South African campaigns of 1835–36, 1846–47, or 1850–53, on the Eastern Frontier of the Cape Province. Designed by William Wyon and L.C. Wyon, the medal's obverse displays a 'Young Head' portrait of Queen Victoria wearing a coronet. The reverse shows a lion, half-crouching watchfully, behind a protea bush, with the date '1853' in the exergue. The medal's ribbon is golden yellow with dark blue stripes. In 1880 it was decided that this 1853 medal should be awarded to all personnel—Colonial volunteers and native levies as well as British regular forces—who had served in any of the campaigns in South Africa between September 1877 and December 1879, namely the Gaika–Galeka War, the Northern Border War, the 1st and 2nd Sekukuni Wars, the Moirosi's Mountain campaign in Basutoland, and the Anglo-Zulu War. A medal bar or clasp was to be attached to the suspender of the medal bearing the date or dates of the year or years in which the recipient had actually served in any of those campaigns. Any members of the military who had been mobilized in Natal but who had not crossed the Tugela River into Zululand, were to receive the medal without a bar. This included Naval shore parties. Army Order No 103 of August 1880, which instituted the new South Africa Medal, made no mention of any change in design of the 1853 medal. However, the date '1853' was replaced in the medal's reverse exergue by a military trophy consisting of a Zulu ox-hide shield and four crossed assegais. Participants in the Anglo-Zulu War received this medal without a bar if they remained on the Natal side of the Tugela River, or with the bar '1879' if they actually saw service in Zululand. Particularly sought after are medals awarded to members of the 24th Regiment of Foot involved in action at Rorke's Drift or Isandlhwana in January 1879.
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Original Source: National Archives reference WO100 series