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History How-to videos: Decoding medals

Updated Wednesday 14th February 2018

Medals don't just reward bravery - they tell the tale of the battles they were won in.

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Here at the History Detectives, we get sent all sorts of things, many of them with a military theme.

Researching military history can be quite time-consuming but it can also be really rewarding because the military keep excellent records. Success is all about doing your homework properly. Phil Wellbelove has sent us this photograph and medal.

He wants to know what this medal is for. It’s a substantial looking medal with three bars on it. All he knows is that this is his great grandfather. Well, to start with it’s quite easy to find out about the regiment, from the uniform he’s wearing.

In this case, by comparing pictures of other uniforms that we found on the web, we were able to find out that this one belonged to the Rifles Brigade.

Next we need to investigate the medal, again online you can find lists of them, photographs and crucially explanations for why they were given. It turns out this is the Queen’s Medal and it was awarded to everyone who served in South Africa between October 1899 and May 1902, in other words, during the Boer War.

And the bars on the medal? Well these relate to specific battles in Laings Nek and Belfast in South Africa.

So he was a rifleman in the Boer War and he served with distinction during two campaigns. It was easy to find that out once we knew the regiment, and you can get that information even from a photograph, as long as it’s got a uniform or even a cap badge.

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