Category Archives: Great War

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?

 

 

 

 

A Hundred Years Ago…

Sorry, this is a bit of a downbeat post, but it relates to events 100 years ago today, and it seems appropriate. This is from the Clitheroe Advertiser on 21st December 1917.

Obituary notice - Wm H Wilson

Obituary notice – W H Wilson

It’s not quite accurate, as he’d originally volunteered in 1914 but been turned down (my grandfather went with him to volunteer that day but claimed to be less than nine months younger than him – this was hailed as a medical miracle by the recruiting sergeant, who also rejected my grandfather.) The fact that he wasn’t called up until  a year after conscription could indicate that he was needed on the farm as part of the war effort, but there is no indication on his card.

He joined the battalion in July 1917 and was wounded in action on 22nd October, a slight gunshot wound to the head according to his medical records. Slight? They were obviously tougher in those days.

He rejoined the battalion on 5th December, and was, as reported in the paper, fatally wounded whilst in trenches in the Ypres salient on 12th December.

He is buried in Lijsssenthoek Militart Cemetery and is unusual amongst the three members of the family killed in the war in having a marked grave.

 

This is the lisy of personal effects sent home to his mother – photos, wallet, cigarette case, cards, 2 cap badges, 2 numerals (probably shoulder titles), 9 carat gold ring (WHW), 1 farthing, bag.. They would later send a tin case containing a safety razor and blades. Shaving was a complicated subject in the trenches.

WHW Effects

He was, according to one of my great-grandmother’s letters, walking out with a local woman, before being sent to France. At that point he had only five months to live and was to be wounded twice and mentioned in despatches in that time.

    

The war memorial in Slaidburn (currently being restored) features his name, as does my great-grandmother’s gravestone (which also mentions my great-grandfather). If you compared the war memorial  figures at Clitheroe and Slaidburn you will see that they are the same, something I learned whilst pteparing the previous post on Clitheroe. She never recovered from Billy’s death (he was Billy to the family – William to record-keepers) and threw out anything that reminded her of the war. That, we are told, is why there is no existing photo of him.

Great-grandmother is buried in Chatburn, the village where my mother was bombed, and where I later went to school less than 100 yards from the gravestone, which I never knew about until a few years ago.

This closes the circle as her son-in-law is commemorated on Chatburn war memorial – something else I never knew when I went to Chatburn school – the school is the building in the background of this photograph.

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Clitheroe and Family History

We went to Slaidburn on Monday, taking the tree picture on the way. It’s a fascinating old village, which wouldn’t look out of place in a Harry Potter film (or a Hammer House of Horror film for those of us who remember them).

I’ll be writing about that visit in a couple of days.

Then we went to Clitheroe. It’s a pleasant small town not far from Pendle Hill, and it has cropped up a few times in recent posts, mainly as a residence for various members of my family. I used to enjoy visiting it when I was a child, though I have to say that I never noticed how hilly it was when I was younger.

It was a dullish day so I had a go with the effects on my computer – not sure if it’s worked or not. One of my early memories is of visiting the war memorial with my grandmother and being shown her father’s name on the side.

 

Like so many others he’s just a name on a memorial now, I doubt if anyone who knew him is alive now.

These are various homes of the Carus family over the years. The one with the red car is where my grandmother was living with her widowed mother in 1917, and may be the one where the family photo was taken. The view of the castle is the one they would have seen when they stepped outside.

Harry Carus and family. Clitheroe 1915.

Harry Carus and family -1915

The house with the silver car outside is the one where all the family lived in the late 19th century – all nine of them!

The other one, with the box balls in the front garden, is where Isaac Newton Carus lived, before handing it on to one of his sons.

I have a lot more to do, so this is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s a strange feeling, seeing all these places where family used to live, particularly as I must have passed within 100 yards of one of them dozens of times without realising.