Auckland Museum has been entrusted with the care of over 3000 service medals that are held in the Pou Maumahara Memorial Discovery Centre. The museum's open storage drawers allow the medals to be viewed year round.

Janet Anderson, a regular volunteer in Pou Maumahara, often assists our visitors to explore the medal collection and helps to bring the stories of these medals to life. Here Janet highlights the WWI Campaign medals fondly known as 'Pip, Squeak and Wilfred'.

Following the horrors of WW1 few soldiers, sailors and airmen felt that their countries were acknowledging their service. “A land fit for heroes" was the promise but the reality was somewhat different and the fulfillment slow.

Three service medals were commonly issued to soldiers who served: the 1914–1915 Star, the British War Medal, and the Victory Medal. Only those who served prior to 31 December 1915 were awarded The 1914–1915 Star (pictured below).

The 1914–1915 Star. The ribbon is a watered silk woven in red, white and blue. This first-issue campaign medal was produced in 1918. 2001.25.943.

Awarded to Andrew Black Steedman, New Zealand Medical Corps (3/447 WO2) © Auckland Museum CC-BY

A year after the war finished in 1919, the British War Medal was issued to all who had given service. In total 6.5 million silver medals were given to soldiers throughout the British Empire.

On one side the British War Medal shows the profile of King George and St George on horseback trampling the shield of Central Powers. 2001.25.180.3.

Awarded to 2nd Lt. Frederick Charles Cornwall, Wellington Infantry Regiment, WW1 (10/880) © Auckland Museum CC-BY

In that same year, a yellow bronze medal which came embossed with the standing figure of Victory was issued. It was named the Victory Medal. Together, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal were nicknamed “Mutt and Jeff” after cartoon characters.

The Victory medal: a standard-issue rainbow- coloured medal that was given to all soldiers and the next-of-kin of those soldiers who had died in service. N1953/S146.

Awarded to Major Clyde McGilp, NZ Field Artillery NZEF (2/280) © Auckland Museum CC-BY

If the serving soldier had died in conflict, the medals were sent to next-of-kin. Many hundreds of thousands were produced and distributed throughout the British Empire. Thus servicemen and women who had had time to reflect on the years of war developed a cynicism, which was partly pride toward the three medals.

Life was slowly returning to normal and in Britain in 1921 in a Saturday supplement of the Daily Mirror a trio of cartoon characters were launched. The freshly decorated service folk some injured, some unemployed, all worn by the years of war aligned their three medals to the newly-arrived cartoon characters.

Pip was portrayed as a dog, Squeak a penguin, and Wilfred a rabbit with very long ears. They were an immediate success. Children’s Annuals were produced and it is easy to imagine when an ex-soldier was asked about his trio of medals he replied “they are Pip, Squeak and Wilfred.” The trio entertained well into the 1930s and the last Annual was produced in 1951.

Cover of the Pip & Squeak Annual for 1936. Pip and Squeak are driving racing cars; Wilfred and Little Stan are passengers. The caption reads: "A thrilling race to the winning post ends in a dead heat."

Wikimedia Commons

When small visitors arrive in Pou Maumahara they can hear the origin of Pip, Squeak and Wilfred and see the medals, it never fails to raise a grin and a hundred-year span is bridged.

Janet Anderson

Janet Anderson