The Saint Helena Medal (or Médaille de Sainte-Hélène in French) is the first French campaign medal, established in 1857 by a decree of emperor Napoleon III. The medal recognizes participation in the campaigns led by emperor Napoleon I, creator of the Legion of Honour and various other orders (who never instituted commemorative campaign medals for his soldiers).
In time, many veterans of these campaigns, sometimes called the “débris de la Grande Armée” (“remnants of the Great Army”), began meeting within various new veterans’ associations. Keeping alive their war memories and the myth of Napoleon in popular culture, they issued many unofficial commemorative and associative medals. It would be forty two years after the exile of the emperor to the island of Saint Helena called for the need to adequately and officially recognize the service of these combat veterans.
The Saint Helena Medal was awarded to all French and foreign soldiers, from the land armies or naval fleets, who served the Republic or the Empire between the years 1792 and 1815 inclusive. It was awarded with no condition of minimum time of service, however, it was necessary to prove one’s right with a record of service or leave record. The Saint Helena Medal could be revoked following a condemnation to a fixed prison term of one year or more for a crime committed by the recipient.