Scores of medals lost & found every year …
Every year countless medals of all types are lost and found throughout New Zealand and around the world; many thousands more are bought, sold, or auctioned to the highest bidder for profit.
If your family has either lost medals, or does not know where the medals that once belonged to an ancestor are, there is a good chance they could now be in the hands of someone else, anywhere in the world.
Medals become ‘lost’ or ‘missing’ under all sorts of circumstances such as, accidentally misplaced, falling from clothing (possibly the result of the medal bar clip failing), abandon (thrown away), stolen, sold by an impoverished family member, or disposed of because they are no longer significant to the family.
Some of the more common places war medals can be found are at outdoor markets, in second-hand or antique shops, coin and medal dealers, on the Internet, during house removals or deceased estate clearances, being dug up, and found in waterways.
Whether misplaced or disposed of, the chances of recovering these family heirlooms, particularly if they are un-named, is remote and therefore probably a permanent loss of family heirlooms to future generations.
Finding your family’s lost medals …
The Internet provides a vast array of information that can help you research both your ancestors and any medals they were either presented or were entitled to. A combination of government department resources, free websites and commercial research tools provide plenty of assistance for the researcher.
Starting your search …
The following guidelines provide a proven sequence of research to find the primary information you require when building a picture of any New Zealand military veteran, their medals and family or descendant kin. This same research methodology can be followed for veterans serving with the military forces of other countries, e.g. New Zealanders who served with the Australian or British armed services. In most cases knowing where to look makes further in-depth research possible.
Understanding the basics … Service identity numbers
Since the Anglo-Boer War, soldiers have been primarily identified by a number assigned to them to avoid confusion of identity e.g. between Pte AK Bloggs and Pte AJ Bloggs, and for security purposes. Due to the relatively small numbers that went to the Boer War, a 1-4 digit number prefixed wit ‘SA’ was assigned to each soldier. A revised system was required for WW1 due to the huge numbers of personnel involved. The following will help you to understand the systems used for identifying personnel and formations within the NZEF (WW1) and 2NZEF (WW2) . After WW2 military organisations have used much the same personnel identifying system with only minor variations. Some formations, e.g. mounted formations (NZ Mounted Rifles) and some of the soldier ranks (e.g. Lance Sergeant) were made obsolete in order to reflect new roles and unit structures of the post WW1 New Zealand armed services.
Identity Discs (or ‘Dog Tags’)
Dog Tags (colloq – ‘dead man’s meat tags’) is the informal but common term for the identification discs worn by military personnel, because of their resemblance to animal registration tags. They are worn about the neck. Each tag is impressed with identical personal information about the service person such as, Service (WW1 – NZ Mil Forces; WW2 – NZ), identity number (which also indicated the unit until 1916), surname and initials, blood type and religion (if applicable). Many early tags were personalized/ home-made or manufactured by commercial traders as mementos whilst on leave.
WW1 ‘dog tags” were made of pressed tin (a circular disc). One disc only was issued from 1914-15; in 1916 two discs were compulsorily issued. From the latter part of WW1 identity discs became ‘tags’ – they were made from fireproof, non-degradable fibrous material of different shapes: Number 1 Tag (a red circular disc) and Number 2 Tag (green/grey octagonal shaped tag). They commonly contained identical information on both – one tag (circular) was designed to be collected from a soldier’s body for notification purposes, and the second Tag (octagonal) designed to remain with the corpse when battle conditions prevent it from being immediately recovered. This Tag was also used for identifying the contents of a coffin, being nailed to the lid.
The New Zealand Expeditionary Force “Dog Tag” format:
- Service [use of NZ preceded the service number ]
- Service Number
- Surname & Initials
- Religious Preference [RC = Roman Catholic; ANG or CE = Anglican, etc]
- Blood Group (e.g. A. Pos)
- NZ, NZ. Mil. Forces (WW1), or just NZ (from WW2)
- 12/854, or 425379
- JOHNSTON. J.K.
- B. POS
Interpreting NZ Military Service Numbers
WW1 – NZEF
On the outbreak of WW1, the New Zealand Armed Forces adopted a system of numbering soldiers for identification and security purposes by assigning each a ‘regimental number’. Each soldier’s regimental number was initially based upon their enlistment/assigned unit. This system, known as the ‘bar’ numbering system, remained in use until the 10th Reinforcements was to be formed at which time the unit identifying number & ‘bar’ were replaced with a simple 4 figure numbering system.
The unit identification number (1-26) preceded the ‘bar’ (/) and was followed by a 4 digit number. The smaller the ‘after bar’ number, the earlier the enlistment. e.g.:
7 / 55 = Canterbury Mounted Rifles (very early enlistment)
16 / 1537 = Maori Battalion / 1537
Note: Soldiers who went to Gallipoli usually had a ‘bar’ service number.
Occasionally a service number was succeeded by the letter ‘A’ or ‘B’ e.g.: 6432 A. The ‘A’ usually denoted soldiers who had enlisted in the UK, and ‘B’ denoted a service number that was a duplicate of one that had already been assigned e.g.: 7719 B
WW2 – 2 NZEF
NZ Army – numbers were generally of five or six figures, the first two numbers in the early years of the war denoting the year of enlistment, e.g. * 425379.
RNZAF – all service numbers were preceded by NZ, e.g. NZ 425379 and later NZ 778653
RN – New Zealanders serving as members of the Royal Navy were assigned a RN number, usually a letter and a four of five digit number, e.g. C 3064. The letter denoted the home port the sailor was based.
* The term ‘Regimental Number’ is commonly used in Army circles and applies only to a soldier’s Army identity numbers; Navy and Air Force personnel numbers are referred to simply as Service Number or Number.
WW1 – NZEF Unit Identification Numbers
|1 – Samoan Advance Force||14 – Army Service Corp Divisional Train|
|2 – New Zealand Artillery||15 – New Zealand Headquarters|
|3 – New Zealand Medical Corps||16 – Maori Battalion|
|4 – New Zealand Engineers||17 – Veterinary Corps|
|5 – New Zealand Army Service Corps||18 – Chaplains Department|
|6 – Canterbury Infantry||19 – Samoan Relief Infantry|
|7 – Canterbury Mounted Rifles||20 – Samoan Mounted Relief|
|8 – Otago Infantry||21 – Pay Department|
|9 – Otago Mounted Rifles||22 – Nursing Corps|
|10 – Wellington Infantry||23 – 1st Battalion, Rifle Brigade|
|11 – Wellington Mounted Rifles||24 – 2nd Battalion, Rifle Brigade|
|12 – Auckland Infantry||25 – 3rd Battalion, Rifle Brigade|
|13 – Auckland Mounted Rifles||26 – 4th Battalion, Rifle Brigade|
WW1 – NZEF Formation, Unit and Rank Abbreviations
|NZEF||New Zealand Expeditionary Force|
|NZEF (Samoa Adv. F)||NZ Samoan Advance Force|
|NZRB||NZ Rifle Brigade|
|NZMR / Bde.||NZ Mounted Rifles or Rifle Brigade|
|NZMR||NZ Mounted Rifles|
|NZFA||NZ Field Artillery|
|NZMGC, R, S||NZ Machine Gun Corps, Regiment, Section|
|NZMC||NZ Medical Corps|
|NZE||New Zealand Engineers (e.g. Tunneling Company)|
|NZANS||NZ Army Nursing Service|
|NZVS||NZ Volunteer Sisterhood|
|VI (NZ) Corps.||e.g. 6th (NZ) Corps|
|3 Bgde., Bde.||e.g. 3rd Brigade|
|Battn., Btn., Bn.||Battalion|
|Btty., Bty.||Battery (of guns – approx 3-6)|
|Att., Det.||Attachment; Detachment|
|Sectn., Sect.||Section (6-8 soldiers)|
|3 Reinf.||e.g. 3rd Reinforcements|
|AIB||Auckland Infantry Battalion|
|WIB||Wellington Infantry Battalion|
|CIB||Canterbury Infantry Battalion|
|OIB||Otago Infantry Battalion|
|AIR||Auckland Infantry Regiment|
|WIR||Wellington Infantry Regiment|
|CIR||Canterbury Infantry Regiment|
|OIR||Otago Infantry Regiment|
|NZMR||NZ MOUNTED RIFLES|
|AMR||Auckland Mounted Rifles|
|WMR||Wellington Mounted Rifles|
|CMR||Canterbury Mounted Rifles|
|OMR||Otago Mounted Rifles|
|RANKS & APPOINTMENT- NZEF and 2 NZEF|
|Pte., Pvt.||Private (all Corps)|
|Rflmn., Rflm.||Rifleman (Infantry)|
|Trpr., Tpr.||Trooper (Mounted Rifles – Infantry)|
|Bmdr., Bdr.||Bombardier (Artillery)|
|Spr.||Sapper (Engineer; Tunneller)|
|Drvr., Dvr.||Driver (Service Corps)|
|Sig.||Signaller (Signal Corps)|
|Pnr.||Pioneer (an Infantry field engineer)|
|NCOs||Non-Commissioned Officers (collective – Junior or Senior)|
|JNCO||Junior Non-Commissioned Officer (e.g. Cpl >)|
|L/Cpl., LCpl.||Lance Corporal (first NCO rank)|
|Farr.||Farrier – eg, Farrier Cpl|
|SNCO||Senior Non-Commissioned Officer (e.g. Sjt >)|
|L/Sjt., LSjt.||Lance Sergeant|
|Q.M/Sjt., Q.M.S||Quartermaster Sergeant|
|R.Q.M., R.Q.M.Sjt., R.Q.M.S||Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant|
|S/Sjt., SSjt., SSgt.||Staff Sergeant|
|C/Sjt., CSjt.||Colour Sergeant|
|S/Maj, Sjt. Maj, Sgt. Maj.||Sergeant Major (an appointment, not a rank)|
|WO I, II, or III||Warrant Officer, Class 1, 2 or 3 (not a commissioned rank)|
|S.S.M, B.S.M, C.S.M, R.S.M.||Squadron, Battery, Company, Regimental – Sergeant Major (Warrant Officers)|
|Offr.||Officer (commissioned rank)|
|2nd Lt., 2Lt.||Second Lieutenant (first commissioned rank)|
|Capt., Capt. (QM)||Captain; Captain Quartermaster|
|Maj., Maj. (QM)||Major; Major Quartermaster|
|Lt. Col.||Lieutenant Colonel|
Common Abbreviations found in all Service Records
Some common abbreviations you might come across when researching New Zealanders in the First and Second World Wars:
- AA – anti-aircraft
- ADS – advanced dressing station
- AEF – American Expeditionary Force
- AFC – Australian Flying Corps
- AIF – Australian Imperial Force
- ANZAC – Australian and New Zealand Army Corps
- AWOL – absent without leave
- BEF – British Expeditionary Force
- BL – breech-loading
- CB – confined to barracks
- CCS – casualty clearing station
- cwt – hundredweight (50.8 kg)
- DCM – Distinguished Conduct Medal
- DFC – Distinguished Flying Cross
- DSM – Distinguished Service Medal
- DSO – Distinguished Service Order
- EEF – Egyptian Expeditionary Force
- FANY – First Aid Nursing Yeomanry
- FP1 – Field Punishment No 1
- FP2 – Field Punishment No 2
- HE – high-explosive
- GHQ – general headquarters
- HMNZHS – His Majesty’s New Zealand Hospital Ship
- HMNZT – His Majesty’s New Zealand Transport
- HMS – His Majesty’s Ship
- HMT – His Majesty’s Transport
- HS – Hospital Ship
- ICC – Imperial Camel Corps
- IHL – imprisonment with hard labour
- IJN – Imperial Japanese Navy
- IWGC – Imperial War Graves Commission
- MDS – main dressing station
- MEF – Mediterranean Expeditionary Force
- MID – mentioned in despatches
- Mk – Mark (as in type)
- ML – muzzle-loading
- MO – medical officer
- NCO – non-commissioned officer
- NYDN – not yet diagnosed – nervous
- PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder
- QAIMNS – Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service
- QF – quick-firing
- RAF – Royal Air Force
- RAP – regimental aid post
- RFC – Royal Flying Corps
- RNAS – Royal Naval Air Service
- RSA – Returned Soldiers’/Services’ Association
- SMS – Seiner Majestät Schiff (‘His Majesty’s Ship’)
- SS – steam ship
- TSS – twin screw steamer
- USSCo – Union Steam Ship Company
- VAD – Voluntary Aid Detachment
- VC – Victoria Cross
- VD – venereal disease
- WFF – Western Frontier Force
- YMCA – Young Men’s Christian Association
Cenotaph Database – First World War Military Service Records
The best place to start your research is here – by entering the service number or surname/initials of your veteran into the Auckland Museum’s Cenotaph Database here http://muse.aucklandmuseum.com/databases/cenotaph/locations.aspx all like surnames in the database will be delivered. It contains both Anglo-Boer (South African) War and WW1 service records of servicemen and women which can be accessed via this site or the Auckland War Memorial Museum website. It will soon also be available on the Discovering Anzacs website (see below). Select the name or service number you want and a Cenotaph Record with the basic details of origin, enlistment and service dates & locations, where served, and fate (if killed) will be shown. At the bottom of the Record you will see Archives NZ source / Military Personnel File which indicates the presence of a digitized personal file of the veteran which you can access through that link.
Service records range in volume from a few pages providing sparse details of enlistment and discharge, while others are very comprehensive. If a soldier was hospitalized the record will contain these details but exactly where the soldier fought and what action he was involved in is usually not included.
The New Zealand Government has digitize all WW1 personnel files to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the start of WW1 making them freely available on-line. The records also include New Zealanders who served in the Royal Navy and Royal Flying Corps as well as doctors and nurses and the numerous volunteer who supported operations at the front.
Files from the Queen Mary’s Auxiliary Corps, the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry and Red Cross volunteers include such information as: next of kin, enlistment, embarkation and discharge dates, length of service in New Zealand and overseas, postings to military units, promotion, medal entitlements and decorations, gratuity payments made to them or their family after the war. Marriage, children and address details are also often recorded.
Second World War Military Service Records
The same resource can also be used to track down a WWII service person. Most WWII records have not yet been digitized but they can be requested for a fee via the Archway site or from the NZ Defence Force Archives. For this fee the file will be digitized, loaded onto Archway and thereafter be available to anyone. The Cenotaph Record page should also have the link but as mentioned above a few files are missing.
No Records Found
If you find that there is no record of your ancestor veteran on the Cenotaph website, if a file exists (a few soldiers have no records at all) you can access the file through the NZ Archives (Archway) website unless it remains classified for some reason.
Medal Records – NZ and Australia
For those interested in the WW1 medals awarded to an individual, the first page of all WW1 NZ service persons files contain a stamp indicating the medals issued and a date actioned, sometimes details of an address to where the medals were sent, acknowledgment of their receipt, plus the details of any Memorial Plaque and Scroll which was sent to the next of kin of those soldiers who were killed or died as a result of their war service.
For WW1 Australian service persons, the Australian War Memorial (AWM) website contains these records. The last page of the file (sometimes the first page of the file) generally will show three stamps which are in the shape of the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. These stamps will have a number on them to indicate the schedule number which authorized the award of the medal, who it was delivered to, and who signed for it. If the initials ‘NE’ are on the stamp this means the individual was ‘Not Entitled’ to receive the medal. There may also be copies of the receipts for the medal.
If an individual was awarded a bravery or gallantry medal, the citation may also be included in their service record.
Archives New Zealand (Archway) – military records from all wars
Currently the best resource/repository for researching any New Zealand WW1 and WW2 servicemen and women’s military records is the NZ Archives Archway searching aid at http://www.archway.archives.govt.nz/
You can also access the names of the hundred or so persons who served in all three conflicts – Anglo-Boer War, WW1 and WW2 through New Zealand History Online here http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war-and-society
“WW100” – WW1 Research Tools
The following site is also an excellent source www.ww100.today | WW1 Research Tools and links the primary research facilities in New Zealand and Australia, and provides a detailed methodology to research New Zealand, Australian military and Mercantile Marine personnel records from the Anglo-Boer (South African) War through to and including WW2. You can also use the following link: http://armouryinfocentre.wordpress.com/home/army-new-zealand-expeditionary-force/ww1-nz-unit-histories/
This website is jointly maintained by Archives New Zealand and the National Archives of Australia. It has a unique profile of every Anzac soldier who enlisted in the First World War, linked to their service record (where these exist) here: http://discoveringanzacs.naa.gov.au/
Unit War Diaries
An individual’s service record does not usually provide much information about the actions an individual fought in. If a soldier was wounded or killed the record might only say that it occurred at Gallipoli or in France.
The unit war diaries of the unit an individual served in might provided more detail about what actually occurred. The unit war diaries are held at Archives New Zealand: http://archives.govt.nz/research/guides/war and are accessible on request. By comparing the date of wounding or death that is given in the service record and locating the corresponding date in the war diary should provide additional information.
All of these records tend to provide narrow insights about an individual at various points in time. It is the ability to follow the person as they marry, move from one address to another, have children and who they live with that provides the clues for Medals Reunited New Zealand to eventually make contact with the current generation.
Genealogy based websites like Ancestry.com.au – https://ancestry.com.au/new zealand (which focuses on New Zealanders and Australians) or Find My Past: http://www.findmypast.com.au/ are essential for these searches by providing access to historical records that would otherwise not be available.
Electoral rolls, phone directories, immigration records, embarkation rolls, prisoners of war lists, orders & decorations awarded, medal rolls and rolls of honour also help to build a veteran’s story of their past which we can use to answer the mysteries and questions of the present.
MRNZ also makes extensive use the following on-line resources:
- Historical Births, Deaths and Marriage: These records can be found on the NZ Internal Affairs website at: https://bdmhistoricalrecords.dia.govt.nz/Home/ There are time limitations that limit access associated with these searches and an actual Certificate or a Print Out is required for complete dates and detail. Historical record access is free however, for privacy reasons, researching current generations will require a fee for access, and/or for copies of certificates and printouts. Print Outs cost less than a certificate and often contain more information than the official Certificate.
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission: http://www.cwgc.org/ provides information about where servicemen that died are buried and the next of kin details. The CWGC can also provide a photograph of the cemetery and headstone, on request (small fee applies).
- National Library of New Zealand: http://natlib.govt.nz/collections/a-z/alexander-turnbull-library-collections provides access to documents and photographs that could be invaluable in your research. Through this site you can access the Alexander Turnbull Library Collections: https://natlib.govt.nz/collections/a-z/ which hold New Zealand’s national documentary heritage collections, including both published and unpublished items.
- Papers Past: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast contains more than three million pages of digitized New Zealand newspapers and periodicals. The collection covers the years 1839 to 1945 and includes 83 publications from all regions of New Zealand. It is a great source for names that have made the news and often provides the names of other family members, e.g. in Honour Rolls, Casualty Lists, birth, marriage death notices, etc.
- Trove: The National Library of Australia has an equivalent website called Trove which provides access to newspaper archives: http://trove.nla.gov.au/
Other sites that will help to build the picture of your WW1 ancestor:
Mapping Our Anzacs: http://mappingouranzacs.naa.gov.au/default.aspx is an Australian site and is a very good for finding records of New Zealanders who served in the Australian Imperial Force (1st AIF & 2nd AIF), particularly Gallipoli veterans, and can be accessed directly from this page.
ANZACs Online: http://anzacsonline.net.au/ is another Australian on-line military museum which displays photographs, diaries and letters, relating to the many Australians who served in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) during WW1.
You can also find a number of other useful and related links here: Useful Links