The Great War of 1914-18 was fought on a scale never before witnessed with casualties and damage beyond any war previous to it. In military, social and economic terms it was immense, touching almost every single family with millions of people, military and for the first time civilian men and women, involved from Britain and all over her Empire.
It was soon agreed that the large number of combatants that had taken part in the war were deserving of distinctive campaign medals and it was intended to follow the same route as previous medals.
That is to produce appropriate clasps for individual campaigns and battles. This is what happened in the Boer War when it generated no less than 26 clasps.
But even this is a reduced number from the army and navy committees of the day.
The army came up with 79 different clasps and the navy came up with 68. It would have meant that particular active soldiers would have had medals with ribbons that stretched down to their waist!
In the end, all serving personnel, of the three services, received the same standard campaign medals. These were distributed to serving and discharged personnel, plus next of kin as quickly as possible, but still, it took until well into the 1920s to be fully achieved.
The medals are:
The 1914 Star – Pip or The Mons Star – A single-sided bronze star approved by the King for the Army in April 1917 to reward those who had served in France and Belgium between 4th August 1914 to midnight 22 November 1914. A dated clasp was agreed in 1919 to distinguish those who had been ‘under the close fire of the enemy’ between those dates.
The 1914-15 Star – Pip – Sanctioned in 1918, this star is very similar to the 1914 Star except it carries the 1914-1915 date across its centre. The 1914-15 Star was awarded for service in any theatre of war up to 31st December 1915. No further clasp was associated with this award.
The British War Medal (1914-1920) – Squeak – The standard silver war medal for The First World War, the British War Medal was awarded to all forces of the Empire and given to everyone who had served in uniform or in ‘approved’ service. Unlike the previous stars, it could be awarded singly. There was also a bronze version of this medal which was awarded to various members of the non-combatant labour corps like the Chinese, Indian, Maltese and Macedonian Mule Corps.
The Victory Medal – Wilfred – This is specifically the British version of the Allied Victory Medal as all members of the Allies agreed to issue a similar medal – thus the Victory Medal of Britain, France, Belgium, Japan, USA and other allies all bear the same symbolic figure of Victory and the same rainbow-coloured ribbon. The reverse dates on this medal are 1914-1919 to include the Russian Civil War.
The nicknames, which were soon widely used, Pip Squeak & Wilfred were taken from cartoon characters in a popular daily newspaper and even today the medals are commonly referred to as Pip Squeak & Wilfred. Of interest is the massive number of soldiers that joined after the start of the war answering the great call and ‘ it will all be over by Christmas’ would be awarded Squeak and Wilfred, but when they were awarded together they were often known as Mutt & Jeff.