A Mystery Badge

I bought this from eBay last week. It was in a mixed lot, was badly titled and didn’t cost a fortune.

I assume from the mention of sacrifice that the name on the back belonged to a soldier killed in the Great War and a quick search of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website provides the name of  17433 Private Walter John Heeley of the 2nd battalion Coldstream Guards, who died on 30th November 1917.

Badge for Sacrifices made in the Great War
Badge for Sacrifices made in the Great War

He is buried in Gouzeaucourt New British Cemetery, France, Grave III. B. 4. Plot III was the original cemetery, which was started in November 1917. It originally held 55 burials but now contains 1,295 burials, of which 381 are unidentified. Some are from later fighting in the area but others are the result of post-war work in bringing in battlefield burials from the small plots where they were buried during and immediately after battle.

The story of the burial of the dead is a fascinating, complex and gruesome one. You can find more information here, though you may need a strong constitution.

On 30th November 1917, the Germans took the village as part of the fighting around Cambrai and the Guards Division was ordered to counter-attack. The 1st Guards Brigade, (consisting of the 1st and 2nd Coldstream Guards and the Irish Guards) was first on the scene. They formed up in an area masked by high ground and charged the village without waiting for reinforcements.

It was a military success, and it saved the British line. It was even mentioned in a poem – The Irish Guards – by Kipling, whose son John had been killed serving with the regiment in 1915. It wasn’t, unfortunately, such a success for Walter Heeley.

He was 26 years old and the husband of Rose Elsie Heeley, 42 Franchise St, Kidderminster. His parents were John Dennis Heeley and Rebecca Heeley, of Kidderminster.

In the UK he is commemorated on Kidderminster War Memorial. He also appears on the memorials of St John the Baptist Church. Kidderminster  and the Kidderminster Conservative and Unionist Club War Memorial.

The only other information I have gathered so far is that a number of these badges are known to men from Kidderminster who were killed in the war, but nobody seems to know who gave them out. Some are marked Mother’s Medal on the back. This one isn’t, suggesting that it was given to Heeley’s widow.

There is clearly still a lot of work for me to do.


Badge for Sacrifices made in the Great War -reverse

Badge for Sacrifices made in the Great War -reverse

23 thoughts on “A Mystery Badge

  1. Lavinia Ross

    I agree with Derrick, your research takes you some interesting, though sometimes gruesome places. Disposal of the dead is one of those things, no matter how someone died. There is always the aftermath, and the cleanup, especially if one dies in their home and is not found for a while. At last one business I m aware of has been founded to do that. NPR did a segment on it a long time ago.

      1. quercuscommunity

        Thanks for the link – I’ve never really considered the question of who has to clear up. It must be a comfort for the family to have someone to do it. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have to clear it up yourself.

  2. derrickjknight

    It is fascinating where your research takes you. During my brief period in the Cubs I failed my stamp collector’s badge because I was only interested in the pictures and didn’t bother to learn the histories.

      1. derrickjknight

        I don’t remember such a badge. I got chucked out for mucking about. It felt too much like another school day. I liked school but not every single day, and, in any case if you mucked about at school you got punished – not rewarded 🙂

      2. quercuscommunity

        My sister was in the Brownies but I’m not a great joiner of things. I had an air gun, a bow and arrow, a copies of Brendon Chase and the Observers Book of Birds and a group of friends. It’s all a nine-year-old needs. 🙂

      3. quercuscommunity

        I was helped by living in the country. In town, with my arsenal and disregard for health and safety I would soon have been set straight by the forces of law and order.

      4. quercuscommunity

        “West Wimbledon with a Waitrose” – an excellent word picture. Have you ever thought of becoming an estate agent? 🙂

        Fields are good for kids.

  3. arlingwoman

    It’s sad these things that families have let go of because nobody knows the people or kept the history. Goodness, 26 is such a baby. But when you look at pictures from the second WW you realize they were just children those soldiers. It’s nice you bought the thing and named his name again.

    1. quercuscommunity

      My great grandfather was 28 when he was killed in 1916 and was considered quite old. He left a widow and three children so his death was only the beginning of the story.

      We often see people in the shop who have medals but don’t anything about the recipient. Three generations have broken all links.

  4. samanthaharris

    26 years old is no age at all is it? Medals don’t seem to hold the gravitas that they did for families. It’s lovely to read about the warriors lost…now unforgotten. Thanks.


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