Polar Medal

Polar Medal

Infobox Military Award
name=Polar Medal

caption=Reverse of medal and ribbon
awarded_by=UK and Commonwealth
type= Medal
for= "extreme human endeavour against the appalling weather and conditions that exist in the Arctic and Antarctic"
established= 1857


The Polar Medal is a medal awarded by the Sovereign of the United Kingdom, which was originally instituted in 1857 as the Arctic Medal to reward earlier explorers attempting to discover the Northwest Passage.

* The first awards were made to the men engaged in a search expedition to discover the fate of Sir John Franklin and his crew who were lost in 1847 while looking for the Northwest Passage.
* A second Arctic Medal was sanctioned for the crews of three ships exploring in the Arctic in 1875–76.
* In 1904 a third and current series, the Polar Medal, was instituted for members of Captain Scott's first expedition to Antarctica. Medals were also awarded to members of Ernest Shackleton's expedition.

Originally the medal came in both silver and bronze; the bronze medals were awarded to personnel of relief ships for Antarctic expeditions. No bronze medals were awarded for Arctic expeditions. Today the medal comes in silver only.

Before 1968 the Polar Medal was awarded to all who participated in any Polar expedition endorsed by the government of any of the Commonwealth Realms. Today however the Polar Medal is only awarded to selected British individuals for extreme human endeavour against the appalling weather and conditions that exist in the Arctic and Antarctic. An increasing number are awarded to members of expeditions and scientific bases that are kept constantly manned in the Antarctic. The Regulations governing the award have been revised and now "acquisition of knowledge of Polar regions shall normally be ten years such service to be considered a medal". However, greater emphasis is now placed on individual service.

A total of 880 silver and 245 bronze medals have been issued for Antarctic expeditions and a further 73 silver medals for Arctic expeditions.

Ranulph Fiennes and Wally Herbert are among the few to have been awarded the Polar Medal and bar, covering as they have, expeditions in both the Arctic and Antarctic.


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

New Zealand

In 1996 when New Zealand revised its royal honours system, New Zealanders ceased to receive the Polar Medal, although it was proposed that the medal would be preserved, with a new name, under New Zealand regulations. The rationale for the renaming was the surprising belief that "Polar" meant the north pole, and indicated that the advisory committee were apparently ignorant both of the history of the Polar Medal as well as of geography.Fact|date=February 2008

On September 12006 the New Zealand Antarctic Medal was instituted by the Queen of New Zealand.


* The medal is octagonal and the obverse bears the head of the reigning monarch (Victoria, Edward VII, George V, George VI or Elizabeth II)
* The reverse depicts the RRS "Discovery" with a sledge party in the foreground.
* The ribbon is plain white with a watermarked or moiré pattern.

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