Polar Medal

The Polar Medal is a medal awarded by the Sovereign of the United Kingdom. It was instituted in 1857 as the Arctic Medal and renamed the Polar Medal in 1904.

Polar Medal
Awarded by United Kingdom
Awarded forextreme human endeavour against the appalling weather and conditions that exist in the Arctic and Antarctic
Order of Wear
Next (higher)Campaign Medals and Stars[1]
Next (lower)Imperial Service Medal[1]
Polar Medal (UK) ribbon

Reverse of medal and ribbon


The first polar award was called the Arctic Medal which was presented twice in the 19th century. The Admiralty issued the medal in 1857 for several expeditions, including the expedition to discover the fate of Sir John Franklin and his crew who were lost while looking for the Northwest Passage in 1847:

Her Majesty having been graciously pleased to signify her commands that a Medal be granted to all persons, of every rank and class, who have been engaged in the several Expeditions to the Arctic Regions, whether of discovery or search, between the years 1818 and 1855, both inclusive.[2]

The second presentation of the Arctic Medal was to the crews of three ships exploring the Arctic in 1875–76.

In 1904, the Polar Medal was inaugurated for members of Captain Scott's first expedition to Antarctica. It was also awarded to the crews of both rescue ships, Terra Nova and Morning. Subsequent medals were also awarded to members of Ernest Shackleton's expeditions in 1907–09 and 1914–17.

Until 1968, the Polar Medal was presented to anyone who participated in a polar expedition endorsed by the governments of any Commonwealth realms. However since then the rules governing its presentation have been revised with greater emphasis placed on personal achievement.

The Medal may be conferred on those citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland who have personally made conspicuous contributions to the knowledge of Polar regions or who have rendered prolonged service of outstanding quality in support of acquisition of such knowledge and who, in either case, have undergone the hazards and rigours imposed by the Polar environment. The Medal may also be awarded in recognition of individual service of outstanding quality in support of the objectives of Polar expeditions, due account being taken of the difficulties overcome.

A total of 880 silver and 245 bronze medals have been issued for Antarctic expeditions. Another 73 silver medals have been issued for service in the Arctic. In 2016 the medal was awarded to Kim Crosbie for her work in both the Arctic and the Antarctic.[3] Also in 2016, Agnieszka Fryckowska was awarded a Polar Medal at Buckingham Palace.[4]

Several people have been awarded clasps to the medal for earning the award again for polar expeditions. Frank Wild and Ernest Joyce hold the joint record of four clasps on their Polar Medal.[5]


The medal is octagonal in shape with a white ribbon.[6] The reverse of the original Arctic Medal showed a three-masted ship surrounded by ice floes.[6] The die for the medal was engraved by Leonard Charles Wyon. A new design by Ernest Gillick was used from 1904, showing RRS Discovery, with a sledging party in the foreground.[7] The obverse bears a portrait of the reigning monarch.

The medal was originally cast in both silver and bronze. Since 1939, all awarded medals have been silver;[6] bronze medals were presented to personnel on relief ships for Antarctic expeditions, but not awarded to participants of Arctic expeditions.


The Government of Australia replaced the Polar Medal with its own Australian Antarctic Medal in 1987.[8]


The medal was awarded to members of the RCMP ship St. Roch, who patrolled extensively in the western Arctic (1940) and completed a west-to-east passage of the Arctic in 1942. Although several Canadians had received this medal,[9] it was not included in the Canadian Honours System that was promulgated in 1967. Subsequently, a Canadian decoration intended to honour explorers of Canada's polar regions and defenders of the country's sovereignty in the north was initially conceived by Governor General Adrienne Clarkson as the Governor General's Northern Medal and created on 15 September 2005, to award those who serve with distinction in northern Canada. It was replaced on 23 June 2015, by Canada's own Polar Medal.

New Zealand

In 1996, when New Zealand revised its royal honours system, New Zealanders ceased to receive the Polar Medal. It was proposed that the medal would be preserved, with a new name, under New Zealand regulations: the New Zealand Antarctic Medal. The rationale for the renaming was that it is in relation to Antarctica that New Zealand's endeavours and achievements have been made. The Report on honours that recommended the change contained the inaccurate claim that the medal was named after the North Pole. The new medal was formally instituted by the Queen on 1 September 2006.[10]

See also

  • Category:Recipients of the Polar Medal


  1. ^ a b "No. 56878". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 March 2003. p. 3352.
  2. ^ "No. 21997". The London Gazette. 5 May 1857. p. 1580.
  3. ^ "IAATO Executive Director and Falklands' resident awarded the Queen's Polar Medal". en.mercopress.com. Merco Press. 2016. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  4. ^ Tanaka, Kisei (30 May 2016). "Five winters on Antarctica: Agnieszka Fryckowska - Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition". Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition. Archived from the original on 9 September 2017. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  5. ^ "Antarctic Medals". Antarctic-circle.org. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  6. ^ a b c Mills, William J. (2003). Exploring Polar Frontiers: a Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 1. 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 420. ISBN 978-1-57607-422-0.
  7. ^ "Polar Medal 1904, George V". The Royal Collection. Retrieved 23 October 2011.
  8. ^ "Australian Antarctic Medal" (PDF). It's an Honour. Government of Australia. 29 September 2008. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  9. ^ "POLAR MEDAL" (PDF). Blatherwick.net. 4 February 2016. Retrieved 9 January 2019. Prepared by Surgeon Captain John Blatherwick, CM, CStJ, OBC, BSc, DPH, MD, FRCP(C), LLD
  10. ^ "The New Zealand Antarctic Medal". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Archived from the original on 16 May 2014. Retrieved 18 April 2014.


Alexander Kerr

Alexander John Henry Kerr (2 December 1892 – 4 December 1964) was an English marine engineer and wholesale newsagent. He is best known for his service in the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914–1916, for which he was awarded the Silver Polar Medal.

Charles Hoadley

Charles Archibald Brookes Hoadley (Burwood, 1 March 1887 – Footscray, 27 February 1947) was an Australian geologist. He graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1911 with a degree in mining engineering, and was a member of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition led by Sir Douglas Mawson from 1911–14. Hoadley was a member of the Western Base Party. Cape Hoadley was named after him upon discovery by the exploration party.From 1914–16 he lectured in engineering at Ballarat School of Mines, before becoming the Principal at the Footscray Technical School, a post he held until his death in 1947. He was awarded the King's Polar Medal (1915) and made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1936.

Frank Wild

Commander John Robert Francis Wild, (10 April 1873 – 19 August 1939), known as Frank Wild, was an explorer. He went on five expeditions to Antarctica for which he was awarded the Polar Medal with four bars, one of only two men to be so honoured, the other being Ernest Joyce.

James Marr (biologist)

James William Slessor Marr (9 December 1902 – 30 April 1965) was a Scottish marine biologist and polar explorer, renowned for his role as the leader of Operation Tabarin.

Jane Francis

Dame Jane Elizabeth Francis is the Director of the British Antarctic Survey. She previously worked as Professor of Palaeoclimatology at the University of Leeds where she also was Dean of the Faculty of Environment. In 2002 she was the fourth woman to receive the Polar Medal for outstanding contribution to British polar research. She is currently the Chancellor of the University of Leeds.

John King Davis

John King Davis, CBE (19 February 1884 – 8 May 1967) was an English-born Australian explorer and navigator notable for his work captaining exploration ships in Antarctic waters as well as for establishing meteorological stations on Macquarie Island in the subantarctic and on Willis Island in the Coral Sea.

John Rymill

John Riddoch Rymill (13 March 1905 – 7 September 1968) was an Australian polar explorer, who had the rare second clasp added to his Polar Medal.

Launcelot Fleming

William Launcelot Scott Fleming (7 August 1906 – 30 July 1990) was a British Anglican bishop. He was the Bishop of Portsmouth and later the Bishop of Norwich. He was also noted as a geologist and explorer.

Lewis Rickinson

Lewis Raphael Rickinson (born 21 April 1883 (Lewisham), died 16 April 1945 (Newbury, Berkshire)) was an English marine engineer. He is best known for his service in the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914–1916, for which he was awarded the Silver Polar Medal.

Michael Barne

Michael Barne (15 October 1877 – 31 May 1961) was an officer of the 1901-04 Discovery Expedition and was the last survivor of the expedition.

Perce Blackborow

Perce Blackborow (1896 in Newport, Monmouthshire – 1949) was a Welsh sailor, a stowaway on Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

Private Frazer

Private James Frazer is a fictional Home Guard platoon member and undertaker portrayed by John Laurie on the BBC television sitcom Dad's Army. He is noted for his catchphrases "we're doomed!" and "Rubbish!"

Reginald W. James

Reginald William James, FRS (9 January 1891 – 7 July 1964) was a student, researcher, and teacher of physics in England and South Africa. He is best known for his service in the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914–1916, for which he was awarded the Silver Polar Medal.

Thomas McLeod (sailor)

Thomas Frank McLeod was a Scottish sailor who took part in three expeditions to the South Pole. Born in Glasgow to Barbara McLeod, he grew up in Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. He first went to sea aged 14, and in 1910 joined the Terra Nova Expedition, led by Robert Falcon Scott as an able seaman (AS). During the expedition, Scott and other members of the sledging party died, and the Terra Nova returned to England in 1913. McLeod and the other seamen were all awarded the Polar Medal.

A year later, in 1914, McLeod joined the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, this time led by Ernest Shackleton, again serving as an able seaman. During this expedition, the ship Endurance sunk after becoming trapped in sea-ice. The crew were forced to camp on ice, and then row to the relative safety of Elephant Island, where they were later rescued after Shackleton and some of the men rowed to South Georgia to gain help. During this time, McLeod picked up a bible which had been discard by Shackleton (after removing a few pages). McLeod was later awarded a second Polar Medal.

McLeod joined a third expedition to the pole in 1921, the Shackleton–Rowett Expedition, initially led by Shackleton, but later by second-in-command Frank Wild. The expedition was not a success, and the ship returned home in 1922.

In 1923, McLeod emigrated to Canada, initially working as a fisherman, and then later a school caretaker and a night watchman. He later moved to a retirement home in Kingston, Ontario, where he died on 16 December 1960, aged 87. His gravestone lies in the Cataraqui Cemetery.

Timothy McCarthy (sailor)

Timothy 'Tim' McCarthy (15 July 1888 – 16 March 1917) was an Irish able seaman (AB). He is best known for his service in the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914–1916, for which he was awarded the Bronze Polar Medal.

Vivian Fuchs

Sir Vivian Ernest Fuchs (11 February 1908 – 11 November 1999) was an English explorer whose expeditionary team completed the first overland crossing of Antarctica in 1958.

Wally Herbert

Sir Walter William "Wally" Herbert (24 October 1934 – 12 June 2007) was a British polar explorer, writer and artist. In 1969 he became the first man fully recognized for walking to the North Pole, on the 60th anniversary of Robert Peary's famous, but disputed, expedition. He was described by Sir Ranulph Fiennes as "the greatest polar explorer of our time".

During the course of his polar career, which spanned more than 50 years, he spent 15 years in the wilderness regions of the polar world. He travelled with dog teams and open boats well over 23,000 miles – more than half of that distance through unexplored areas.Among his several books, which he illustrated, were works dealing with polar exploration. He also had solo exhibitions of his drawings and paintings. was commissioned by the National Geographic Society to review and assess Peary's records as to his noted 1909 expedition. In The Noose of Laurels (1989), Herbert concluded that Peary had falsified some records and had never reached the North Pole, although he had been close. Herbert's conclusions have been widely accepted. In 2000 he was knighted for his polar achievements.

William Lashly

William Lashly, AM (1867–1940) was a Royal Navy seaman who was a member of both of Robert Falcon Scott's Antarctic expeditions, for which he was awarded the Polar Medal. Lashly was also recognised with the Albert Medal for playing a key role in saving the life of a comrade on the second of the two expeditions.

William Lincoln Bakewell

William Lincoln Bakewell (November 26, 1888 – May 21, 1969) was the only American aboard the Endurance during the 1914 to 1916 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition with Sir Ernest Shackleton. William Bakewell joined the Endurance crew in Buenos Aires, Argentina along with friend Perce Blackborow. Bakewell was hired on as an Able Seaman. Bakewell's adventures, including his time on board the Endurance, are documented in his own words in his memoir The American on the Endurance.

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