The clasps on the Queen’s South Africa Medal

The Anglo- Boer war 1899-1902 sometimes known and the 2nd Boer War was the last major conflict that occurred during Queen Victoria’s reign and the largest. The British and Commonwealth participants numbered in excess of 400,000. As a result, the medal is not uncommon and the wide variety of clasps offers the collector a limitless permutation of interesting combinations of different examples of the medal.

 

The war had 3 distinct phases:

  • The initial siege of three towns within the two British colonies and the early battles
  • The campaign to relieve the towns, invade the two Boer republics and essentially end the war
  • The 21-month guerilla campaign

26 clasps in total were awarded for this medal; 5 “State” clasps, 2 “Date” clasps and 19 “Battle” clasps. Each clasp was subject to various conditions that had to be met to be awarded and rules were established whereby certain clasps could not awarded together. The first clasp earned was to be worn next to the medal and each subsequent clasp in succession in other words reading up

The battle clasps were awarded for engagement which took place prior in the first two phases of the War ranging from Elandslaagte (October 1899) to Belfast (August 1900)

The State clasps were awarded in cases for operations in those states where no battle clasp had been awarded to the participant. Natal and Rhodesia had a qualifying period which ended in June 1900 and May 1900 respectively whereas the other three: Cape Colony, Orange Free State and Transvaal were awarded up to the end of the war. The result of this is that for service the guerilla war, the majority of medals were issued with one or more of these three State clasps and either a King’s South Africa medal or date clasps added to the QSA.

The clasps were deemed to be “earned” in a specific order in that some clasps like the Relief of Mafeking (ended May 1900) can actually appears on a medal before the Defence of Kimberley to a participant who defended one town and then participated in the relief of another. This came about I suppose in that the former clasp was “earned” by some as early as October 11, 1899 whereas the qualification for the latter clasp began on October 14 of that year.

Knowledge of “typical” clasp entitlement for a given regiment can give clues to the possibility of something worthy of further research. For example, a QSA medal within a group to a private in the Seaforth Highlanders is likely to have several “state” clasps. When a medal appears with the single clasp Cape Colony it can sometimes be an indication of a Magersfontein casualty, which is for many a much more desirable medal.

 

A more obvious example would be when another “expected’ clasp is obviously missing in the case of the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders who were besieged at Ladysmith. Half the battalion participated in the battle of Elandslaagte then retreated back to town. The other half remained in Ladysmith. If a medal to the regiment has an Elandslaagte clasp then the man was a member of one of the 4 companies that took part in the battle. If it doesn’t also have a Defence of Ladysmith clasp then in all likelihood he was a casualty. In fact for the 2nd battalion one would expect that if the man stayed with the battalion, he would have earned the Laing’s Nek and Belfast clasps and failure to see these clasps on the medal may be the sign of a departure from the norm and an interesting recipient.

The other clasp anomalies may not be “good” news and may in fact be the result of an error or worse. As well as the clasps appearing in a particular order, there are several “rules” that need to be remembered and for some of the rules it is helpful to know the geography of the British Colonies and Boer Republics since several rules stipulate that a state clasp could not appear on the same medal as a clasp for an action in that State. Since Wepener is in the Orange Free State if I discovered a medal with both these clasps on it, then something would be amiss.

dk rm clasps

image courtesy of DNW

seaforth1

image courtesy of DNW

seaforth2

image courtesy of DNW

gordon1

image courtesy of DNW

gordon2

image courtesy of DNW

 

 

 

Shown below are the clasps in reverse order since clasps read from the bottom up

 

 

South Africa 1902

South Africa 1901

Belfast

Wittebergen

Diamond Hill

Laing’s Nek

Johannesburg

Transvaal

Defence of Mafeking

Wepener

Driefontein

Relief of Ladysmith

Orange Free State

Paardeberg

Relief of Kimberley

Tugela Heights

Modder River

Belmont

Defence of Ladysmith

Elandslaagte

Talana

Defence of Kimberley

Relief of Mafeking

Rhodesia

Natal

Cape Colony

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This table showing the locations associated with the battle clasps may help:

Natal Cape Colony Orange Free State Transvaal
Ladysmith Mafeking Paardeberg Johannesburg
Talana Kimberley Driefontein Diamond Hill
Elandslaagte Belmont Wepener Belfast
Tugela Heights Modder River Wittebergen
Laing’s Nek

Some other rules were written such as Cape Colony and Natal can’t appear on the same medal and a clasp for the Defence and the Relief of the same town can’t appear on the same medal.

Another odd thing when it comes to clasp order is that when the medal roll pages were printed the order of clasps on the printed medal roll is completely different from the order of clasps as they may appear on a medal. The Roll begins with Belmont, Modder River… and continues to Natal.

 

gordonsqsarollexample

I have seen examples of biographical extracts of medal entitlement with numbers signifying the awarded clasps and without a secret decoder ring it would be quite difficult to establish the clasp entitlement. If there was a notation that a man was awarded clasps 14, 15 and 16 for example, it would signify the 14th, 15th, 16th ordered clasp on the roll, which would be Cape Colony, Orange Free State and Transvaal.

I think the QSA offers the medal collector an example of the last campaign medal with such a wide range of stories evidenced by the clasps on the medal. This large scale conflict bore little resemblance of what was to come. Just 12 years later, the first world war brought about a conflict that for many Boer War veterans would have been unimaginable and for the medal collector, the lack of clasps on first world war medals gave rise to the inability to differentiate medals to men who had vastly different experiences on the battlefield.

 

6 Comments
  1. Hi Jim,

    You have a very informative and interesting page. I have this medal attributed to a Lance Corporal Taylor in the 3rd Dragoon Guards. On the medal lists he is shown to have earned the Cape Colony, Orange Free State and South Africa 1901 clasps. The Transvaal and Natal clasps are a mystery as I don’t believe the 3rd Dragoons were around to earn those. I see that Natal and Cape Colony should not be on the same medal. It is easy to imagine that someone added the clasps, but I truly believe the medal was like this for a long time, probably since the Taylor had it. The reason I believe it was not altered is that it was bought from the family along with other named (engraved) items belonging to the vet. There were also a few other named items from the early 1900s and 20s that the grandson was selling that I did not buy. Could he have served in another regiment and once promoted to L/cpl been sent to the 3rd Dragoons and thus entitled to all the clasps as pictured. Attached is the picture Any input would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks, John

    • John, thanks for your comments. I have seen other examples of duplicate medals or medals with clasps awarded for service in different regiments and it is possible that this was indeed the case. It is my understanding however when that occurs that any “rules”
      would still need to be adhered to so I would have expected the Natal clasp to have been removed in spite of it being “earned”. Often an examination of the rivets can help determine if clasps were added (even if it happened 100 years ago) The date clasp often has a different style of rivet since it was commonly issued loose several years after the medal had been issued. If you notice that the rivets joining the Natal and OFS clasp are different from the rivets joining the CC and OFS clasp then likely the Natal/Transvaal clasps were not on the original medal. If the first 4 clasps have uniform rivets then it may indicate an error by the medal issuing office.

      Jim

  2. Hi Jim,

    This medal’s clasp for SA 1901 has the same rivets that connect the Transvaal, Natal and OFS. The rivet that connects the OFS and Cape Colony is different. That being the case then the SA 1901, Transvaal, Natal and OFS were issued at the same time? I’ll also send you a pic of the silver cup I bought with it.

    Thanks, John

    • John, I think the medal was issued with only 2 clasps CC and OFS and the date clasp would have followed to be added separately but rather than having this single 3rd clasp added later, all three clasps were added later. For what reason and by whom can only be speculative I am afraid. Thanks for sending the pictures. I hope you are able to resolve this mystery

      Jim

  3. Here is the cup. It has a sterling hallmark for London. It is engraved “Featherweight Championship” Dublin, 1888-1899, John Taylor. The 1st Dragoons were in Dublin in 1899 and the 3rd were at Dundalk.

  4. Jim,

    Thanks for the information. I’ll keep looking to see if he had any service with another regiment. The problem is with such a common name it might take a while. Thanks Again!, –John

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