New Zealand soldiers have seen combat in conflicts since colonial times, their valour earning many awards for service and gallantry. Sadly, impoverished circumstances saw many medals sold, separating the soldier’s descendants from the evidence of their relative’s bravery in those land, sea and air battles.
What price the loss of a your family’s military medal heritage ?
War medals are usually considered to be some of a family’s most treasured heirlooms (or taonga). They can represent a precious and sometimes very emotional connection to a deceased war veteran ancestor, a tangible link that becomes entrenched in a family’s heritage. Without due care and responsible guardianship of these medals, their loss can not only be traumatic and heart-breaking but also permanent !
As time moves on and because family dynamics and circumstances change over the years, there are a significant number of ancestor veterans descendant families who remain completely unaware they have ever had an ancestor who was awarded medals for military service. A number of medals from both World Wars and some smaller regional conflicts remain un-issued (returned, address unknown) or unclaimed from the Ministry of Defence despite more than 100 years having elapsed since the South African (Boer) War and start of the First World War.
War medal heirlooms tend to attract the most sentimental value when they are associated with events at which family can memorialize and honour the service of their veteran ancestor. A family’s pride is never more evident than if their veteran was decorated for an outstanding act of gallantry or bravery, particularly if the act resulted in the supreme sacrifice (death) being made, or the veteran was severely wounded or incapacitated, or had endured extreme hardship and privation which may well have affected them and their family for the rest of their lives. This is the real memorial value of medals to a family’s heritage … lest they forget.
Why do we return lost medals to families ?
Irrespective of the reasons medals are lost to families, it is our belief the rightful place of any war or service medal that is found or donated to us, is with a veteran’s surviving family or descendant kin… the reason for MRNZ’s existence. We research and endeavor to reunite every medal found, or donated to use to return, with a veteran’s kin. We do this both as a mark of respect and to honour the sacrifice and service, of deceased veterans. Returning medals to families or descendants can rekindle forgotten memories of a family veteran, and even alert descendants to an ancestor and their war service they never knew of. Reuniting lost war medals with families can also serve to educate younger family members of the reasons for the service and sacrifices of their war veteran ancestors, and the effects such service has on our way of life today.
Apart from reuniting medals with families, MRNZ will also undertake to return any ephemera that may (or may not) accompany medals. These could be: Certificates of Service, Memorial (‘death’) Plaques, Scrolls, ANZAC Commemorative or other service medallions, insignia, badges, identity (‘dog’) tags, service papers/letters, photographs and so forth.
Do you have a medal you would like returned to kin ?
If you have a medal that you would like returned to a veteran (if living) or a deceased veteran’s kin, MRNZ can definitely help you. We will undertake to rigorously research any medal we have and make every effort to reunite the medal (and/or ephemera) with the recipient (if a living veteran) or to trace a close surviving family member or descendant.
Named and Un-named medals
Military medals are usually named with a service number, rank, initials, surname and arm of service/corps/name of the deploying force (e.g. N.Z.E.F). They are officially engraved in a specific style, on the edge of circular medals and on the back of other shaped medals (e.g. Stars).
The good news is that all WW1 service medals were issued Named and so are easier to research to find descendant connections. Many NZEF soldiers however were single men working in NZ who had come from Australia, the UK and elsewhere around the world, which makes their descendants that much more difficult to locate.
The not so good news is that all WW2 service medals were issued Un-named and therefore there is only a slim chance of finding family or descendants unless their provenance or ownership can be proven by some other means, e.g. pay book or other documentation, photos etc accompanying the medals. WW2 service medals that are named have been done so after they were issued, either by the recipient or descendant. However, BEWARE of COUNTERFEIT ENGRAVED medals – these may take the form of either a genuine WW2 medal or commercial Replica/Copy that has been engraved. The style and method of engraving is generally a clear giveaway to the trained eye of counterfeited medals – seek professional guidance if in doubt.
Looking for your own family’s medals ?
If you are searching for the lost or missing medals of your family’s ancestors, first check the list of those veterans we are currently researching and have medals for that are listed on the Lost Trail page. You will also find some additional research hints in Useful Links