Following on from my previous article ‘The World War I Memorial Plaque’ this one covers the first of the four main medals issued to those who fought in the Great War.
The 1914 Star was the first campaign medal that could be awarded for fighting in the Great War and was first authorised under Special Army Order no. 350 in November 1917 and by an Admiralty Fleet Order in 1918, for the award to officers and men of the British and Indian Expeditionary Forces, doctors and nurses as well as Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Royal Navy Reserve and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve who served ashore with the Royal Naval Division in France or Belgium.
It is a bronze four-pointed star with two crossed swords, blades pointed upwards with the points and hilts forming what appear to be four additional points to the star. The swords are overlaid by an oak leaf wreath with the cypher of George V at the base of the wreath and a scroll around the swords inscribed AUG – 1914 – NOV. These dates refer to Britain’s declaration of war against the Central Powers (5th August 1914), and the end of the First Battle of Ypres (22nd November 1914) with the medal being issued to those who served in France or Belgium between these dates. The reverse of the medal is usually stamped with the recipient’s service number, rank, name and unit.
Later, on 16 October 1919, a clasp for the 1914 Star was instituted as published in Army Order no. 361 of 16 October 1919. This clasp, together with two small silver heraldic rosettes, was awarded to those who had served under fire or who had served within range of enemy artillery in France or Belgium during the period during the same qualifying dates for the 1914 Star. The clasp itself was also made of bronze and inscribed ‘5th AUG–22nd NOV 1914’ and was sewn onto the medal ribbon. A silver rosette was also sewn onto the medal ribbon of red, white and blue colours of the flag of the United Kingdom in shaded and watered bands. When the ribbon bar alone was worn, recipients of the clasp to the medal wore a small silver rosette button on the ribbon bar.
The majority of recipients of the 1914 Star were officers and men of the pre-war British army, specifically the British Expeditionary Force who became known as the Old Contemptibles. The BEF landed in France soon after the outbreak of the war and took part in the Retreat from Mons, hence the medal’s nickname “Mons Star”. The term ‘Old Contemptibles’ arose from an order allegedly issued by Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany who was famously dismissive of the BEF, to “exterminate … the treacherous English and walk over General French’s contemptible little army”. No evidence has been found to substantiate that this order was ever given but the British soldiers of the BEF took some pride in being members of the Old Contemptibles. The BEF were responsible for assisting the French to hold back the German army while new recruits could be trained and equipped. The battles they fought in included the battle of Mons, the retreat to the Seine, the battles of Le Cateau, the Marne, the Aisne and the first battle of Ypres.
Altogether, 365,622 medals were awarded, but the exact number of 1914 Stars awarded with a clasp is unknown since the clasp had to be claimed personally by the recipients, of whom a large number had either died before 1919 or neglected to apply. Approximately 145,000 clasps were awarded. Of the 365,622 medals that were issued, 160 were awarded to members of the 2nd Canadian Stationary Hospital and a small number of attached Canadians who served with the BEF from 6th November 1914. The 1914 Star was never awarded on its own. Recipients of this medal also received the British War Medal and Victory Medal but did not qualify to also receive the similar 1914–15 Star since nobody could be awarded both the 1914 Star and the 1914-15 Star.
These three medals, with either Star included, were sometimes irreverently referred to as ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’, after three comic strip characters, a dog, a penguin and a rabbit, which were immensely popular in the immediate post-war era and coincided with the issue of the medals. The cartoon scripts were written by Bertram J. Lamb and illustrated by Austin Bowen Payne first appearing in the Daily Mirror 12th May 1919. Both of these men served as officers in the Great War and the naming of the characters in the strip is due to Austin Payne’s wartime batman who for unknown reasons was known as “Pip-Squeak”. The comic strip was a big success during the 1920s and Payne continued to illustrate the comic until his retirement in 1953. He died at his home at Herne Bay, Kent, in 1959.
© Mr QM 2018