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NZDF research reveals thousands of Second World War campaign medals were never claimed by veterans

For the first time since the 1950s, in-depth research has been carried out into how many Second World War campaign medals awarded to ex-serving New Zealand veterans were never claimed, and what may have led to this.

07 April, 2023

Recent media publicity has highlighted that approximately 15 percent of the Second World War campaign medals awarded to members of 28 (Maori) Battalion were never issued.

New research undertaken by New Zealand Defence Force historian Matthew Buck reveals there was a low rate of uptake of medals by Army and Air Force veterans from across the New Zealand armed forces and those of other Commonwealth countries.

“According to my research, around 75 percent of New Zealand Army and Royal New Zealand Air Force veterans refused to apply for their Second World War campaign medals in the first few years after distribution began in March 1950. 

“Given the importance placed on medals today, it’s hard to fathom that only around a quarter of New Zealand Army and Royal New Zealand Air Force veterans claimed their medals by 1960. After that the take-up appears to have been nothing more than a dribble - less than a third of a percent annually,” said Mr Buck.

Anzac Day 1987

There were only two exceptions to the pattern of low uptake uncovered by this research.

They were Royal New Zealand Navy veterans, who received a special “Naval Prize Money” payment of £5 10s if they applied for their medals; and the families of the nearly 12,000 New Zealanders who died in the war, who received their medals automatically in the mail.

We don’t know exactly how many Army and Air Force medals remain unissued because there were no general surveys of the rate of uptake after 1960. If this rate was similar to that of 28 (Maori) Battalion, however, we estimate around 22,000 New Zealanders who served overseas during the war may never have been issued their medals.

To find out more, including why New Zealand veterans did not claim their medals, read Matthew Buck’s report.