Five different medals were issued in connection with the Second Anglo-Afghan War: the Afghan War Medal (with clasps), the Kandahar Bronze Star, the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), the Indian Order of Merit (IOM) and the Victoria Cross (VC).

The Afghan War Medal

All participants in the Second Anglo-Afghan war received the Afghan War Medal. This came with clasps across the ribbon depending on which actions the soldier was involved in, if any. Six clasps were awarded: Ali Masjid (22 Nov 1878), Peiwar Kotal (2 Dec 1878), Charasiab (6 Oct 1879), Kabul (operations around Kabul and defence of Sherpur Dec 1879), Ahmed Khel (19 Apr 1880) and Kandahar (1 Sep 1880). A medal bereft of clasps did not indicate any lack of action as there were hundreds of smaller conflicts, and two major actions, Maiwand and Deh Koja, had no clasps attributed due to their disastrous nature.

The medal itself is silver depicting Queen Victoria (head in profile, designed by Joseph Boehm) on one side and an elephant carrying a gun accompanied by cavalry on the reverse (designed by children's book illustrator, Randolph Caldecott). It was engraved by Leonard Wyon at the Royal Mint. The ribbon is green with a crimson panel down each side. An early idea was that battle clasps would merely be added to the 'Frontier Medal', but Roberts, for one, championed the idea of a unique medal for those engaged. A proof of the medal was first displayed in August 1881 at the Dockyard Gates, Portsmouth, and was considered 'of great artistic excellence'.

Lieutenant-Colonel T. G. Ross
14th Bengal Lancers

This Afghan war medal was presented to Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Gally Ross and shows clasps for Ali Masjid, Charasia and Kabul. His regiment, the 14th Lancers, were not present at Ali Masjid, so he could have been attached to the staff, or perhaps, as many officers then stationed at Peshawar did, volunteered for action lest the war should be over too quickly and the opportunity for valour in combat missed. Ross's other awards included the Indian Mutiny medal, Indian General Service medal (clasp for Bhutan) and the C.B. in 1881, also the year he died. He commanded the 14th Lancers in the second campaign of the Afghan war and General McGregor thought him 'a good sterling man.'

Medal courtesy Mark Sellar collection.

View a close-up of the Afghan war medal:
| obverse | reverse |

View a close-up of the Kandahar Star:
| obverse | reverse |

Above: some of Caldecott's detail sketches for the Afghan war medal, 1881.

The Kabul - Kandahar Bronze Star

This medal, variously called the Kandahar Bronze Star, the Roberts Star or the Kabul to Kandahar Star, was issued in 1882 to all those who took part in General Roberts' march from Kabul to relieve Kandahar from Ayub Khan and his forces in 1880.

Although the forced march from Kabul had already gained an heroic reputation, having a medal associated with it certainly kept up the event's status through time, and even bred a little resentment from some soldiers who had done their fair share of marching across Afghanistan's stony wastes, but not with Roberts to Kandahar. The idea for issuing a medal to commemorate the march came from Roberts himself, and has led some to believe personal glory may have played a part in the notion, but it must also be said that it is well-recorded how grateful Roberts was for the loyalty, bravery and hardiness of those who followed him. In September 1880, while at Chaman, he wrote:

"Perhaps it is wrong of me to moot the subject [of the medal], but I did so in the fullness of my heart, knowing that no other reward would be so acceptable to the gallant troops I am so proud to command."

However, it was Roberts' second-in-command, General John Ross, who put forward the more romantic notion that the medal should be in the form of a gun-metal star. This immediately gave it a link to the ultimate medal, the Victoria Cross, which had initially been cast from captured Russian (Chinese-made) guns in the Crimean War. It was Ayub's guns that had been superior at Maiwand and it was the bronze from some of these that would decorate the soldiers who came to the defeated garrison's rescue. Another historic connotation lay in the fact that the ribbon was the same as that used for most of the medals from the First Afghan War (1839-42), the colours representing the Indian sunset.

The medal is in the form of a ridged 5-pointed star with the legend 'Kabul to Kandahar 1880' encircling the letters V.R.I (Victoria Regina et Imperatrix). Tiny orbs separate each point of the star, except for the top which bears the royal crown. This in turn holds the ring to which the ribbon attaches. The reverse is flat except for a hollow centre around which the recipient's name, number and regiment is engraved.

10,000 or so men were eligible for the Kabul to Kandahar Star, perhaps the most unusual recipient was Roberts' Arab charger, Vonolel (named after a Lushai warrior whose descendants Roberts had fought in 1871).

Private Robert Allan
92nd (Gordon) Highlanders

The Kabul-Kandahar Star pictured here belonged to B/120 Private Robert Allan of the kilted 92nd Highlanders. He was also owner of a full complement of 92nd clasps for his Afghan War medal; Charasia, Kabul and Kandahar. Under the command of Colonel G. H. Parker, the 92nd headed General Macpherson's First Brigade on the march, which also consisted of the 23rd Pioneers, 24th Punjab Regiment and 2nd Ghurkas. The Star was testament to a hard trek, with a halt of just ten minutes every hour and an early start in the freezing Afghan morning, probably a little colder for the hardy men of the 92nd, as the majority had sold off their greatcoats while at Kabul, being uncomfortable to march with.

Medal courtesy Mark Sellar collection.

Above: An unknown 9th Lancer wears an 'Afghan pair': the war medal with two clasps (most likely Kabul and Kandahar) and the bronze star.
Photo courtesy Jerome at

Above: The Afghan war medal was previwed in The Graphic in September 1881; while Below: the Kandahar Star was previewed earlier in May 1881.

The Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM)

The Distinguished Conduct Medal was first minted in 1855 to recognise gallantry displayed by privates and NCOs during the Crimean war. The Afghan war saw 61 DCMs awarded, including two with a bar for September 1st 1880 (the bar was introduced by Royal Warrant in February 1881 to display additional citations). The regiment with the most awarded was the 72nd Highlanders with 15 (including the two with bars), while the 92nd Highlanders, 9th Lancers and E/B Royal Horse Artillery all claimed 8 each. The single action with the most DCMs attributed was fateful Maiwand, with 18 in total.

Distinguished Conduct Medals are presented at Madras to Private Denis Regan and Corporal Henry Rhodes of the 7th Royal Fusiliers for their part in the battle of Deh Koja.

The ribbon for the DCM is three equal stripes of red, blue and red, with the silver medal taking its cue from the Victorian Long Service & Good Conduct Medal, that is, attached to the ribbon with a scrolled suspender with the the obverse depicting a trophy and shield design. The reverse differs only in the words engraved, which are 'For Distinguished Conduct in the Field'. The recipient's details are impressed on the rim.

Corporal William McGillivray
92nd (Gordon) Highlanders

Corporal McGillivray won his DCM during the battle of Kandahar on 1st September 1880, "remarked for gallantry and forwardness during the capture of Ayub Khan's camp", where he was also severely wounded by grapeshot in his left arm. The 92nd Highlanders were one of the prominent regiments in this action, advancing through Gundi Mulla Sahibdad with the 2nd Gurkhas, and with much of the fighting at close range with the bayonet. When the Afghans made a determined stand at Baba Wali with their guns, the 92nd charged the slope and helped decide the outcome of the day's battle for good.

Medal courtesy Mark Sellar collection.

Indian Order of Merit (IOM)

The Order of Merit was instituted in 1837, in the days of the East India Company, and its first recipients were those who excelled themselves at Ghazni (1839) in the first Afghan War. The order came in three classes; a first act of gallantry would admit a soldier to the third class, admission to the second class could only be obtained by members of the third class, and admission to the first class was available only to those who had gained a second class order. Upon receipt of a higher class, the soldier would have to give up the medal representing the previous order. In 1911 the first class order was replaced by the Victoria Cross, and the second and third class became the first and second class.

The order bears a dark-blue ribbon with crismon edging and is in the shape of an eight-pointed star. Two crossed sabres are imprinted on a blue-enamel centre, surrounded with the words 'Reward Of Valour', which in turn is encircled by a wreath. The third class medal is silver, with a silver wreath, the second class is silver with a gold wreath, and the first class star is gold with a gold wreath. The reverse of the medal has a screw-nut, fixing the front decoration, with the name of the award and its class above it.

The Afghan war saw over 200 third class IOMs being awarded with 9 second class and 4 first class awards. The highest number went to the Corps of Guides, the regiment who defended the Kabul residency, but also for Fatehbad and the operations around Kabul later in December. The 19th Bengal Lancers had 15 awards for Ahmed Khel.

Read more about the IOM from this informative piece wirtten by Edward S. Haynes.

Above: Naik Surwan Singh of the 5th Punjab Infantry proudly wears his Indian Order of Merit, 3rd Class (for Kabul), General Service Medal and Afghan War medal with clasps for Peiwar Kotal, Charasia and Kabul.

The Victoria Cross (VC)

The Victoria Cross is perhaps one of the world's most famous awards, with its recipients and their deeds being the subject of countless books, articles and much public interest. It was first produced in 1856, and since that date it has always been made by the same firm, Hancock's of London, who cast the medal from Chinese metal taken from a cannon captured during the Crimea, and provided to them as needed by the Central Ordnance Depot (though with several being made at once, they are usually 'in stock'!).

The medal is in the form of a Maltese cross, suspended from a laureled bar, and bears a lion atop the royal crown, the crown cradled by a ribbon with the words 'For Valour'. The ribbon is pure red (though before 1920 it was blue for naval awards). The reverse of the cross has engraved the recipent's name, regiment and the date of action for which the award was presented. The reverse of the suspender bar has the recipient's name, rank, regiment and service number.

Sixteen VCs were awarded for the Second Anglo-Afghan War, including three for the Asmai Heights, two for Deh Koja and two for Maiwand. One of the most interesting recipients was the only non-soldier to win the award during the campaign, the Reverend James William Adams, who had been known back at home as the 'strongest man in Ireland', and who used that strength to rescue several 9th Lancers from a water-filled ditch as an army of Afghans rushed towards them.

Above: The Reverend James W. Adams who gained, as well as the Victoria Cross and Kandahar Star, four clasps to his war medal, being present at Peiwar Kotal, Charasia, Kabul and Kandahar. He also wears the India Frontier Medal with clasp for Burma.
A note on unoriginal medals: Like all medals, the Afghan medals are subject to fakes and reproductions, so be wary if you are buying. Several Afghan medals with an Ahmed Khel clasp to 1197 Pte. J. Murray (4th Battalion Rifle Brigade) exist. Bronze Stars bearing the name of Jas Clarke (60th Foot) are well-known as copies, some being sold as reproductions (£10-30) and more than one as an original (up to £250) and also to the name of Nadu (2nd Sikhs). Frontier Medals has a good section on fakes.

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