We have a lot of medals. You’d expect that from a military museum. When we look at our collection it very much falls in to three almost equal parts: paper, medals and the rest. So medals make up an important and large part of our collections. But, for the most part, they are a mystery. Most people know medals exist, but are a bit hazy on why they were awarded and their significance to the recipient. Because of this, we have dedicated a whole display in the Museum to medals.
What are the different types of medals?
Campaign medals started being awarded in the late 18th century. They were awarded to soldiers for taking part in a particular battle or campaign. The battle of Waterloo in 1815 was the first event to be acknowledged by a universal medal issued by the State. Find out more from our Medals display at the Museum.
Decorations were awarded from the mid-19th century. They were awarded for distinguished service. For extreme acts of bravery, a new award, the Victoria Cross, was introduced in 1854. Find out more from our Medals display at the Museum.
Orders are some of the oldest and most valued awards, some of which date back to the Middle Ages. In more modern times, senior military commanders have been made members of various Orders. As Britain’s army expanded from the 18th century, so the number of soldiers who had distinguished themselves grew. Find out more from our Medals display at the Museum.
What makes a medal special or different?
In our Medals display at the Museum we talk about the different parts of medals and what makes them different. The ribbons are the most striking feature – many are brightly coloured, and they are all different. The clasps or bars, suspension and the medals themselves make each medal unique too. We talk about this in detail in our Medals display at the Museum.
What medals do we hold?
We have an example of every campaign medal awarded to The Black Watch, from Seringapatam in 1799 to Afghanistan in 2011. We also have a wide variety of orders and decorations. We have a mostly complete list of all our medals on the Collections descriptions pages of our website.
How to access
Like the rest of our collections, we are happy for members of the public to ask to see items in store for research or personal reasons. In both cases, please make an appointment.
For researchers, we will make the medals available in our Research Room and a small donation will apply – see our website for full details.
If you think we hold medals of a family member, please get in touch with the Museum Team so we can check: firstname.lastname@example.org or 01738638152 and dial option 4. And if you want to come in to see the medals (and take photos and so on) we’d be happy to make an appointment with you.
I have some medals but have no idea what they are – help!
We get lots of people asking for assistance in identifying medals. It can be confusing when they are a similar shape or design as another! We made up a webpage to help identify the most commonly awarded medals. And we’d recommend this excellent Wikipedia reference page that will help with other medals too.
- The medals I have say “RHrs” for Royal Highlanders – but I thought my relative served in The Black Watch.
The Black Watch has had many names of the years – the 43rd (briefly!), the 42nd and Royal Highlanders, to name but a few. First World War medals are inscribed with the abbreviation of Royal Highlanders because that was the official title at the time.
My medals don’t have anything inscribed on them.
Unlike all other medals and decorations, Second World War medals were not inscribed when they were issued. It means it is very difficult to know whose medals are whose. Make sure to keep the medal set you have together, with a note of who they were awarded too, along with any other documentation from their service – this will act as provenance for the medals in the future.