Category Archives: History

Two New Sweetheart Brooches

US Navy Sweetheart Brooches – the penny is 20.3 mm in diameter. An American cent has a diameter of  19.05 mm for those of you who like to know these things.

Despite the need to spend money on the house, and to declutter, I am still browsing eBay, and still adding a few items to my collection. If you want to see other examples , I have written about  Sweetheart Brooches in a previous post,

My collecting started over 50 years ago.  I was about five or six when I started collecting badges. A few years later my Dad gave me his stamp collection (which had been untouched since he had left the Navy). I added a few to it, then went into coins, bird’s eggs (yes, I know this was bad) and military medals. I’ve carried on sporadically ever since. At times I’ve been busy or broke, so there have been long gaps between purchases. However, with eBay , a regular income and the time that comes from having no kids around the place, I have been slowly adding to the collection again.

The latest two are both American and Naval. I don’t collect Navy brooches to the same extent as I collect the army ones but I always like to add a different type when  I find one. American brooches are often sentimental/patriotic rather than military in style, though there are some more military ones. They also tend to have more bracelets than we do. Generally I don’t collect brooches from beyond the Commonwealth forces, but if I see an unusual type I can be tempted.

US Navy Sweetheart Brooch – with PO Class II badge

A couple of months ago I was tempted by the brooch with the Eagle and Chevrons. I think it is the badge of a Petty Officer Class II but I’m relying on the internet for this, as I’m not sound on US Navy badges. I have a couple of other brooches with this sort of chain set-up but this is better quality, and it’s always nice to upgrade. Collecting sweethearts, you will never get every possible type, so there’s no point trying. Compared to the tyranny of trying to collect one of every known date of a coin, this is a very relaxed way of collecting. These days I just collect things that catch my eye, and where the price is right.

A couple of weeks ago, another one caught my eye. It’s exactly the same sailor and the same set-up but the device on the chain is the medal ribbon of the American WW2 campaign medal for Europe, Africa and the Middle East. It was sold by the same dealer and is out of the same collection.

US Navy Sweetheart – Europe, Africa and the Middle East campaign ribbon

I’m now checking them regularly to see if they have any other varieties. With coins and medals all the varieties are known and catalogued (with the odd rare exception) but with sweetheart brooches you can’t know everything. There might be sailors with different devices attached, or there may be marines, soldiers or airmen. You never know…

 

US Navy Sweetheart – fine work

 

Paths of Glory

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,
         And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour.
         The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
Today I not only use Grey’s Elegy for a title, but Kubrick’s film. Eliot said Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal, and Quercus says If you’re going to steal, steal big.

 

Behind Southwell MInster in the Nottinghamshire town of Southwell, there’s an ivy covered wall, and on that wall there’s a mouldering wooden cross. The metal plate on it says:

‘In memory of Major J P Becher DSO (1/8th Sherwood Foresters) who died on 1.1.16 from wounds received in the attack on the Hohenzollern redoubt 16.10.15. Sans Peur. Sans Reproche.’

It is an original wooden grave marker as used on military graves just after the Great War, There were many styles of cross as they were often put up by comrades of the dead men and they made them out of whatever was available. When they were replaced by the neat white markers that we now find so familiar, the families were given the chance of having the wooden ones sent home. Many of the ones that were returned were put in local churches, but Major Becher’s family put his up outside. So far it has lasted 100 years, but every time I go to look at it, I worry that it will have disintegrated.

Becher’s grave marker

This isn’t the place to go into the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, but the logistical effort of returning the markers, at a time when they were still recovering bodies by the thousand, must have been tremendous.  There were, according to this article, 10,000 crosses sent back to families so they could have something tangible to link families to the graves of their loved ones.

Though they didn’t realise it, they were the lucky ones. It haunted my grandmother all her life that her father had no known grave. He is listed on the Thiepval Memorial, but it isn’t the same as having a grave, even if the family never visited it.

That’s the Thiepval memorial. There are over 72,000 names on it – 72,000 people who have no known grave.

To be honest, I was amazed by the number of markers that were returned.  It’s a small number compared to the total of the losses but it was still a huge logistical effort, particularly for a government that is usually portrayed as callous and unfeeling.

This is John Pickard Becher DSO.

There’s no reason why you should have heard of him. He was a country solicitor from Southwell. I assume he pursued the life of an English provincial gentleman in the years before 1914. His name is mentioned numerous times in the period before the war, though always in connection with legal matters, and with no personal stories attached. The only non-legal matter I can find is his entry into the volunteers in 1906 when, on November 1st 1906 ” John Pickard Becher, Gentleman,” was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 4th (Nottinghamshire) Volunteer Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire) regiment. The Volunteers were the ancestors of the Territorial Army, which was formed in 1908. Becher’s battalion became the 8th battalion of the Sherwood Foresters, based in Newark

Nothing is heard of him from 1912 to 1915. He was obviously embodied with the battalion in 1914 and went overseas with them in February 1915. The battalion was quickly in action and in April 1915 he performed the first of several acts of gallantry that would lead to the award of the Distinguished Service Order, one step down from the Victoria Cross.

This was his citation, published in the London Gazette.

‘Conspicuous gallantry and good service on several occasions. On April 4th 1915 at Kemmel when part of his trench was blown in under heavy fire he personally assisted in repairing the parapet and digging out buried men. On June 15th at Kemmel when part of his trench was blown in by mines, shells and trench mortars, he displayed great gallantry and coolness in reorganising the defences. On July 30th and subsequent days at Ypres he displayed great coolness, cheerfulness and resource under trying circumstances when in temporary command of his battalion.’

Of course, it didn’t last long.  On 15th October 1915, the British attacked the Hohenzollern Redoubt as a follow up to the Battle of Loos. Pickard was seriously wounded and lay out in No Man’s Land for 48 hours. He died nearly three months later of blood poisoning.  These were the days before antibiotics.

Both his brothers in law, Everard, and Basil were also killed in the attack. Neither of them has a known grave and they are both commemorated on the Loos Memorial.

They are quite well commemorated around Nottinghamshire as we are lucky in having a number of volunteers who have helped build an on-line Roll of Honour.

Some of you will have noticed the poppy on Becher’s cross. That’s in memory of  Squadron Leader John Henry Becher RAF, who was killed in a plane crash in 1940. He was the son of J P Becher and his wife Gertrude who, with a husband, son and two brothers, really had more tragedy in her life than anyone should be expected to bear.

I noted, when researching this post, that he is commemorated in the Minster – I’ve visited several times but never knew about this.

Another generation

 

 

 

 

 

Danger UXB – Bomb Disposal in WW2

It’s not a very photogenic item, just  a rather dull cigarette case which I bought at an antiques fair one day. The interest lies in the inscription. It was presented to a member of the Royal Engineers for work in disposing of an unexploded bomb in 1942. The full text reads:

Presented to
SERGT. R.H. Woodrow R.E.
316161
in appreciation of courage shown
assisting Lieut. K. C. Revis R.E.
in defusing 1000 KG
PATCHAM.
13.5.42

Between 1939 and 1945 members of bomb disposal teams in the UK dealt with over 50,000 unexploded German bombs, 7,000 Anti-Aircraft shells and 300,000 beach mines. In the period 21st September 1940 to 5th July 1941 (known as “The Blitz”) an average of 84 bombs a day failed to explode on impact. Approximately one in 12 of them were designed to go off after a time delay, causing increased disruption to everyday life and, as a bonus, killing the men dealing with them. In all, 394 officers and men were killed dealing with unexploded ordnance during the war. Of these 235 were Royal Engineers working in the UK. The rest would be Royal Navy personnel, civilians and Home Guard (yes, they had their own bomb disposal units – usually based in factories and used to minimise damage and disruption to production.) olus those killed overseas. I’m afraid I can’t find figures that give a more accurate breakdown. Many more were, of course, injured.

Silver Cigarette case given to Sgt Woodrow

Patcham is part of Brighton, and during the war, being close to occupied Europe, the skies over Brighton we busy. There were 56 raids recorded on Brighton between 1940 and 1944, including one by a single bomber that killed 54 people on 14thn September 1940. A newspaper report of a post-war exhibition about the bombing mentions 636 high explosive bombs being dropped in the area during the war. Brighton was bombed on 56 occasions with 198 fatalities and 790 injuries of varying seriousness. The article says that the damage would have been far worse if it wasn’t for the number of bombs that failed to go off and specifically mentions a 1,000 kg bomb “which was dropped in a garden at Patcham by a bomber afterwards shot down on the downs in May 1942.”

I have not been able to find any information of Sergeant Woodrow, which is good in a way, as it means he survived the war. Hopefully he survived in one piece.

Lieutenant Revis survived the war too, though in his case there is some information available, and his story is quite harrowing.

He was interested in explosions as a boy, before moving on to the less dangerous hobby of riding motorcycles, became a civil engineer and, at the outbreak of war, was commissioned into the Royal Engineers and assigned to bomb disposal duties. His first bomb was a 500kg device in a Hastings garden and he defused hundreds of bombs up to 1,800 kg. It wasn’t an easy job and it was made harder by German attempts to kill or injure bomb disposal officers. As if the work wasn’t dangerous enough, they fitted booby traps to some bombs amd altered designs so that the common method of defusing a bomb one month became a way of detonating the bomb. However, Revis was not caught by a German bomb. It was a British one that caused his troubles.

In the early days of the war, piers were seen as a danger to security as they could have helped the Germans land troops during the planned invasion. As a result the east coast piers were partially dismantled and wired for demolition. In 1943, as the danger passed, we started to remove the explosives. Three years in a corrosive environment did not make this a simple job. Revis successfully defused the mines on the Palace Pier on 10th September 1943. He then moved on to the West Pier and had successfully defused six mines when the remaining mines exploded.

At one point a nurse pulled a sheet over him and he reputedly said: “Take that bloody thing off – I’m not dead yet”.

He was taken to east Grinstead Hospital where he became one of McIndoe’s Guinea Pigs. During his time in hospital he used a bed previously occupied by Richard Hillary, author of The Last Enemy, and was visited by an American airman called Clark Gable.

When the bandages came off, it was clear that he would never see again. Despite this, he taught himself to type and read braille, using what was left of his fingers, and he trained to work a capstan lathe, producing Spitfire parts. He was awarded the OBE for his bomb disposal work  and was asked by Sir Ian Fraser MP, a blind veteran of the great War, and head of St Dunstan’s (now Blind Veterans UK) to go to India to teach blinded veterans, which he did until 1947.

A brief summary of his later life includes qualifying as a solicitor, working as a Press Officer for Morris Motors, learning to water ski and flying a glider. He also drove a sports car down a runway at 100mph for a TV programme, as his wife sat in the passenger seat and gave directions. She must have been an extraordinary woman.

It doesn’t look much, but it’s the gateway to an extremely interesting story

He also appeared on This is Your Life and was the technical adviser for  episode 12 of Danger UXB, (1979) where he was played by Anthony Andrews. He also appeared on the documentary Danger! Unexploded Bomb (2001) and raised funds for the restoration of Brighton’s West Pier. It seems that several people asked him why he would want to return to it after what happened to him. His reply? “I suppose it’s the last thing I saw.”

It always amazes me what you can find on the internet these days. I’m not much of one for technology, as you know, and there are a lot of bad things about the internet, but if you need to find information on an engraved cigarette case, it’s obviously the place to look.

Close up the inscription from Revis tio Woodrow

Edit: I just searched “WW2 Patcham” and found this – for some reason I hadn’t thought to do it before.

 

 

 

British War Medal 1914-18 to Pte Morris Sheffield Pals

Buried Amongst Kings

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

Poppy

Cumberland Jacks

If you search through any junk box in a coin shop you can be almost certain to turn up a small brass counter, just under an inch in diameter, with a depiction of Queen Victoria on the obverse (front) and a figure on horseback on the reverse  (back) with the date 1837 and the words ‘To Hanover’.

I turned up nearly as dozen with a quick search today, and we’ve actually sold at least the same again to a collector who decided to add a few of the different types to his collection. Though they are broadly the same, they were made over a period of fifty years and many different dies were used, giving a variety of portraits, lettering and horsemen. There are even varieties where a monkey is said to replace the man, but that might just be a poor depiction of the rider’s face, allied to a good imagination.

The date and the head of Victoria provides a clue that this was about Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne, but what about Hanover and what about the horseman?

Hanover, in 1837, was still a possession of the British Kings, handed on from George I, who had been Elector of Hanover when he was offered the throne on the death of Queen Anne. It is an unusual Royal title and stems from the way the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was selected – by election. There were nine Electors – three Spiritual and (originally) four temporal. Two further temporal electors were added later – the last being Hanover in 1692.

In 1837 when Victoria came to the throne of Great Britain she was not able to take the throne of Hanover which adhered to the Salic law. This, amongst other things, prevented women from inheriting the throne.

The next male candidate was Victoria’s unpopular Uncle, Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale. He had led an interesting life – wounded twice in battle, and accused of murdering his valet, electoral fraud, incest, blackmail and adultery. He was also extremely anti-Catholic, a hard-line Tory and one of the die-hard Lords who voted against the Great Reform Bill of 1832. To be fair, much of his life was spent blamelessly and many of the accusations came from political rivals as his political input grew.

It is possible that he was not as bad as his reputation suggests, but it is true that his departure to Hanover was greeted with general approval and that the Cumberland Jack token, also known as a ‘To Hanover’, was produced as part of a celebration of his leaving.

The Hanoverians seemed happy enough with him, and once removed from Britain he seemed happy enough to treat both Catholics and Jews with courtesy, explaining that Hanoverian history gave him no reason to do otherwise. There were problems, such as when he deprived seven professors (including the Brothers Grimm) of their positions for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to him, and the troubles of 1848 which he resolved quickly by offering to step down and let the Prussians take over, but he generally seems to have been a reasonable and popular ruler.

His son George was born in Berlin in 1819 (his parents spending much time, in Germany) and was baptised by the Reverend Henry Austen, brother of the novelist Jane Austen. Austen was an interesting man, but his career is outside the scope of this post.

The Cumberland and Teviotdale title eventually became extinct in 1919 under the Titles Deprivation Act 1917 which removed British titles from those who had supported the Germans during the war.

The counters were used in card games, alongside a selection of other cheaply-produced brass tokens, as well as having a satirical and political function. If it is true that they were produced for  50 years, this use would account for it, as it would be a long time to bear a grudge against a man who died in 1851.

As you can see, they were struck from  a variety of dies. Queen Victoria was no great beauty when you look at much of the medallic art that pictures her, but on these tokens she comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, as does the reverse picture and lettering. It is hardly surprising, given the crudity of the pieces, that the man sometimes looks like a monkey.

Some of the dies were also used for advertising tokens – an article in a back issue of the Token Corresponding Society newsletter – Vol 6 Number 1 (1998) – newsletter gives a list of 12 tokens (including a To Hanover) struck using one particular obverse die.

Although I can find the information listed several times on the internet, I cannot find any legislation dated 1883, or several years around that date, which would appear to ban the production of these or other tokens.  However, ast the basck of my mind is the undeniable fact that the information on the internet all appears to be copies of just one article, and that source may be wrong.

More work, it seems, is necessary.

 

 

 

The Cinderella Medal

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

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

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

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 Morris 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.

Research Pte Morris Sheffield Pals

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.

Sing a Song of Sixpence

1787 Sixpence Size Comparison

1787 Sixpence Size Comparison

This sixpence is one of my favourite coins, and is pictured above with a current penny coin and a US cent for size comparison.

The sixpence was first issued in 1551 – the reign of Edward VI. He was the sickly son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, the King’s third wife. It continued in production in subsequent reigns, though it was not produced every year. One of the issues of George II was designed by John Sigismund Tanner, which is why those of you old enough to remember the 6d coin are all saying “Ah!” at the moment. Yes, that’s why it was known as a “tanner”.

Unfortunately, the Royal Mint website says that the name probably dates from the early 1800s and comes from the Romany “tawno”, meaning “small one”, which confuses things. Why the sixpence should be the small one when we had silver 4d and 3d coins at that time, is not explained, but let’s just say that I don’t consider the Royal Mint website to be 100% correct in all things.

There was a break in sixpence production between 1758 and 1787. This was partly due to a world shortage of silver, and partly due to the madness of King George, who was unable to authorise new issues. This led to the issue of unofficial token coins by local tradesmen, and the use of foreign silver coins as substitutes for the crown (five shillings) and half crown. The Bank of England also issued coins of  3 shillings and 1/6d, selecting these denominations to avoid conflict with the King’s coinage.

The design features a bust of the King wearing Roman-style armour and a wreath of laurels. He was not, as you can see, a handsome man. Looking at him brings stories of Princesses kissing frogs. The reverse has four shields representing the King’s claims to England/Scotland on one, and France, Hanover and Ireland on the others. He’d have been better off forgetting France and hanging on to America.

.

 

In 1787 the average working wage was £15 – £20 a year – or around a shilling a day (working a six day week). A low level domestic servant could be on as little as £3 a year and a footman could earn £8 (about 6d a day) Servants were also given food, lodgings and clothing. It’s never easy comparing the cost of living, but this article is quite interesting.

So, what was happening in 1787?

February – in the newly independent America – Shay’s Rebellion fails. This was a rebellion by Massachusetts residents against government taxation policies. This seems familiar…

There would be two more rebellions a few years later – the Whiskey Rebellion and Fries’s Rebellion. Until I started writing about 1787 I had no idea American history could be so interesting.

On May 13 the Ships of the First Fleet left Portsmouth for Australia with around 700 convicts and 300 crew and guards. Or up to 1,500 people according to other accounts. It took them between 250 and 252 days to reach Botany Bay as they became a little strung out on the journey, though two days after 250 days at sea is still quite impressive.

The First Fleet is commemorated with a memorial, including a garden area with a barbecue. Because I’m trying to be a nice person, rather than a crabby old xenophobe, I will refrain from mentioning how it is typical of Australians to have a barbecue. It is not only their national symbol, alongside the kangaroo and the boomerang, but it is their way of rubbing it in that our weather is not as good as theirs.

Why Australia? Because the newly independent American colonies refused to accept our convicts. If we’d sent them to Canada, which would have been cheaper and less sunny,  I wonder if the Canadians would then have developed a love of cricket.

This mention of cricket is fortuitous as the first cricket game was played at Lord’s in this year and the MCC was founded. It was possibly cricket which killed Prince Frederick, eldest sone of George II and father of George III. He was a great patron of the game and died of an infection of the lung. In one version of the story this was caused when he was struck in the chest by a cricket ball, though others say a real tennis ball, and the dullest version of the story says it was pleurisy.

Also on a topic which has recently become topical, was the founding of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.  The movement for the abolition of slavery had been inspired by Pennsylvania Quakers and had spread to Quakers in the UK. The society was founded in 1787 because Quakers were prohibited from holding many civil offices and they sought to include Anglicans, who were not disadvantaged by religion, to increase the political reach of the society. (The Test Acts would be repealed in 1828, shortly before the abolition of slavery in British territory).

In 1787 freed slave Ottobah Cugoano published Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species.

170px-Official_medallion_of_the_British_Anti-Slavery_Society_(1795)

Design by Wedgwood for the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade – it was on the seal of the society and appears on a number of other titems

 Six men were killed in 1787 when troops opened fire on striking weavers in Calton, just outside Glasgow. The weavers had become accustomed to wages of up to £100 a year (see the link about wages – £100 enabled one of the ‘middling sort’ to live comfortably), due to their skill and demand for their product but mechanisation was making things cheaper, and prices were falling. After a 25% wages cut they went on strike and six were killed when the troops opened fire.

It’s a story with many echoes through history, including the Luddites, the Peterloo Massacre, and the Scottish Insurrection.

That is probably enough for now. It has now run to over 1,000 words, and I have only kept it so short by cutting several hundred words. The trouble with the internet is that it makes it so easy to keep finding more and more information.

Wwood Slave

Wedgwood jasperware plaque, also made as a pendant and a brooch.

Book Review – Riding in the Zone Rouge

Riding in the Zone Rouge

Zone Rouge cover

Author: Tom Isitt

Hardcover: 320 pages

Publisher: W&N (21 Mar. 2019)

ISBN-10: 1409171140

ISBN-13: 978-1409171140

 

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.

The Second of at Least Two Blog Posts

By the time I got through to the other room Julia had read the blog post and put a bar of Kit-Kat next to the chair. It was the most delicious thing I’ve eaten all week.

If I mention I’m feeling thirsty I wonder if she will make a cup of tea? Or is that just being unrealistically optimistic?

The header picture is a banknote from the wartime occupation of the Channel Islands. Well, that’s the intention. At the moment I can’t access my photos – just one more glitch in a long list of annoying intermittent faults with my site. I’m hoping I’ll be able to access them before midnight or I’ll have to post without photos. (As you can see, it did start working again after I closed down and restarted – very annoying!)

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Jersey £1 note – German wartime issue

I’m rediscovering an interest in banknotes, though it’s only in certain ones. They need to be interesting and they it’s an advantage if they have a story. To a collector the Japanese note pictured below (if the system starts to work again) is ruined because somebody has written on it. But to me , the personal touch and the details, are what makes it worth collecting. Not that I’m going to start collecting them. I already collect far too much.

I’ve just been looking through some MRI banknote reference books (that’s Monetary Research Inc., rather than magnetic Resonance Imaging) and find there are currently over 220 countries issuing banknotes and over 2,000 colour pictures of notes. That is just the ones that are currently redeemable, not all the ones that have ever been produced – I’d hate to think how many that would come to.

MRI Catalogues - a treasure trove of information

MRI Catalogues – a treasure trove of information

 

 

 

 

Silver, Survival and Salvage

Here, at last, is the information on the Gibraltar £20 coin I mentioned a few days ago.

There is a tradition in Numismatic circles for collecting coins from shipwrecks, indeed we had a talk on this subject just a few weeks ago at the Numismatic Society of Nottinghamshire. Sadly, I had one of my senior moments and completely forgot about it, even though I had intended going. I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of shipwreck and treasure and it’s a collecting field that has always interested me. However, you can’t collect everything.

There has also been a fascination for collecting relics of ships. It is still possible, if you go round antique centres, to pick up small barrels and oddments like paper knives made from the deck timber of ships like the Warspite, Iron Duke and Ajax. Copper from Nelson’s Victory has also been used to make souvenirs, such as this copper fob from the British and Foreign which we currently have for sale on eBay.

Despite the photos, it’s only about an inch across.

 

More recently, I bought some key rings made from the bronze of the Queen Mary’s propellers, and also have some copper cash coins from the Admiral Gardner, which sunk on the Goodwin Sands in 1809.

This year, I have seen mementoes made from the silver recovered from the SS Gairsoppa.

The Gairsoppa, originally built as the War Roebuck, was completed in 1919 by Palmers of Jarrow, just in time to miss the Great War, and was named after the city of Gerusoppa in the state of Mysore. She had one touch of drama in her career in the Merchant Fleet, with just one touch of adventure when she ran aground  at Fulta Point on the South Eastern coast of India in 1930.

Palmers closed in 1933 after a long struggle to stay in business during the depression, and the unemployment this caused precipitated the Jarrow March.

In early 1941, whilst carrying a cargo of pig iron, tea and silver, she joined a convoy at Freetown, Sierra Leone to complete a voyage from India to the UK. Running short of fuel, she had to reduce speed, drop out of the convoy and head for Ireland to take on coal. On 16 February 1941, she was spotted by a Focke-Wulf Condor aircraft and was attacked by U-101 later that day, being sunk by a torpedo attack.

There were 82 men on board. Only one lifeboat launched successfully and out of the six men on board three died in the next two weeks. The boat capsized on the fourteenth day and the Lizard lifeboat was only able to rescue one survivor, Second Officer R. H. Ayres.

Sunk by submarine, fourteen days in an open boat, five men dying before rescue…

I can write the facts, but I can’t come up with anything that remotely does justice to the experience. While writing this post I found this item on an on-line forum – amazing to read the words of the man in question. His account doesn’t match up with the Wiki entry, but I suspect it’s more accurate.

The researcher who contacted him did a fine job, as modesty could have prevented us ever knowing the full story.

The eleven British casualties are recorded on theTower Hill Memorial, or, in two cases, on  a headstone in the cemetery at Landewednack. The seventy one Indian seamen are commemorated on the Chittagong War Memorial.

The epic nature of the story does not end there, because in 2011 an American salvage company located the wreck and, under licence from the British Government, began lifting the silver. So far they have recovered 61 tonnes, or just over half of the 110 tonnes known to be on board. At 15,000 feet deep (half a mile deeper than the RMS Titanic) this is the record for a salvage operation.

Of course, if the ship didn’t contain silver this would be considered plundering, piracy or desecration of a war grave. It’s amazing how a mountain of silver can make the moral compass swing.

In 2014 the Royal Mint struck 20,000 Quarter Ounce Britannias, using some of the silver.

The Gibraltar Mint followed up in 2016 with a specially made £20 coin, featuring a seafarer design and containing Gairsoppa silver.

The title of the coin is taken from a John Masefield  poem, For All Seafarers. It isn’t, in my opinion, one of his best, but it does make a number of telling points.

For all Seafarers

Even in peace, scant quiet is at sea;
In war, each revolution of the screw,
Each breath of air that blows the colours free.
May be the last life movement known to you.

Death, thrusting up or down, may disunite
Spirit from body, purpose from the hull,
With thunder, bringing leaving of the light,
With lightning letting nothingness annul.

No rock, no danger, bears a warning sign,
No lighthouse scatters welcome through the dark;
Above the sea, the bomb ; afloat, the mine;
Beneath, the gangs of the torpedo-shark.

Year after year, with insufficient guard,
Often with, none, you have adventured thus:
Some, reaching harbour, maimed and battle-scarred,
Some, never more, returning, lost to us.

But, if you ‘scape, tomorrow, you will steer
To peril once again, to bring us bread,
To dare again, beneath the sky off ear,
The moon-moved graveyard of your brothers dead.

You were salvation to the army lost,
Trapped, but for you, upon the Dunkirk beach;
Death barred the way to Russia, but you crosst;
To Crete and Malta, but you succoured each.

Unrecognised, you put us in your debt;
Unthanked, you enter, or escape, the grave;
Whether your land remember or forget
You saved the land, or died to try to save.

John Masefield