Category Archives: Great War

A Picture for Laurie

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!

When Things Go Wrong…

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.

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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 for School children.

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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.

Curiosities…

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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.

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Sassoon’s Medals – a Complicated Story

Here’s a link to the story of Siegfried Sassoon’s Military Cross, often said to have been thrown in the sea. He actually only tore the ribbon from his tunic and threw that away.

I think I’ve covered it before, but I can’t find the relevant post so I’m repeating it here. If you remember the previous post, I apologise for the repetition.

He talks about it in “Memoirs of an Infantry Officer”, published in 1930.

“I ripped the MC ribbon off my tunic and threw it into the mouth of the Mersey.

Weighted with significance though this action was, it would have felt more conclusive had the ribbons been heavier.

As it was, the poor little thing fell weakly on the water and floated away as though aware of its own futility.”

The slightly inaccurate story is here. (He was not a “hard-up poet”, he had a private income).

Here’s a link to the family row over the medal.

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.

 

 

Paper Flags

I first became interested in paper charity flags when I saw some in an antique shop in the early 1990s. They were stuck to a card and had obviously been in a scrap book. This rendered them useless to a collector in many ways but it had allowed the previous owner to write dates and information next to them, so they were more interesting in another way.

As you can see – ambulances were a popular subject. The stories of privately raised medical units, and the people who staffed them could be a book in itself. This list  gives you some idea. Add Lawrence Binyon to it. He often gets overlooked.

Over the years I added a few more, even buying a few off a lady who had kept one of each that she had sold for the Red Cross in 1918. She was sitting with her grand-daughter at an antiques fair in a Suffolk village hall. She was happy that the flags had found a good home, and I was happy to have spent a few minutes chatting with a lady who had eighty years of history behind her. That was in the days when it used to be worth stopping when you saw a sign by the roadside.

Horses were popular too. Eight million horses died in the Great War, plus countless mules and donkeys. They had, as far as I know, no strong views on Belgian neutrality, and didn’t get the right to vote in 1918 after their contribution to the war effort. All in all I think they got a raw deal.

There’s a good Word Press site on military horses but I can’t find it at the moment – I’ll have another look tonight.

As with almost everything, I have various parts of the collection scattered in a variety of boxes around the house, and have a patchy knowledge of the subject. If only I’d applied myself to learning more about the subject I might be an expert with a PhD on litter and a TV series on The Things We Threw Away. Stranger things have happened.

I took a few photographs recently, so here are a few examples for you to look at.

Belgians were also popular in the Great War (see Hercule Poirot for example) and ended up here in great numbers. This link told me a lot I didn’t know about them. I’ve seen the odd plaque about, including one in the Nottingham Guildhall but I never really looked into the subject. I believe that Belgians did have strong views on Belgian neutrality – look here and here for two who certainly did.

Nottingham Badges of the Great War

I’ve been taking pictures of Nottingham-related badges recently. You probably guessed that from the photographs of Nottingham-related badges in this post.

The “Comforts for Troops” badge in the header picture opens up some interesting sites on the net, including this one, with the story of Beatrice Whitby, who seems to have been an exceptional woman, even from the age of eleven. Interestingly, given the times in which she grew up, she did all that work without even having the right to vote.

There is an archive preserved in the Imperial War Museum, which includes many personal papers, and 209 postcards from soldiers who received parcels from the fund whilst prisoners of war. I will let you read the link if you want more detail, for now I will just say that they sent 40,000 parcels to prisoners of war, which was a huge effort.

My Dad and his two brothers raised money for comforts, with a penny a week fund and various other events during the Second World War,  so this is an area that I’m quite interested in.  Dad never mentioned it, I found out by accident when researching  family history in newspapers a few months ago.

This is an Australian article on knitted comforts as I can’t find anything on knitted comforts from Nottinghamshire. It’s interesting, though it does seem a bit ungrateful in places when discussing the quality of socks.

I can’t find anything on the Relatives Association badge so far, or the Hospital badge, though I can tell you that I bought the badge in a mixed lot at the J. Tanenbaum Collection at Neales Auction (Nottingham) on 28 February 1991. It was incidental to the things I actually wanted and it was the badge that set me off collecting badges, so it has a lot to answer for.

Research and Responsibility

No, not a review of one of Jane Austen’s lesser-known offerings, just some thoughts on family history and similar research.

It can all be summed up by the case of my great-great-great uncle Moses. According to the Blackburn Standard of Saturday 16th February 1884 one Moses Gregson, a stone mason, was up in the Borough Police Court for using threatening language to his wife Margaret the previous day.

It may very well be a tale of domestic violence, but on the other hand it may be the story of a family man (or lovable rogue) who took an uncharacteristic drink and ended up in deep water. He was also fined 5 shillings for appearing drunk in court the previous day, so I suspect that he’d been hauled into court by the police whilst still full of the drink that had caused the original problem.

The question is whether to tell people or not.

To modern day members of the family it’s an historical curiosity, but if you tell outsiders it could be a bit embarrassing. It depends on your sensitivity to such things, and though I’m no shrinking violet I do feel a twinge when discussing the story.

The embarrassment would rise, I feel, as you go back in the generations. My mother would have been very unhappy with me revealing it, and my grandmother would have been quite upset. My great-grandmother, who may well have known Moses as a child, is an unknown quantity.

She was born in 1879 and is the oldest member of the family that I knew personally. I really don’t have a clue how she would have reacted to me telling the world her uncle had been in court for drinking and using threatening language to his wife.

If she was still alive I may have been too embarrassed to even mention it to her. She in turn may not have worried about it at all as she had grown up with many things and taken them all in her stride.

This leads on to another example.

I have a small silver medal issued in 1919 to thank a railwayman for his service in the Great War, where he had served in Mesopotamia.  He had two spells in hospital – once with fever and once with syphilis, which seems to have brought his service to an abrupt end. This article discusses venereal disease in the Great War if you are interested.

It’s slightly different to the case of Moses Gregson, as he isn’t a member of the family and I feel no embarrassment about it. I do, however, feel that family members who knew him may still be alive and it’s for them to talk about it (if they want to) rather than me. He was still alive into the 1980s and some of his old neighbours might still be around too.

It’s quite a can of worms when you start looking at it, and the choices are even harder when you’re trying to think of someone else and their reaction.

If something was mentioned in the newspapers in 1884, or in army records in 1918 should we talk about it openly, or should we worry about the possible sensitivity of other people?