If you go to Westminster Abbey you can walk on the graves of many famous figures from history, but there is one grave you can’t walk on, which is strange, because nobody actually knows who is buried there.
I had thought of writing a piece on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior for today, but I just had this sent and it does it better than me, so here is the link. There are more details here.
What it doesn’t seem to mention is that the interment took place in the presence of approximately 100 women who had lost their husband and all their sons in the war. This wasn’t all the women who had lost their husband and all their sons in the war, just the ones who accepted the invitation.
The railway carriage that brought the coffin to Westminster Abbey is preserved and was also used to bring home the bodies of Captain Fryatt and Nurse Edith Cavell. I mentioned them in a post a while ago.
The reason people needed a focus for their grief was due to the unusual nature of the war, where the same few miles of ground were fought over time and time again. Even if a soldier was buried properly, and there are many tales of bravery associated with soldiers giving their comrades a decent burial, it was quite likely that the site would be churned up by shelling, or that the paperwork reporting the site would be lost, or that the poor quality dog-tags of the time would not be up to the task of identifying the body a tear or two later.
That is why there are 315,000 names on memorials in France and Belgium commemorating men with no known grave. Many of them do have graves, but they are marked as Known Unto God. There are 212,000 headstones that use those words, chosen by Kipling and used on the headstone of his son John. That leaves 103,000 bodies unaccounted for, and they are currently still being recovered at the rate of approximately 40 a year in France.
Even now there is still a chance of identification – particularly if you are famous. Researchers eventually identified John Kipling’s grave was identified. The Queen Mother laid her bridal wreath on the tomb when she married in 1923, establishing a tradition for all royal brides to do the same. Her brother Fergus was killed in 1915 and the site of his grave was lost. In 2012 a grave marker was erected in a cemetery – it bears his name and the inscription “Buried near this spot”, as they have been able to identify the cemetery but not the actual grave.
This article gives you some idea of the efforts still going on today.
I always misquote the inscription, and to be honest the misquote fits better as a title – here is the full quote.
They buried him among the kings because he Had done good toward God and toward His house
The featured image shows a miniature group, as worn in Mess Dress, awarded to a British officer who served in both World Wars – the first medal is a British War Medal, complete with ribbon. I’ve included it here as a way of showing the medal complete with ribbon and suspender. The one in this story is not so complete.
British War Medals were awarded to troops and merchant seamen who served overseas in many different capacities, and some were issued to troops, mainly in the Royal Navy and RAF, who served in the UK. They were also issued to soldiers who fought after November 1918 in the Russian Intervention and sailors who were engaged in mine disposal into 1920.
British War Medal 1914-18 to Pte Morris Sheffield Pals
The obverse features a bust of George V, as used on our coins at the time, and the reverse features a naked horseman trampling on a shield bearing a Prussian Eagle. Iconography was less subtle in those days.
British War Medal 1914-18 to Pte Morris Sheffield Pals
There were approximately 6.5 million issued in silver and 110,000 in bronze. They were all named, which must have been a tremendous undertaking, and a tremendous cost.
We are offered them on a regular basis and the people selling them often don’t know who the recipients were – they may have been family members or they may even have just been picked up by a previous member of the family with a magpie’s curiosity for picking up shiny objects.
This was probably the case with the medal we bought in a parcel of old coins last week. They had obviously been accumulated over the years and the selection included a little silver, a lot of copper (up to the reign of the current Queen) various odds and sods of foreign change (including war souvenirs and holiday change) and the disc of a British War Medal. It was heavily polished and the suspender was missing.
The owner passed it over to me to see if I could find any information on the recipient, as silver prices are high and he was thinking of scrapping it. That is what has happened to a lot of medals over the years. One estimate I have seen is that a million medals may have been scrapped during the silver boom in the 1980s. I have never agreed with scrapping named medals, but it’s a fact of life.
British War Medal 1914-18 to Pte Morris Sheffield Pals
This one, despite its defects, won’t be going into scrap. It is named to 12-1682 Pte J T Morris of the York & Lancaster Regiment. This denotes that he was a member of the 12th Battalion of the regiment, and the 12th Battalion of the York & Lancaster Regiment was the Sheffield Pals.
If you have ever read Covenant With Death by John Harris you will know the story, as the book is based on the Sheffield Pals.
MIC Pte J T Morris Sheffield Pals – this is a medal index card which shows he was discharged to the Z Reserve at the end of the war – despite his wound in 1916 he must still have been fit for service. The Class Z Reserve was a special reserve formed for the end of the war so that if the peace negotiations broke down, which seemed likely at one time, we could recall everyone and start fighting again. I’m not sure what would have happened if they had tried it.
They were brigade with the 13th and 14th Battalions (both Barnsley Pals) and the 11th East Lancashire Regiment – probably the most famous of the Pals battalions – the Accrington pals. Mike Harding wrote a song about them, though his accuracy has been questioned. (I hope the song plays OK – my computer has no sound so I have to take it on trust. In my mind it is 1981 and I am listening to a live performance in Preston…)
Anyway, I confirmed that, as his number implied, Private Morris was in the Sheffield Pals. He may not actually have been in the attack on 1st July (the First Day of the Battle of the Somme) but he was wounded whilst serving with the 2nd Battalion in October 1916. He hasn’t left much behind him, just this disc, probably a Victory medal, and a story of military misadventure, but at least I’ve been able to bring his memory back to life for a while.
Pte J T Morris Sheffield Pals
I’ve not done more research, but I have saved it from the scrap box and it will, I’m sure, end up in the collection of a keen collector who values the story rather than just the item.
For more on Pals Battalions, see this link. They were a brilliant idea from the point of view of recruiting and instilling esprit de corps, but when things went wrong it was like cutting the heart out of a community.
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
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
If you look up “Sweetheart Brooches” on the internet you will find a few links to eBay and a leading dealer, then you find a link to a post of mine. That is a ridiculous state of affairs, partly because there should be more information out there, and partly because I only made a couple of short mentions of them. The highest-ranked entry of mine isn’t even the most informative post I wrote about sweetheart brooches. The internet is indeed a mysterious place.
Cambridgeshire Regiment Sweetheart
The Cambridgeshire Regiment was a small unit and the badges are hard to find. This one is mounted on a wishbone, a symbol of luck, promise and potential. Nickel-plated brass.
As usual, when things have been slack, I have reverted to spending too much time on eBay. Whilst it is a pleasurable activity it can also be a disastrous way of spending time as I can’t resist buying things, and it soon starts to add up. Fortunately, having spent many years as a dealer in collectibles, I have a built-in aversion to paying full price, which tends to keep things within bounds. Despite this I’ve still managed to add eight items to my sweetheart collection.
Sweetheart brooches are strange things, because they weren’t even called that until the 1970s. Well, not in the UK – they may well have been called that in the USA, where there is a wide range of sweetheart items. Until that time, in the UK, a sweetheart brooch was a brooch bought for a sweetheart and they tended to feature motifs of birds, hearts or flowers. They were not military themed, as the brooches are that we now call sweethearts. These are mentioned in various news reports before the Great War, often cropping up in breach of promise reports. Those were definitely different days, when a man’s promise to marry could be enforced in court, and the gift of a brooch could be used in evidence.
Lancashire Fusiliers Sweetheart
The Lancashire Fusiliers badge is stamped “Sterling” on the back, showing that it is silver but offering no dating evidence. I would guess it’s late WW1.
In contemporary newspapers the brooches we now call sweethearts are known as Regimental Brooches or Badge Brooches. They are to be seen in newspaper adverts and feature in reports of weddings, when the groom gives a regimental brooch to his bride. These reports are mainly from the 1920s and 30s and I suspect they are the high-quality brooches which rarely feature in my collection.
The type of brooch known as white-faced enamel sweethearts (as featured in the header picture) are usually well made, and are made from brass and enamel. A cheap brass and enamel brooch could cost as little as 4d, the white-faced enamel type would cost you 1/6d. (That is fourpence and one and six (one shilling and sixpence) for those of you who don’t know.) Fourpence is worth 2 new pence and 1/6 is worth 7½p.
Yorkshire Light Infantry Sweetheart
Nickel-plated brass again. Cheapish quality but with the military motif of crossed rifles, which you don’t often see. This is the first of its type for my collection.
At that point I had better stop and deliver a quick word on British pre-decimal currency in 1914. There were 240 pennies in a pound, 12 pennies in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound. We also had farthings (¼d) and halfpennies, pronounced ha’penny, (½d).
When we went decimal, with 100 pennies to the £1 a new penny (1p) was worth 2.4d. The abbreviation became p for penny rather than d for denarius (even though it was pronounced penny).
That’s about as clear as I can make it. I have condensed two thousand years of coinage into six lines, but I think I’ve covered the basics.
WW2 Aircrew Sweetheart – silver
RAF Pilot’s Wings are quite common, but the half-wings for other aircrew are not so easy to find. The style of this one is distinctively WW2 with the brooch bar and dangler style. The “S” for Signaller brevet was issued from 1944 onwards to the aircrew who used radar and similar technology, which was all developed during the war.
To put this in context, an infantry private in the British Army was paid a shilling a day (1/- or 5p in decimal terms). He was also fed, and got meat every day, which was better food than most of them got at home.
The header picture is a white-faced enamel sweetheart of the Scots Guards. It cost a day and a half’s wages and would have been bought by a new recruit for his mother, girlfriend or sister as he embarked on a great adventure. There are eight brooches pictured here. On average, one man in seven was killed, which means that it’s likely one of the men who bought these brooches didn’t make it back home.
This is a sweetheart brooch of the 10th (The Prince of Wales’s Own) Royal Hussars, consisting of a regimental badge on a cavalry sword. It is a nice brooch to obtain because the ones with swords are difficult to find, as are brooches to cavalry regiments. In 1914 there were 733,514 men in the British Army, with less than 16,000 being cavalrymen, so you can see why the cavalry brooches are difficult to find.
There is a fault with the brooch, which is probably why it was reasonably priced (I hesitate to say too much about prices because Julia reads this blog). The hallmarks on the reverse are, unfortunately incomplete.
You can tell that the maker is MB in two circles which is Marshall Brothers, that the item was marked in Birmingham (Anchor) and is sterling silver (Lion), but the final element, the date letter, is under the hinge. This is irritating, but not unknown, and it’s a nice addition to the collection, even without a date letter. It’s likely to be around 1912-16, based on the dates of similar items.
Finally, we have a sweetheart brooch of the Welsh Regiment, hallmarked Birmingham 1898 and again made by Marshall Brothers. The hollow silver horseshoe was a common design at the turn of the century and persisted until the early years of WW1. This is a nice early example.The regiment was known as the Welsh Regiment from 1881 – 1920 and the Welch Regiment after 1920.
Welsh Regiment Sweetheart
Hallmarks – Birmingham 1898
This example has the regimental motto on it – Gwell angau na Chywilydd (Better Death than Dishonour) – rather than a scroll with “The Welsh” on it as brooches sometimes deviate from the official badge pattern. There’s some minor damage to it, but what do you expect from a brooch that has survived for 122 years?
Along with the personal link, that this was originally a gift with a great deal of meaning to it, the wear is all part of the charm.
Silver Brooch HMS Celerol
Hallmarks – Birmingham 1915 Frank H Mannox
The final brooch says “Well Done HMS Celerol”. I’m not sure what they did well, and can’t find any record of it. Celerol was a Tanker/Oiler, a class of ship used to escort convoys, import oil and refuel other ships. Launched in Sunderland in 1917, Celerol stayed in service until 1958. She was a hard-working ship, serving in two World Wars and the Russian Intervention, but she seems to have avoided both fame and disaster. Although several of her sister ships were sunk by enemy action Celerol survived to meet her end in the breaker’s yard at Bo’ness.
In May 1919 they had a cycle race in France and Belgium, taking in the battlefields and severely testing the endurance of the participants, many of whom had only just returned from the army.
This book describes the race and sets it against a modern cycling tour following the route, along with a travelogue based on the two wars fought in the area – the Franco-Prussian War and the Great War.
I haven’t been on a bike for forty years, but I like travel books and I’m very interested in history, particularly the events of 1919, so it was an obvious choice.
Cycle racing is tough these days. A hundred years ago it was tougher, with longer stages, rudimentary equipment and a ban on accepting outside help, whether from blacksmiths, teams or competitors. With the added hazards of war-ravaged roads and unseasonably bad weather it became less of a sporting event and more an endurance test. Despite many of the seemingly petty rules, there was no law against the use of performance-enhancing drugs (strychnine and cocaine in those days). This must have been a great comfort to the racers, particularly when weather conditions meant that several of them had to use battlefield ruins for a few hours sleep and shelter.
Most of the references to modern cycling went right over my head, though the contrast between the bikes and clothing of 1919 and 2019 is an eye-opener.
The Zone Rouge covered 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) in 1919. Even today it still covers 100 square kilometres (about the area of Paris). To be honest, I didn’t even know it still existed, or how the French and Belgians went about reconstructing their country. I am now better-informed about this, and a number of other subjects.
It’s a well written book by an experienced journalist and as such it has flow and pace and is a genuine page turner.
My least favourite parts of the book are the made up conversations between the racers. I’m sure they are accurate reflections of the conversations that would have been held, but they do blur the line between fact and fiction. As a device it works well and moves the narrative along, but I’m never happy with it in a history book. This is, however, a minor quibble and if this was the sort of review that gave stars I would give it five out of five.
This is the second post of the day, as it has been in preparation for the last few days. Unfortunately, politics intruded and although it gave me material for posts about judgement and a Fifty Foot Johnson I thought I’d go ahead anyway, rather than let it get lost in the unused drafts.
I wanted a look at the church and war memorial at Sibsey because I have a medallion awarded to a Sibsey man for his part in the Great War – normally called a tribute medal. It’s just over an inch high and I always thought it was a watch fob, but I’ve recently seen one pictured and it should have a bar and pin, the bar bearing the words “Sibsey Boys Fund Great War Souvenir”. Research doesn’t always turnn up the things you want. Corporal Good seems to have survived the war, as he doesn’t appear on the war memorial.
Gift from Sibsey 1918
Gift from Sibsey 1918 – Cpl S. Good
According to the Boston Guardian 22 January 1916, Corporal S. Good of the RAMC had just spent a week on leave with his parents, Mr and Mrs F Good of Sibsey. I used this information to check the census – no sign of him in 1911, but he was listed in 1891 – Samuel Good.
I haven’t been able to pick him up on the military records, which is annoying, but I did pick him up on the 1939 Roll, the one that was used for ID Cards and rationing. As the 1931 Census results were destroyed in the Blitz and the 1941 Census was postponed, the 1939 list is quite important.
In 1939 he was the landlord of the Britannia Inn, Church St, Boston. It is now “Boston’s premier fun bar”. Those words, to be honest, appear to be like a glimpse into hell.
Searching newspapers on-line for the pub name I found that his wife had died in 1942, that they had been married 15 years and that they had one daughter, who went to Boston High School. He was an ex-serviceman, holder of the Mons Star and two of his brothers had died as a result of being gassed in the previous war.
I have found that he set fire to his curtains when he used petrol in an attempt to light his fire and that he was summonsed for two blackout offences during the war, which is ironic when you consider that he was an Air Raid Warden.
There’s still a lot more to find, but I’ve managed to rough out a good part of his life, which will be appearing as part of my talk at the Numismatic Society. There is, however, quite a lot more to do.
The opening picture is a medallion of William Shakespeare by Paul Vincze, commissioned for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. You may remember the Moon Landing Medallion I pictured a few days ago. I mentioned I had this in my collection and Laurie said she’d be interested in seeing a picture of it. I laughed in a hollow fashion, as it’s just one piece of the multifarious detritus that flows around our house.
However, I have to start tidying and last night one of the first things I put my hand on was my medallion collection. To be more accurate, some of my “medallion collection”. The some is easy to understand, the inverted commas were added as I haven’t really collected so much as accumulated. There is a difference, as we tell people when they come to the shop with bags and boxes and even buckets of coins, stamps, cigarette cards, medals and postcards. We do banknotes too, but they don’t usually appear in such quantity.
An accumulation is just an aimless gathering of bits and pieces, often put together with an eye to quantity and economy rather than a theme. It’s often called a collection, but that doesn’t make it one. I could call a salad food, but that doesn’t alter the fact that it’s just colourful plate decoration.
I’m in anti-salad mode tonight. Julia is cooking and has just told me that our baked potatoes and veggie burgers will be accompanied by salad. This is indeed a cruel and unusual meal.
However, back to collections, a proper collection should have a theme, it should improve your knowledge of the subject and it might even increase knowledge of a collecting field.
Having rather foolishly agreed to give a talk at the Numismatic Society – Monday, 9 March 2020 – Peace & Tribute Medallions of The Great War – I am having to knock that part of my collection into shape. (Make a note in your diary if you are in the area).
The trouble is that there isn’t much information about them and I’m having to trawl the internet and write to museums. So far the museums have been friendly but have had no information, and the internet is tricky. If you search individual towns for information something sometimes crops up. But if you just search generally the third or fourth reference I found was one of my posts on this blog.
I’ve pictured a couple of examples below. In a week or two I’ll probably find this post cropping up as part of my research!
Great War Tribute Medal Ecton, Yorks
Great War Tribute Medal – Washington and Barmston , County Durham
Have you ever noticed that when something goes wrong, more problems follow? Say, for instance, that you fall asleep in front of the TV and wake up with just thirty posting minutes before midnight, the computer seems to slow down and photos refuse to load.
Well, that’s the sort of night I’m currently having.
I’m posting now, then I’m going back to write the rest of the post and add photos, so if you’ve read so far and there is nothing more to read you may want to come back in twenty minutes.
I started off with a blood test, arriving at 7.20 to find a longer queue than usual and a notive on the wall telling me that the average wait last month was 12 minutes. This is three minutes (or 25%) longer than the nine minutes claimed last time. Or 33% depending which number you start with – I’ve never quite understood which is the right way round. It didn’t matter, because the actual wait was over twenty minutes.
It seemed longer because I’d forgotten my glasses. I’ve broken two sets recently and the situation regarding spares is getting tricky. As in, I have no spares. The current position is that I have misplaced two sets and broken two, which just leaves me with one set – the ones that make me look like Clark Kent.
OK, I look like Clark Kent in an alternative universe where he looks like a well-worn version of Santa Claus, but the glasses are similar.
I’m now waiting for the results.
We had a reasonably active day, with twelve parcels after which I visited friends and went home early to do a few jobs. These included drinking tea, watching Pointless and doing a little light snoozing.
I also started listing my collection of Peace and Tribute medals from the Great War as I’m doing a talk on them for the Numismatic Society next year. Yes, 2020, a year after the centenary of the Peace Celebrations in 2019. I have a gift for timing.
Huddersfield Peace Medal.
I’m gathering information at the moment, which is where I’ve been all night – head stuck in the internet looking for interesting anecdotes about Peace Medals. Unfortunately you’ll have to wait for next year as I don’t want to use all my material in advance of the big day.
Did I mention that I don’t like public speaking? My aversion to public speaking is greater than my combined aversion to working, spending money or eating salad. Yes, I’d rather work as a buyer in a salad factory than give a talk. The only thing that outweighs this is my vanity.
There are basically two types of medal that come under the Peace Medal banner – the cheap white metal ones given out to children as part of the Peace Day Celebration and the better quality ones given to returning servicemen to thank them for their service.
I mentioned in a previous post that things did not go well at all Peace Day Celebrations. The ones in Luton, for instance, went spectacularly wrong.
Here are two examples of the different sorts of medal.. They are all larger than life size.
Plymouth Peace Medal 1919
Plymouth Peace Medal for School children.
Washington & Barmston Tribute Medal
Washington & Barmston Tribute Medal in silver and enamel. Note that the town gave rise to a famous surname, and the coat of arms was used, according to informed conjecture, to have been used in the design of the Stars and Stripes.
The medal in the picture is a British War Medal from the Great War. It isn’t rare – 6,500,000 were issued. Over the years many have been melted during booms in the silver price but there are still many survivors. It’s one of the commonest medals we see in the shop and, generally, they aren’t very interesting.
The cartwheel penny is also a common enough item (the first order was for 480 tons of this 1 ounce coin – over 15,000,000) and is often found cut about or counter-stamped like this one. Some people actually collect this sort of mutilated coin. It looks like someone has been trying to make it into a cogwheel. They have also stamped the name “Gosden” into it.
So, two common items, why the blog post?
Well, the medal is named to Private O G Gosden, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen a penny and a medal named to the same family name.
In addition, the Medal Index Card shows that he is only entitled to the one medal, which is unusual, as it usually came in a group. Normally this indicates that the recipient served in India, as part of the force sent there to replace the Indian troops that went to serve in France and the Middle East. In Gosden’s case his unit – the 10th Middlesex Regiment – sailed from Southampton on the “Royal George” 30th October 1914 and arrived in Bombay on 2nd December 1914. It stayed there until the end of the war.
I found no information on what he did during the war, but I do know he lived from 1879 to 1959, was a solicitor in civilian life and left over £120,000 when he died. There’s more information to find, but I’ll leave that to the purchaser as I don’t want to spoil the fun of researching it.
I can’t find the reference to his war medals, claimed by the family after his death and later sold by Sothebys (he never claimed them himself) but if you are interested here is a copy of the sale details from the sale of one of his sports medals.