Medals as symbols of commemoration in Australia


Medals and decorations are awarded to service men and women for their military service and bravery. Veterans in Australia often wear their medals on special days of commemoration, such as Anzac Day and Remembrance Day. Medals are an official symbol of service.

History of its symbolism

Medals and decorations are an official symbol of someone's service in the defence forces. They have been awarded to Australian servicemen and women for their military service and bravery since colonial days.

9 bar mounted war medals made of bronze, enamel, silk and silver

Queen Victoria created the Victoria Cross (above, far left) in 1856 following the Crimean War. The medal recognises gallantry in action across all ranks of the military services and is the highest award for acts of bravery carried out during wartime. One hundred Australians have been awarded the Victoria Cross. Ninety six received it under the British Imperial honours system, while four have been awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia. This medal was introduced into the Australian honours system in 1991. RELAWM16321

From medals, we can learn about the service of the recipient - where they served and any bravery awards they have received.

The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest Australian military honour awarded for bravery in the presence of the enemy. Each VC medal is created from the metal of melted down cannons that Britain captured from Russia during the Crimean War.

Since 1900, 96 Australians have been awarded the Victoria Cross. Another four have received the Victoria Cross for Australia, which replaced the imperial award in January 1991.

The George Cross was another highly valued decoration awarded for acts of the greatest heroism or courage in circumstance of extreme danger, not in the presence of the enemy.

In 1975, the George Cross was ceased for Australians and the Cross of Valour was established as part of the Australian Honours System. To date, five recipients have been awarded the Cross of Valour.

Throughout history, there has been a range of medals and decorations that have been received by Australians serving in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations. Not all recommendations result in a medal of bravery. Some recommendations for a particular decoration can also upon review be downgraded to a lesser award. However, it is so important to recognise that many courageous deeds go unrecognised by a decoration, most are not awarded.

What it means to us today

You might see veterans wearing their medals on important commemorative days, such as Anzac Day and Remembrance Day.

Both female and male veterans wear their medals over their chest on the left-hand side of their uniform.

Widows, widowers, and other relations of veterans may wear their relative's medals on the right.

A veteran with medals on both sides may wear their own medals on the left and those of a relative on the right.

Australian veterans with their medals and slouch hats seated for a commemoration

Australian veterans attend commemorations in France on the 75th anniversary of their First World War service, September 1993. [Dept of Defence CAND_93_225_34]

Engage more with this topic

Short animation and picture book

Watch our 1-minute video, which supports learning in the Here They Come big book for primary school students.

This video is part of a series of videos developed for the Here they come—A day to remember publication.

Hashtag #ShowYourMedals

Many people are looking for ways to make a personal commemoration to remember and thank someone who served.

The Australian War Memorial encourages us to take a photo with service medals and post it online. Share it with other using the hashtag #ShowYourMedals. You'll be helping to create an online community of proud defence service members, veterans and their families.

See the latest #ShowYourMedals social media posts

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Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Medals as symbols of commemoration in Australia, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 28 February 2024,
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