Collection Insights

For grieving mothers and widows

Badges and medals that acknowledge the death of a service person have been presented to the mothers and widows of the fallen from various conflicts and in many countries. Here are some of the objects held in the Memorial’s collection.

First World War Mothers and Widows badge

These were issued to the mothers or widows of all Australians who were killed in action, died of wounds or other causes on active service, or died later of wounds or sickness attributable to their service. Mrs Mary Reiddie Peterson’s four sons enlisted in the AIF, but only one returned; the three stars on her badge represent those who did not.               

Etched image of badge

Second World War Mothers and Widows badge

This Mothers and Widows badge was issued to Mrs Constance O'Sullivan on the death of her son, Gunner John O'Sullivan, killed in action at Derna on 26 January 1941. It has been personalised with a sweetheart brooch in the form of the colour patch for the 6th Division Royal Australian Artillery.

WW2 mothers badge

Canadian silver Memorial Cross

The Canadian Government sent this cross to the Australian-born widow of David Turner, who served with the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve in the First World War. After her husband’s death, Annie returned to Sydney with her infant daughter to live with her family. The Cross is still issued to the mothers or widows of Canadian service personnel who die on active service.

Medal for Mothers and Widows of the Fallen   

(Medaglia di Madri e Vedove Dei Caduti)

This medal was awarded to all mothers and widows of Italian servicemen who died during the First World War. The inscription reads, “The son whom you bore in pain is reborn to you, O blessed one, full of glory, and he lives as a hero. With gratitude.”

Japanese Bereavement Medal  

Bereavement medals were awarded to mothers and other family members of Japanese service personnel who were killed in action. The cherry blossom symbolises the beauty and fragility of life, and purple is a colour associated with Japanese funeral rites.

Medal for mothers

About the author

Kerry Neale is an Assistant Curator in the Military Heraldry and Technology Section at the Australian War Memorial.

This article appeared in Wartime issue 84. Purchase the magazine here.