Category Archives: History

Military Sweetheart Brooches

The brooch in the featured image is one of the earlier ones you will see about. It is a hollow silver horseshoe with the dates of the Boer War on the front and a Victorian crown at the top of the badge. It’s actually hallmarked 1904 on the back, but sweethearts can be a bit like that, and aren’t always as accurate as you would like.

The earliest sweethearts date from the 1890s but the first surge of popularity took place during the Boer War (1899 – 1902) then in the Great War things really took off. This is logical when you think there were millions of men in the army, and consequently millions of wives and girlfriends to buy the brooches for.

At this time they also became cheaper and less well made. Brass and enamel sweethearts from this time are very common, as are the ones with plain mother of pearl surrounds.

There were other styles, including ones mounted on rifles and swords (though you’ll have to settle for rifles at the moment as that’s all the photographs I have).

The next step up in terms of quality were the silver rimmed mother of pearl brooches, often stamped “Sterling Silver Rim” on the back. There were also silver badges and silver-rimmed tortoiseshell brooches. The silver ones are often stamped “Silver” or “Sterling” on the back, but the silver rimmed tortoiseshell brooches are usually hallmarked.

These two brooches demonstrate another feature of collecting – the Machine Gun Corps was a war-raised unit and existed from 1915-22. Their brooches are sought after by collectors of Great War memorabilia, despite the fact they shouldn’t be rare –  over 170,000 men served in the corps during the war.

By contrast, the Royal Engineers aren’t a sought after unit as there were so many of them – in August 1917 there were 295,668 men serving in the RE. Despite being common, and made from tortoiseshell, the RE brooch does have a significant advantage over the more desirable MGC brooch – it is hallmarked on the back.

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Hallmarks on the back of the brooch

This allows us to tell that it is sterling silver (the Lion), was hallmarked in London (Leopard’s head) and dates from 1916 (letter a). The maker’s mark “C Bro” is the mark of Corke Brothers and Co.

This is just a brief view of sweethearts – there are other types so, as my photography catches up there may be other posts on the subject.

They have a much closer connection to the men of the Great War than medals, for instance. At least you can be sure that most of these brooches were bought by soldiers and worn by mothers or girlfriends. Sometimes you find one still pinned to its original card, where it has been stored in a drawer for years, but most seem to have been worn.

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Notts and Derby – still on original card

Contrast this with the medals from the Great War. Many, when sold by families, are still in the boxes, having never been worn. My grandfather kept his in a drawer and never showed them to anyone. We all thought that his mother had thrown them out when she threw away his brother’s medals. Having lost a son and a son-in-law, got rid of everything connected with the war and refused to discuss it until the day she died in 1930. Those who died in the war, of course, never even saw their medals.

 

 

 

Book Review – Eggs or Anarchy

Eggs or Anarchy by William Sitwell

Paperback: 368 pages

Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (9 Feb. 2017)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1471151077

ISBN-13: 978-1471151071

Between the wars the government took the view that we should produce what we were good at and import the rest. This meant we were importing about 60% of our food, as we had been doing in 1914. The problem was that the Germans had more efficient aircraft and submarines in 1939.

Fter a successful retail career, Lord Woolton took on the job of sourcing the millions of uniforms needed to equip a new army. He was surprised to find that having ordered the trousers he had to order the fly buttons via another government department.

He managed to sort it all out, and then took on the task of organising food supplies, including issuing millions of ration books and developing a system that was fair to all.

He didn’t just have U-Boats to worry about, he had Churchill and his attempts to use shipping for moving troops. Then he had to organise storage for food in places where it wouldn’t be bombed, make sure our suppliers didn’t overcharge us and iron out inefficiencies in distribution at home. The title refers to the fears that order and morale would break down if he was unable to get the rations out.

One of my favourite moments was when he told visiting American politicians that he would prefer their ships to their good wishes. He was not a conventional politician, having come to it late in life.

As for the famous Woolton Pie… Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out his thoughts on that.

It’s an interesting subject, though the writing doesn’t always reflect this, and poses a few questions about food security, which we are going to have to answer in the coming years.

Garden Centres, Disappointment and a Widow

We  went to two garden centres this morning. The first one was disappointing, with a closed cafe and a definite lack of things worth buying. The second was equally poor, despite promises of 50% off. At least the cafe was open, even if they did serve the cheese toasties with salad on a breadboard. Not even a traditional British breadboard either, but a modern pressed bamboo monstrosity.

Both of them seem to be plagued by thieves, judging from the notices stuck up around the centres. Hampson’s in Wakefield have gone as far as to install a security shed and employ two people to write signs telling you that “Your on TV” (sic), or in the case of the second person “You’re on TV”. I’ve never had the opportunity to write (sic) before; blogging is really expanding my horizons.

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Security shed ay the Garden Centre

The garden centre at Ackworth takes a different approach, having a sign up to ask customers to report each other if they see them stealing.

So there we were, with hardly an item purchased, nothing of interest seen and not much of a back-up plan. At that point we found the Ackworth memorial to local quarrymen. I’ve driven through the village dozens of times before Number Two son’s enforced retirement from Rugby League and never knew it existed.

It lists 15 men of the area who died between 1878 and 1935.

I had a quick look for John Desborough on the internet – it’s a reasonably uncommon name and it produces several results. Born in Lincolnshire in 1843, spent some time in Holbeach Workhouse with two brothers and a sister. He was an agricultural labourer until 1876, when he married in Ackworth, worked as a quarryman and had five children before being killied in a quarry accident on 17th  May 1889.

His wife Susanah did not remarry, and his three sons all went to work as quarrymen. Susannah died in 1916, and is buried in St Cuthberts churchyard.

Tough times, and an interesting memorial.

 

The Kings We Never Had (Part 4)

James II had 27 children by two wives and two mistresses. The only one we need to mention is James Francis Edward Stuart, also known as the “Old Pretender”. He was born in 1688, shortly before his father was deposed in the Glorious Revolution, lived in France and assumed the title  James III (or VIII of Scotland) on the death of his father in 1701.

In 1714, with Queen Anne nearing the end of her life, he was offered the throne if he would convert to the Protestant religion. He refused, and landed in Scotland in 1715 in an attempt to depose George I. Unable to secure military success he left for the continent a lived in Rome for the rest of his life. When he died in 1766 his “reign” had lasted 64 years, 3 months and 16 days, compared to  63 years, seven months and two days for Queen Victoria. Only the current Queen has reigned longer.

Next in this line is Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie or The Young Pretender. He tried to take the throne in 1745, coming as far south as Derby, before retreating to Scotland, where the Battle of Culloden became the last battle fought on British soil.

His brother Henry, a cardinal, became Henry IX of England and I of Scotland and was, in his later days, supported financially (to the tune of £4,000 a year) by George III. He died in 1807 and was the last Jacobite to claim the throne.

Frederick, Prince of Wales, was the son of George II; when the family left for England, he was left in Hanover and did not see his parents for 14 years. This may be why he was a difficult child and opposed his father in most things, even going so far as to secure the release of Flora MacDonald from the Tower after she was imprisoned for helping Bonnie Prince Charlie to escape after the 1745 Rebellion.

He was a great cricket fan and supported the game financially as well as playing for the county of Surrey. In the 1733 season he presented a silver cup to the Surrey and Middlesex team that beat Kent – the first recorded cricket trophy. He died in 1751, probably from a pulmonary embolism, though some sources say it was a lung abcess caused by a blow from a cricket ball.

Fredericksburg, Virginia, Prince Frederick, Maryland , Fort Frederick, Maine, Fort Frederick, South Carolina, Fort Frederick, New York, Fort Frederica, Georgia, Fort Frederick, Maryland, Point Frederick, Ontario, Fort Frederick, Ontario and Fort Frederick, New Brunswick are all named after him.

We can only speculate what would have happened if he had lived to succeed his father, some historians suggest that the future of America might have been very different. Well, the place names certainly would be. However, he didn’t, and his son eventually became George III. George III was suceeded by two of his sons – George IV and William IV. William had no legitimate children but ex-Prime Minister David Cameron is descended from one of the illegitimate ones.

That brings us in orderly fashion to Queen Victoria and then Edward VII. Edward nearly became a King we didn’t have, suffering from typhoid (the disease that killed his father) whilst staying near Scarborough in 1871, being shot at by a Belgian student in 1900 and finally going down with appendicitis in 1902 just two days before the Coronation. He survived (and made surgery for appendicitis more popular – until that point they just tried to nurse people through it).

The oldest son of Edward, Prince Albert Victor was at the centre of many stories concerning him contracting embarrassing diseases, fathering illegitimate children and even being Jack the Ripper. He was also rumoured to be a visitor to a homosexual brothel. Despite all the accusations nothing was ever proved. In fact the Ripper allegations can be absolutely disproved by a record of his movements and engagements. He could even count the German Royal Family amongst people able to provide an alibi.

He died from influenza in 1892, though there were even rumours about this. His bride to be, Princess Mary of Teck, was recycled by his family and married his brother, the future George V. (Not the first time we’ve heard this during this series of posts).

Really that’s the end of the story. It’s tempting to add Edward VIII to the list but as he became King, even if it was just for a short while, he doesn’t really count. The Abdication, to be honest, was a good thing, as a King who supported the Nazis would not have been an asset in wartime.

 

 

 

The Kings We Never Had (Part 3)

Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales was the better looking, more popular elder brother of Charles I. He was a staunch Protestant, something his father ensured by taking him away from his mother because of her tendency towards Catholicism. Personally, if I’d have been worried by that sort of thing I just wouldn’t have married her, but Kings do these things differently.

He was already becoming active in politics and was well thought of by the nation when he died of typhoid at the age of 18. At his funeral 1,000 people followed the coffin and many poems and songs were composed in his honour.

Cape Henry, Henricus and Henrico County are all named after him.  In those days it was still considered acceptable to steal a country off someone and rename bits of it.

Next question – do you include Cromwell? He was near enough a King when he was Lord Protector, and was actually related to the Jasper Tudor, the uncle of Henry VII. He also passed the country on to his son Richard at his death, which is pretty kinglike, but they probably shouldn’t be here. Sadly, that gives me no chance to talk about Tumbledown Dick.

When Charles II died, he left 12 children by 7 mistresses and, unfortunately, no legitimate children. His brother James was his heir, and James was a Catholic. This was a major problem, as the majority of the country did not want a return to Catholic rule.

Henry Stuart, Duke of Gloucester, who had been the youngest brother of Charles II and James II, had, at one time, been thought of as a successor to his father, being strongly Protestant after an education at the hands of tutors appointed by Parliament. He was later allowed to join the rest of his family in France, became a noted soldier and died of smallpox in 1660. If he had been alive in 1685 he might have helped to avert the Monmouth Rebellion by providing an acceptable alternative to James II.

The popular alternative was James Scott, Duke of Monmouth. He claimed his mother had been secretly married to Charles, though the King always denied it, and no proof was ever produced. Monmouth was popular in the country, had a good reputation as a soldier, and was a Protestant.

If all this talk of Catholics and Protestants seems out of touch with modern life you may like to check the Succession to the Crown Act (2013)You can now succeed to the throne if you are married to a Catholic, but you still cannot succeed to the throne if you are, or have ever been, a Catholic.

Anyway, back to Monmouth. It didn’t end well. Not only did the rebels lose a large number of men at the Battle of Sedgemoor, but more were condemed by Judge Jeffreys at the Bloody Assizes. Alice Lisle was executed for sheltering rebels (or, as some said, because her husband had signed the death warrant of Charles I), and was the last woman to be sentenced to death by beheading in the UK.

Probably the best known participants in the rebellion were John Churchill, later Duke of Marlborough, and Daniel Defoe who fought for the rebels but escaped punishment.

There is a story that after the execution the royal family realised that they didn’t have a portrait of Monmouth so they stitched the head back on, covered the join with a cravat and had a portrait done. Unfortunately the story isn’t true, as there are several portraits of Monmouth, and the supposed post mortem portrait probably isn’t him.

Meanwhile, on a personal note, I am probably the last man to shed blood for the Duke of Monmouth. At the 1985 re-enactment I was wielding my rubber billhook in a vain attempt to reverse the injustice of 1685 when a teacher of English, having imbibed enthusiastically for lunch and put on a red uniform, clipped me on the elbow with his sword.

It wasn’t much blood, but it was definitely shed when it would have been better left inside me..

(Sorry this has gone on so long – the final installment should be shorter.)

 

The Great War List

The Great War List

Captain W E Johns

Percy Toplis

Charles Lightoller

Ernest Hemingway (Nominated by https://salmonbrookfarms.wordpress.com/ )

John Francis Cecil Knight (Nominated by https://derrickjknight.com/ )

C.E.Montague (Nominated by https://beatingthebounds.wordpress.com/ )

Walter Tull (Nominated by https://johnknifton.com/ )

Leslie Buswell (Nominated by https://pacificparatrooper.wordpress.com/ )

After thinking of Harry Patch and General Arthur Currie I’ve decided to leave them for a bit and see how things develop while as they are both quite well known, in fact Harry Patch had a book written about him.

Any more nominations?

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Hedd Wyn – poet

The picture is the Hedd Wyn statue at Trawsfynydd. He’s probably best described as a poet who served in the war, rather than a war poet. He was killed on the same day as the Irish poet Francis Ledwidge, who probably can be described as a war poet. I can see a lot more books ahead, as I need to correct a deficiency in my reading in this area. They are both buried in the same cemetery.

Neither of them appear on the War Poets’ Memorial in Westminster Abbey, so they are going on the list.

I’ve also thought of Edith Cavell and Captain Fryatt, but I’m not sure. Edith Cavell is very well known (she even has a car park in Peterborough named after her) and Captain Fryatt also seems pretty well commemorated for an “unknown” hero.

I may list Marie Depage, who I only knew because she was on a commemorative medal with Cavell.

And Thomas Dinesen VC. He was one of three Danes to be awarded the Victoria Cross, but the only one who tried to join the British, French and American armies before being accepted by the Canadians. He’s also the only one with a famous sister.

Book Review: She Wolves – The Notorious Queens of England

She Wolves – The Notorious Queens of England

by Elizabeth Norton

The History Press (2009)

Paperback 288 pp  £12.99

ISBN-10:  0750947365

ISBN-13: 978-0750947367

I always feel it’s wrong to be too  critical in a book review as I have never had a book published. In this case, when the author has degrees from both Cambridge and Oxford and I don’t have one from anywhere, I feel even worse about it.

However, the back cover indicated that this was going to be a story of  “bad girls” and “witchcraft, murder, adultery and incest”. That indicated a tabloid approach to the subject and I was looking forward to an interesting read.

It wasn’t. The writing style was dry and the material was from being as interesting as advertised.  I was left with the distinct feeling that the writing improved as the book moved on to better known Queens, and was distinctly more interesting as it moved on to the Tudors. Not only that, but though the book made frequent references to the way women were seen and treated at various times in history, the theme was not developed.

When I read some of the comments in the reviews on Amazon, I find I’m not alone in this. I also found I had missed most of the poor editing and only spotted one of the factual errors (the “thousands” of Marian martyrs).

If I’d have paid £12.99 for this I’d have felt cheated. As it is, having paid just £4.99, I don’t feel so bad.

I do, though, feel like I’ve wasted my time reading it.  To make things worse, after missing the various faults outlined in other reviews, I’m feeling insufficient as a reviewer.

There’s another book called She Wolves. I may try that one later.

 

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