Every year countless medals and military ephemera of all types are lost and found throughout New Zealand and around the world.
Many thousands more are traded on the internet and through medal dealers and by members of the public. Most of these transactions are either acquisitions for private collections or sales to the highest bidder via internet auctions. Medal collecting and trading is now big business and very large sums of money change hands between dedicated collectors world-wide.
War medals from the Boer and First World Wars are now well over 100 years old and for many years were ignored, given to kids to play with, swapped or sold off as seemingly unimportant trinkets. As families died out, veterans of the first and second world wars died, and families fractured for any number of reasons, medals regularly turned up in second-hand shops, at markets, school white elephant stalls, in the hands of children. The availability of medals and their relative low cost attracted collectors and traders alike who recognised the value potential of named war service medals and so began snapping them up for profit. By amassing medals and holding them for long enough, medals appreciate more quickly as they became harder to get. Scarcity meant collectors seeking named medals to complete a ‘broken’ group (medals missing from those awarded) meant an inflated price above the market rate could be wanted in order to buy them back. For many, medal collecting has become their superannuation plan, to be sold off at a time of the owner’s choosing. This of course also means the opportunity for families to find their veteran ancestor’s missing medals can be severely limited.
With the public’s general awareness of the increased value of military medals, we now see both named (WW1) and unnamed (WW2) medals, as well as associated ephemera, targeted by opportunist thieves and burglars, as well as a number who will ‘steal to order.’ It is a sad reality that many family medals have not been treated as valued taonga or safeguarded in perpetuity for future family generations. Finding a lost or missing medal is now very much a matter of luck.
The good news is that medals are still found or handed in to RSAs and the Police frequently. Some of the more common places medals are found: at weekend markets, second-hand dealers or antique shops, coin and medal dealers, on the internet (eBay, Trade-me etc), during house moves, with the personal effects of a deceased person’s estate. Medals are also dug up, found in waterways, the sea, on the road, in parks and at the dump.
Whether accidentally misplaced or permanently lost, abandoned (deliberately disposed of), sold or gifted to someone, the chances of recovering medals once they have left a family’s custody is remote. If your missing medals include a state order (e.g. Q.S.M., MBE etc), a gallantry or meritorious service decoration or some other rarity, the chances of recovery are even less than for war service medals. Worse still, if the medals were not named (such as the WW2 campaign and service medals) you have no chance of getting the originals back. Without a name, even if medals that might be yours are found, you may still have to prove ownership, particularly for Police. I cannot stress enough – know where your family medals are at all times and ensure they are out of sight and secured when not being worn.
Looking for your family’s missing medals
The Internet provides a vast array of information that can help you research your ancestors military and war service and the medals they were awarded. A combination of free internet information and websites, government department information and resources, and commercial (Pay Per View) research tools provide plenty of options to assist a researcher.
Starting your search
Before starting your search, check our Medals~LOST + FOUND pages for any of your ancestor’s medals that could be among those we currently hold.
The following guidelines will 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, family and descendant kin. This same research methodology can be followed for NZ 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 familiarity with knowing where to look makes further in-depth research possible.
Understanding the basics …
Identity Discs (aka ‘dog-tags’)
Dog Tags (colloq: ‘dead man’s meat tags’ ) is the informal but common term for the personal identification discs worn by every military person on Active Service, 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 including: Service (WW1– NZ Mil. Forces; WW2 – NZ), a unique personal Service (identity) Number (which also indicated the soldier’s unit until 1916), Last Name and Initials, Blood Type and Religion (if applicable). Many early tags were home-made, crafted in the trenches or manufactured by commercial traders as mementos whilst on leave.
WW1 ‘dog-tags’ were a circular disc of pressed tin. 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’ made from fireproof, non-degradable, fibrous material of different shapes – the Number 1 Tag (a red circular disc) and Number 2 Tag (green/grey octagonal shaped tag). Both contained identical information – the No 1 Tag (circular) was designed to be collected from a soldier’s body for military administrative notification purposes, and the No 2 Tag (octagonal) remained with the corpse when battle conditions prevented it from being immediately recovered. This Tag was also used for identifying the contents of a coffin, being nailed to the outside of the lid (per a name plate).
The New Zealand Expeditionary Force ‘Dog Tag’ format:
- Service or Deploying Force, e.g. RNZN / RNZAF / NZMR / 2NZEF
- Service Number
- Last Name & Initial(s)
- Religious Preference [RC = Roman Catholic; ANG or CE = Anglican, etc]
- Blood Group e.g. B. POS
- NZ. MIL. FORCES or NZ from 1899 until 1938; 2NZEF from 1939-1945; NZ from 1946 to the Present
- 12/854 until 1916 and then a five digit number: 12854
- JOHNSTON. J.K.
- B. POS
Military Identity Numbers
Since the Anglo-Boer War soldiers have been primarily identified by a number assigned to them to avoid identity confusion e. g. a unique number would differentiate the difference between Pte A. Z. Bloggs and Pte A. B. Bloggs. A number also assisted when the name was communicated by telephonic means where the last names or initials were the same or sounded the same.
Due to the relatively small numbers that went to the Boer War, a 1-4 digit number prefixed with ‘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 2 NZEF (WW2). After WW2 military organisations use much the same personnel identifying systems with only minor variations. Some formations, e.g. mounted formations (NZ Mounted Rifles) and some of the soldier ranks (e.g. Lance Sergeant) were also made obsolete in order to reflect new roles and unit structures of the post WW1 New Zealand Military Forces.
The term Regimental Number is commonly has been used in Army circles for decades and is appropriate for use when referencing the identity number of soldiers only; Navy and Air Force numbers are generically referred to as Service Numbers.
Interpreting the Numbers
First World War – NZEF
Upon the outbreak of WW1, the New Zealand Military Forces adopted a system of numbering soldiers for identification and security purposes by assigning each a regimental number. Each soldier’s number was initially based upon their geographical location and assigned unit into which they were enlisted. This system, known as the BAR numbering system, remained in use until the 10th Reinforcements was due to be formed, at which time the unit identifying number and BAR was replaced with a simple 4 and later 5 figure numbering system.
The UNIT identification number (1–26) preceded the BAR ( / ), e.g. 7/55 = Canterbury Mounted Rifles – the smaller the number to the right of the BAR the earlier a soldier’s enlistment.
The BAR was followed by a 1–4 digit number which was the soldier’s REGIMENTAL identity number, e.g. 16/1537 = NZ (Maori) Pioneer Battalion.
Note: Soldiers who went to Gallipoli usually had a BAR service number.
Occasionally a service number was accompanied by the letter A or B e. g. 8/7732A. The A was used to denote soldiers who enlisted in the UK and B denoted a service number that had been inadvertently issued twice, the first assigned to an earlier enlistment and the second differenced with the letter, e. g. 17/7732B.
Second World War – 2 NZEF
NZ Military Forces – 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 – The following is provided by Errol Martyn, author of Airmen (aka Other Ranks) of the RNZAF were not allotted numbers until September 1938, and direct entry officers not until September 1941. Numbers for airmen enlisting immediately after the outbreak of war bore a letter ‘A’ prefix, while pre-war regulars normally retained their original non-prefixed number. On, or shortly before, 21 August 1940 all numbers were prefixed ‘NZ’ only, although later variations such as NZC, NZT and NZW were introduced. A ‘W’ only prefix was applied to numbers (commencing at 1100) allotted to members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) when that Service was created in early 1941.
The first two digits of an airman’s number indicate the year in which he enlisted, e.g. NZ421234 attests to enlistment in 1942. Generally speaking, numbers were issued sequentially but there were many exceptions and numerous omissions, especially from 1942 onwards when the system loosened up considerably. Pre-war Territorial Air Force (TAF) airmen were one such exception, their numbers featuring an additional number prefix to indicate membership of the Wellington (4 prefix), Christchurch (5) or Auckland (6) Squadrons. Thus NZ437020 identified this airman as having joined with the Wellington Territorial Squadron in 1937; though to complicate matters, however, some of the numbers of its personnel were duplicated when allotted a second time, to airmen enlisting in 1943. When numbers for direct entry officers were allotted they started at NZ1001, while those who were commissioned from the ranks retained their original airman’s number.
The system was rationalised during 1948-1949, a new number-only series commencing at 70,000 for the regular air force being introduced in January 1949.
Royal Navy (NZ Division) – New Zealanders serving as members of the Royal Navy were assigned a RN number, usually a four of five digit number prefixed by a letter, e.g. P/3064. The letter denoted the home port at which the sailor was based, in this case Portsmouth.
Ref: For Your Tomorrow – A record of New Zealanders who have died while serving with the RNZAF and Allied Air Services since 1915 (Volume Three: Biographies & Appendices) by Errol Martyn, published in 2008.
WW1 – NZEF Unit Identification Numbers (prefix fm 1914-1916)
|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. Tunnelling 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 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 – sail or 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 digitised 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 hospitalised 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 digitise 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.
WW2 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.
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.
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
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 the date completed. Sometimes details of an address to where the medals/plaque & scroll were sent is included. The page should bear a signature acknowledgement that the medals were received (either the soldier’s signature or a paper receipt if they returned), or signed off by the administrator if issued sent to next of kin. For soldiers invalided out of the service, an illuminated lithograph NZ Military Forces Certificate of Service was issued, and a numbered Silver War/Wound Badge (SWB) – badges issued to New Zealand soldiers were prefixed with “NZ“. The number was not the same as the soldier’s service number.
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 authorised 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 initials of the award appear on the file, e.g. MM, DCM, MSM etc and a copy of the recommendation, citation (or wording) may also be included.
WW100 – WW1 Research Tools
The following site is 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/
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
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.
Government Websites & Newspapers
- 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/
~~~~~~~~~~<< MRNZ >>~~~~~~~~~~