Lest You Forget ~ Family Medals

New Zealand soldiers have seen combat in conflicts since colonial times, their valour earning many awards for gallantry. Sadly, impoverished circumstances saw many medals sold, separating the soldier's decendants from the evidence of their relative's bravery in those air, land or sea battles.

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.

Why we return MEDALS to families  

Reuniting families with the medals of their ancestor veterans is our way of acknowledging and honouring the sailors, soldiers and airmen who have gone before us, those who have served and died in the service of their Sovereign and Country for the freedoms we enjoy.

A family’s inherited medals stimulate our emotional connections to the veterans irrespective of how long ago they died, and wearing their medals is a tangible means of paying tribute to them on appropriate occasions.  Medals that have been lost over time to descendant families incrementally diminish memories of a the from one generation to the next until the he or she becomes anonymous or forgotten.  Medals that remain within a family and handed down to successive generations provide a historical context for a family to Remember and a visible symbol with which families can demonstrate their pride on public occasions such as ANZAC and Remembrance Days.  Families who establish a tradition of wearing family medals to honour their veterans, create an unspoken and perpetual pathway of pride for the generations of family following in their footsteps, those in whom they are able to confidently invest with the responsibility of continuing the tradition when their time comes to inherit the family medals – your family veterans deserve nothing less.

Where is your family’s military ‘Taonga’ ?

War medals as heirlooms can inspire our deepest sentiments and pride when we memorializing our deceased veterans.   A family’s pride is never more evident than if an ancestor veteran was decorated for an outstanding act of gallantry or bravery, particularly if the act resulted in their supreme sacrifice (death). 

We should remember also the thousands of New Zealand families of veterans from the Boer War to the present day who suffered dreadfully when one of their sons or daughters was killed or died on active service.  For the thousands of veterans who returned – some severely wounded, incapacitated or who endured extreme hardship and privation, the ‘broken’ also included their families many of whom paid a price for the rest of their lives.  

Our sentiments and pride for these veterans and their families now past, may stirred briefly by a photographs or personal memento but never more than when we wear these simple but powerfully symbols of sacrifice and suffering – the campaign medals of our ancestor veterans.  These taonga are a family’s military heritage and have the power to crystalize our thoughts of Remembrance – of the serviceman or woman, their families, of the time, those who survived and those who suffered, and those who paid the ultimate price … lest we forget.

Are the medals of your family veterans still in your family?  Many veteran’s medals have been lost, discarded or disposed of without little consideration of what they really represent.  Without due care and responsible guardianship of your ancestral taonga, their loss to family can rapidly diminish the memory of an ancestor veteran and the service they gave for the freedoms we enjoy.  WE the living, have a responsibility to Remember and honour their service and sacrifice with their taonga, possibly the only thing that remains, and to pass these from generation to generation so they will never be forgotten.

Sadly, every medal that we reunite represents a family which has either died out and their medals disposed of, or a medal that has been permanently lost to a family through being accidentally misplaced, given away, purposely cast away, sold or stolen.  Irrespective of the reasons medals have left a family’s guardianship it is our belief the rightful place of any medal that is found (or no longer wanted by its owner) is with the veteran’s surviving family or descendant kin.  By reuniting families with the medals sent to us we, in some small way, can help to keep alive the memory of some of the many thousands of otherwise faceless veterans who have been long forgotten by their families and descendants.  

Looking for the MEDALS of your ancestors

If you are searching for lost or missing medals of your ancestor veterans, first check the list of those medals we are currently holding on our MEDALS ~ FOUND page – then contact MRNZ for guidance on what to do next.

What if you find family MEDALS – what to do ?   

Should you find medals that you believe belong to your family, now in the hands of someone else (citizen, collector, dealer, organisation) I urge you to proceed with caution!   

Any overtures you make to the owner along the lines of ”you are a family member or descendant of the veteran, and so the medals should be yours as a matter of historical right” will likely fall on deaf ears, and potentially cost you the chance of buying the medals back into your family.  Bear in mind that serious collectors and reputable dealers are likely to have proof of their medal acquisitions and therefore legal ownership. 

Find out the facts first   The best approach is to ask the owner how the medals were acquired.  It could be they were deliberately sold, swapped, gifted or otherwise disposed of by the original veteran owner, or another family member some years ago and so could have been through numerous owner’s hands.  The owner may or may not tell you, that is their prerogative.  Depending upon how keen you are to recover the medals, ask the owner if they are prepared to negotiate a buy-back?  If so, do not be put off by the asking price; tell them you will think about it and then seek advice before doing anything else – MRNZ can help you here.


If you believe the medals you have found in the hands of another person or organisation were stolen from your family, the best course of action is to seek immediate advice from Police.  Let them unravel the circumstances and ask the relevant questions concerning acquisition and legal ownership.  But a word of warning, if the medals were not reported as stolen at the time they went missing you will be unlikely to have a legal entitlement to get them back.  

Negotiating a MEDAL buy-back

Buying back family medals is fraught with problems that could cost you dearly if you do not have the necessary knowledge to scrutinize a potential purchase before you hand over the money.  Buying a fake/replica/duplicate or re-named medals purported to be your family’s are just some of the traps associate with buying medals.  Not having the expertise to know exactly what it is you are looking at, or what to look for sets you up for failure and the potential for rip off.  MRNZ is happy to provide this advice and to negotiate with an owner on your behalf (no charges involved).  You will however need to provide documentary and photographic proof of your identity and proof of your ancestral entitlement to the veteran’s medals before any approach is made to the owner.   

Buying MEDALS – what to look for ?

 Genuine or Fake ?  The pitfalls associated with buying medals are numerous and if you do not have an understanding of the general characteristics of medals or what to look for or you could stand to lose many hundreds of dollars.  Before buying medals genuine or otherwise – do your homework.  Here are some of the areas of concern to Be-Aware of:

  • Beware of all medals advertised as “genuine”.  They may well be, but … they could also be replica/reproduction/copy or fake medals (all of these terms apply) and even artificially aged to give the appearance of being genuine – a classic trap for an eager descendant and novice medal buyer. 
  • Beware of WW1 medals that do not have the military details of the recipient impressed (stamped, not engraved) around the edge of circular medals or on the reverse of others, e.g. the Stars.  Details were impressed with a metal lettering press which often produced irregularly aligned letters and numbers, particularly on the edges of circular medals.  If a WW1 medal has been engraved the shallow depth of the engraving and regularity of letter & number alignment will be obvious, in which case it is likely to be a replica. 
  • Beware of old medals (Boer War, WW1) that are unusually bright and shiny or those that have a silky smooth feel and appearance for the era they represent.  All WW1 and WW2 medals that have not been well cared for could be expected to show signs of natural ageing, wear or neglect.  A dull surface finish, corrosion spots or verdigris, tired or damaged/grubby original ribbons are typical of medals that have not been restored.  Genuine medals of vintage can also be expected to a number of nicks, dings and surface scratching arising from years of handling and wear.  If any of the medals you wish to buy have an unblemished finish (unusual for medals that have been around for 100+ years!) or the surface appears to have a clear coating of some sort, the medal will likely be a replica/copy.  If the surface is unusually dull and dark in colour showing no sign of care it may have be an artificially “aged” replica/copy. 
  • Beware of ribbon quality.  Genuine WW1 ribbons were quite thin and made of a silk/cotton mix; WW2 ribbons slightly thicker using cottons and some synthetic materials but had a similar silky feel.  Unless genuine new ribbon has been used, the appearance of replica ribbons is quite distinctive – gaudy/unnatural colours, poor weave detail, ‘watered’ colours on the Victory Medal and Atlantic Star do not merge seamlessly, ribbon quality is not smooth to the touch and is made of synthetic materials or jute.  Reproduction medal ribbon is used widely on genuine and replica/copy medals by those in the business of mounting medals, and these will suit most people.  Nothing wrong with that unless you are a collector or a stickler for originality.  However do use the ribbon’s appearance and feel as an indicator for closer scrutiny of the medal before you buy.  This subject is a ‘minefield’ where professional advice is definitely recommended.
  • Be – Aware of medal values.  Buying back family medals can be an expensive exercise.  Without a rudimentary knowledge of the market prices of medals you want to buy, you leave yourself open to be ripped off.  This should be part of your homework before contemplating any buy.  Use the internet – Trade-Me and eBay, to get the feel for market pricing so you can determine if the asking price for your medals is fair, or inflated beyond their worth.  Conversely, has the price been deflated for a quick sale?  Why a quick sale?  It may be that one or some of the medals in a group are non-genuine or have been modified in some way.  There are many other factors which can affect the price of medals which is not general knowledge and about which only a well versed medal enthusiast can advise.

MEDAL naming

Early and modern military medals are generally named (impressed or laser engraved) with a service number, rank, initials, surname and arm of service/corps/name of the deploying force (e.g. N.Z.E.F).  Officially named medals until recently were impressed using specific font styles on the edge of circular medals and on the reverse/back of all other shaped medals (e.g. the Stars).  Laser engraved medal naming appears as charcoal coloured letters and numbers in a block capital font, burnt into the surface of a medal edge and completely smooth to the touch.

WW1 medals – the good news is that all genuine WW1 service medals (there were only five incl. the Mercantile Marine Medal) were issued NAMED which greatly increases the odds of their return when found.   

WW2 medals the not so good news with these medals is that due to the high costs of naming, all medals issued to the UK and New Zealand were UN-NAMEDand therefore the chances of finding missing originals, or of returning those found or donated, is next to impossible.   

Note:  *  There are two things that can help immeasurably with the recovery or return of un-named medals that have been lost or stolen: the first is accompanying proof of ownership such as documents, photos, or other military items that can be verified by the owner, and the second, WW2 medals that have been privately engraved with the recipient’s military details.  Having your un-named medals engraved with a recipient’s details is highly recommended to ensure the best chances of their return should they be recovered.  

Medal collectors and dealers 

MRNZ acknowledges the absolute right of any medal collector or commercial medal trader to engage in the collection and trade in military medals.  Numerous war and service medals have been disposed of over the decades for a variety of reasons, sometimes by veterans themselves and sometimes by family members. Were it not for the conscientious preservation and guardianship of these medals by the medal collector community, many thousands of New Zealander’s war and service medals, including some rare and prestigious medals important to New Zealand’s military and social history would have been lost forever.

Families First ?

Medal collectors or owners wishing to dispose of any of their medals, and who have a preference for offering them to family first, are very welcome to contact MRNZ for our assistance to locate family or descendants, and to propose a buy-back option to them.

In the interests of encouraging descendant families to reconnect with forgotten war veteran ancestors, we respectfully requests medal collectors and medal dealers who are approached by families regarding their family medals, to consider allowing them the ‘first right of refusal’ to buy-back these medals.  


MRNZ can help …

Advice you can trust is essential before you enter into any arrangement to buy medals.  Whether you are buying from the internet, a dealer, at auction or making a private purchase ask for our help first! – it’s FREE and may save you a lot of heartache.