South African
Medal Website
South African
Honours and Awards
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Updated: May 2006
© Arthur Radburn

Union of South Africa

The Union of South Africa was formed in May 1910 by the union of the four self-governing colonies: the Cape of Good Hope, Natal, the Orange Free State, and the Transvaal. South Africans were eligible for British civil honours, most of which ceased in 1925, after an Afrikaner-led government had taken office. In 1939, five years after the Union had become constitutionally independent, a small selection of royal decorations and medals was created. They all became obsolete when the Union became a republic in May 1961.


Queen's Medal for Bravery: Gold (1939-1970)
Originally (1939-52) the "King's Medal for Bravery", and unofficially referred to as the "Woltemade Medal". Awarded for great and exceptional gallantry in saving lives. Granted only once, to Francis Drake (1943), for rescuing a baby from a deep well.

Insignia: A circular gold medal, depicting the head of King George VI or Queen Elizabeth II (obverse), and Wolraad Woltemade on horseback rescuing shipwreck survivors from the sea (reverse).

Queen's Medal for Bravery: Silver (1939-1970)
For gallantry in saving lives. Altogether, 34 medals were awarded, the first recipient (1939) being William Dalling for bravery in trying to rescue a miner after an underground explosion. Half the total, i.e. 17 medals, were awarded for a single incident: rescue and salvage work following the explosion of the defence force's Grand Magazine in 1945.

Insignia: Same design as the gold medal, but in silver.

Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal (1953)
Issued throughout the Commonwealth, to commemorate the queen's coronation on 2 June 1953. 4500 medals were issued in SA, nearly half them to public servants. As Her Majesty was "Queen of South Africa", the medal is ranked as a South African award for purposes of precedence.

Insignia: A circular silver medal depicting Queen Elizabeth II (obverse) and the EIIR cipher and "Queen Elizabeth II Crowned 2nd June 1953" (reverse).

Union of South Africa Commemoration Medal (1910)
Issued to commemorate the opening of the first Union parliament in 1910. Some 580 medals were issued, most of them to civilians.

Insignia: A circular silver medal depicting the head of King George V (obverse) and the figure of Mercury at an anvil, forging a chain incorporating the arms of the four colonies (reverse). The choice of ribbon colours is interesting, because orange and blue did not become the national colours until the first national flag was adopted in 1928.

Royal Tour of South Africa Commemorative Medallion (1947)
Awarded by King George VI during his tour of South Africa in 1947, as an alternative to British orders and decorations which would have been politically awkward in the republican climate of the time. Issued in gold to the governor-general, cabinet ministers, and provincial administrators, and in silver to public servants, civic dignitaries, military and police officers, and African traditional leaders. Altogether, 544 medals were presented.

Insignia: A circular medallion, depicting King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (obverse) and a map of South Africa with "GRE - Koninklike Besoek - Royal Visit - 1947" (reverse). Only the medals awarded to the traditional rulers had ribbons, which were worn around the neck.

Source: WM Bisset - "Awards and Presents Given to South Africans during the 1947 Royal Tour" in SANS Journal No 9.

SA Medal for War Services (1945)
For voluntary unpaid service in various approved non-military organisations, such as the Red Cross and the Governor-General's War Fund, during World War II. Minimum qualification: two years, at least one of which had to be continuous.

Insignia: A circular silver medal displaying the SA national arms (obverse) and the dates 1939 and 1945 inside a wreath of proteas, encircled by the words "South Africa For War Services - Suid-Afrika Vir Oorlogsdienste" (reverse).

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