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Afghan Medal

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R Caldecott's Afghan War Medal design

Ribbon of Afghanistan War Medal (1878-80)

Ribbon: 32 mm wide.  Green with crimson stripe on each edge.

(We have been told that the colour of the ribbon at that time sometimes reflected the colour of the skin of the person who had been awarded it - but see below about the silver and bronze versions of the medal.  Note also that the relative widths of the three bands on the ribbon are slightly different in this ribbon and the example of the medal below.)
Afghan Medal Reverse, designed by R Caldecott, 1881 Description (Reverse): A scene of troops on the march with an elephant carrying a gun in the centre.  Around the top is the word "AFGHANISTAN" and in the exergue the dates "1878-79-80".

Size: 31mm diameter.

Randolph was commissioned to design a Medal for those who fought in the Second Afghanistan War campaign (1878-1880).  His design for the reverse (back) of the Medal was relatively straightforward -

Afghan Medal Obverse, designed by Sir Joachim Boehm. but when an image of Queen Victoria (designed by Sir Joachim Boehm) was put onto the obverse (front), there was a big problem.  The Queen was no longer the 18-year-old who had been depicted for so long on coins and stamps.  When she was shown the intended image of her as a mature woman, she was not amused, and found every possible excuse for objecting to the Medal.  The engraving was done by Leonard Charles Wyon (1826-1891), Chief Engraver to the Royal Mint.

Two versions of the medal were produced: one bronze and the other silver.  Most of the surviving silver ones have names of British soldiers on them, whereas virtually all the bronze ones have Indian names on them.  This has led to the allegation that the British were "racist" in awarding one type of medal to whites, and an inferior one to "natives".  But the truth is that the silver one was awarded to "soldiers", whether British or otherwise, whereas the bronze one was awarded to non-combatants such as cooks and water carriers.  The non-combatants who took part were almost all Indian "natives", which is what has produced the result already described.  Ironically, the bronze version of the medal is now much rarer than the silver one and therefore fetches a higher price from collectors. 

The medals awarded to British troops were engraved in upright or sloping capitals.  Those awarded to "natives" are found named in capitals or script.

(Three letters about this Medal from Randolph Caldecott to Leonard Wyon, written between February and March 1881, are reproduced in "Yours Pictorially", pp.267-8.)

Further details about the Medal, those who were awarded it, and the Second Afghanistan War, may be found in "British Battles and Medals" pp.155-6.  Our thanks to Brian Simpkin, Campaign Medals Specialist at Spink's, London, for information and illustrations for this page.

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