Sacriston Tribute Medal 1919 - Obverse

Post 3,001 and the Plan Continues

I say “the plan continues” but it’s not quite as simple as that. The original post I had in mind was going to discuss how things had changed since October 2014, but that sort of post can easily turn depressing if you strike the wrong tone. Or be too boring and introspective. Well, the first two tries turned out that way. In the manner of such things, their existence has been erased and their pixels scattered to the four winds . . .

Instead, I will revert to one of my specialist subjects. This is the Tribute Medal given to the servicemen and women of Sacriston, a mining village in County Durham on their return from the war.

I bought it on eBay a few days ago as I don’t have a specimen and the research has already been quite interesting. According to the research I did last night there were 760 people who served in the war, including at least five women. Of these 104 died. The medals were given out in a series of dinners at the local Institute. I have traced two lists of recipients in the papers, and am trying to find others – there is mention of a plan to hold five or six dinners.

Sacriston Tribute Medal 1919 - Obverse

Sacriston Tribute Medal 1919 – Obverse

As usual, there is no reward for the people who kept the country running during the absence of the soldiers, including miners, nurses, munitions workers and the Women’s Land Army.

Over the years I have developed a formula for calculating the approximate size of issue of tribute medals. If I can find out how many people were killed from a village I can calculate the approximate total of people who served. It’s not very precise but I usually multiply by seven to get the low end of the issue.  In this case that would have been 728, so it was close. It’s just a way of working out comparative rarity – telling me if I’m ever likely to find one.

One thing to note is the excellence of the design and production. Corners were not cut with the production of this medallion and it is made from silver. It is made by Walker & Hall, who were makers of high quality silver goods, and it is marked as sterling silver.

They are also named, which doesn’t always happen. The nearby town of Ashington gave a smaller silver fob, and left it blank for the recipient to engrave their own name. So, after forty years of looking, I still haven’t found a named example.

Sacriston Tribute Medal 1919 - Reverse

Sacriston Tribute Medal 1919 – Reverse

Finally, note the dates – 1914-19. The war, we tend to think, ended on 11th November 1918. It didn’t.  We were still fighting in Russia until the end of 1919, having originally become involved after the revolution when we tried to prevent resources falling into the hands of the Germans. It wasn’t the best organised of interventions and nobody really took a grip of organising it. The fighting finished in the autumn of 1919 and all British personnel were withdrawn.  Czechs, French, Americans, Greeks, Japanese, Chinese,  British, Canadian, even Australians, all ended up fighting there, as did many others., so I hope you’ll excuse me if I don’t even attempt to describe it. Over 900 British troops were killed when they should have been safe at home.

I have a pair of medals in my collection to a coal miner from Yorkshire. He was called up in the summer of 1918, when the war was almost over, and sent to Russia, where he served for a year and then came home. I can’t imagine he was happy. I know a lot of mothers weren’t, because the papers of 1919 are full of letters from mothers wanting to know why their sons are still in danger in Russia when the war is supposedly over.

Hallmarks Sacriston Tribute Medal

That’s it then, the first post of the next 1,000 and the second day of my new plan. Day three indicates that I must “Probably write an informative piece about world peace. Though possibly not that informative, and possibly a different subject.”

After struggling for a subject tonight, I’m not sure whether I may have set the next bar a little high.



Post 3,000, and I Love my Job

The header photo is nearly all that remains of a young life. There are a few letters and army forms, but they don’t photograph well. It had barely got going when he volunteered for the army and it wasn’t destined to last long. He went to France in August 1915 and, as far as I can tell, spent the next 26 months there. He wrote a letter to his mother in August 1917. It’s not very interesting, these things seldom are after the passage of 100 years. It’s a letter from a son not wanting to mention anything that would get him censored or upset his mother. It ends with him saying that he is hoping to get home soon because of his toes. It didn’t quite work out like that.

People have often asked me over the years if it concerns me that I’m selling the remains of people’s lives. They often add that it’s a shame they can’t be left with the family or given to a museum.

Medals and Plaque – Great War

In reverse order – don’t give anything to a museum. Unless you have something of national importance it will be dropped into a box or a drawer and never seen again. This isn’t idle speculation, I know of many cases where it has been done. Museums are generally good, and should be encouraged, but they don’t need more stuff.

Left with the family? I know of one case where the recipient wasn’t even cold before the family had his medals down to the local antique shop. And where do people think the medals all come from? The family sells them. Sometimes recipients sell medals – they don’t necessarily represent the same thing to the recipient that they do to a collector. We bought these off the family. However, when you think about it, you would have to be over 106 to have known this man. When families sell us medals they are often two or three generations away and sometimes don’t even know where in the family the medals have come from.

And three, no, I don’t have a problem with it. I have given L/Cpl Louis Thornley a good write-up on eBay and have done something the army couldn’t do for him – I’ve spelt his name correctly. The army had him as Lewis Thornbey on their medal index cards, and they named his medals incorrectly. This is an echo of what happened to my great-grandfather – not only did they name his medals incorrectly but when they sent his widow the (correctly) named memorial scroll they spelt her name wrong on the address label.

On top of that, I have taken his documents and medals out of a tin where they have clearly been for many years and I have brought his story into the open. They will go to a collector who will value them for the sacrifice that Louis Thornley made, and who will bring his story back to life.

It’s something I’m able to do regularly at work, after family members have forgotten all about them. It’s not their fault, it’s just that time passes and life moves on. It’s a privilege to be able to ensure that people aren’t forgotten.

Louis Thornley’s Plaque and Scroll

On 12th October 1917 Louis Thornley, who had been with his unit through six major actions, lined up in the driving rain and muddy terrain on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele.

It’s a battle that has become synonymous with the mud and slaughter picture of the Great War, and when it was finished the Allies had lost over 300,000 men, 42,000 of them have no known grave. Louis Thornley, who is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial, is one of them.

Two week’s later, Mr and Mrs Thornley received an Army Form B 104, telling them that their son had been killed in action on the 12th. According to the Derby Evening Telegraph in January 1940, when they were celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary, they had four sons who served in the war, the other three surviving.

Poppies in wheat field

One Post to Go

This is it, my final post where I will allow mediocrity to rule. Tomorrow, my 3,000th post, will have to be a lot better. Yes, I know it’s only a number, but there are some numbers which make you want to try harder. This is one of them. When I get to 3,001 I won’t feel quite the same, but I’m going to try to maker more effort in future.

I’m even taking a leaf out of LA’s book and planning ahead, because she is a well known planner. Here is my plan for next week.

  1. 3,000th post. Write something good.
  2. 3,001. And again.
  3. Probably write an informative piece about world peace. Though possibly not that informative, and possibly a different subject.
  4. Stare at screen wondering where my life went wrong.
  5. Don’t blog. Watch TV.
  6. Blog about watching TV instead of blogging.
  7. Blog a list, pretending that I have a plan for 7 days and that I am going to keep to it. This is one of my tried and tested time wasting techniques.

It’s likely that I may fail with Number 1, but I reckon if I can make it to Number 4 I’m in with a chance of seeing the week out.

Based on events in Number 7 I’m going to add Number One of next week’s list.

1 Write a reflective report revealing the relaxing nature of writing alliteratively.

And with that, I will add a bit of fluff to the bottom of this post, hit my pitifully low self-declared word limit and go to bed.

High point of the day: hot buttered toast, made to perfection. It seems so simple but it’s hard to do. It could well be another year before I get it right again.

Low point of the day: just now. When writing this I realised that somewhere along the line I seem to have lost the urge to add un-necessary capital letters to things. I could go back and write “High Point of the Day” but it all seems so meaningless . . .

A man that is tired of Capital Letters is tired of Life, as they say.

The header picture is a cat drawn by one of Julia’s group in the gardens.

Photo by Min An on

Hiding from Eurovision

As a child I used to like the Eurovision Song Contest. As an adult, having lost some of the childish wonder, I moved away from it. A few years ago I watched it, endured the music and the hype and saw the voting patterns develop as small countries with alliances to make, controlled much of the voting. There was nothing there to interest me and I never returned. It’s a popular event, it presumably makes decent money for the TV companies, but it’snot my cup of tea. Julia, for some reason, decided to watch some of it tonight. I endured one and a half songs and left. I have better things to do. It’s like bungee jumping, marrying your cousin and being cheerful. I won’t stop you doing it if that’s what you want to do, but I’m not going to pretend it’s for me. That’s why I’m sitting in the dining room typing. That and the lion question.

Did you know there are lions in India? I didn’t until I saw a quiz show tonight. It’s known as the Asiatic or Persian Lion. I said Iran, because I somehow always associate lions with Persia/Iran. They are linked in history, but there are none there today, unless you count one specimen in the zoo, which is part of  project to reintroduce the species. I can’t find any up to date information, and am not sure if any progress has been made, but, at the risk of being flippant about a noble beast, they are going to need a lady lion if they want to make the project a success.

For the record – when I said “Iran.” Julia said “India.” and I made the additional error of correcting her before the answer was announced. That’s the other reason I’m typing in the dining room – not only can I avoid Eurovision, but I can avoid further discussions about my lack of knowledge of the lion population of India.

I’m deficient in photos of both Eurovision and Asian Lions so the photograph is likely to be an approximation to one or the other.

Into Every Life . . .

Last night I remarked to Julia that we could make great economies in the cost of TV by simply junking all the local TV weather presenters. They simply stand around, look vacuous and get things wrong in front of a green screen.

Last night’s forecast was a typical example, as a woman in an unsuitably garish dress stood up and revealed that by 5.00pm it would probably be raining very close to a dot in the midlands that had “Nottingham” written by it. It was no more informative than the national forecast had been, though we’d had to guess the position of Nottingham.

She disagreed. Well, she always does. The local forecasts, she tells me, are essential to her work in the gardens.

OK, I said, let’s see what 5.00 brings.

Lake District

Well, 4.00 brought heavy rain. It was so heavy that it was bouncing up about a foot after hitting the car roof. I watched from inside the shop and mentioned the fact that it wasn’t supposed to rain until it virtually missed us at 5.00.

“It says,” said one of the others, checking the internet, “that we currently have a 49% chance of rain.”

“That means,” said, “that this is what a 51% chance of no rain looks like.”

It looked very wet.

Julia told me, when she got home, that her internet had shown a 90% chance of rain when she checked at 5.00. By that time she was on the way home after being comprehensively soaked. She still wouldn’t admit t6hat the local forecast was useless.

Me? I’m sure that in the days of my youth we used to laugh at the uselessness of forecasting. Later, when I was in my 30s, I used to find the farming forecast quite accurate. Now it seems that they are variable. Sometimes they are still brilliant, but other times bear only a coincidental resemblance to what was prophesied. You can still select a week to go on holiday, maybe even a day for a daytrip, but if they predict rain in the afternoon I’d allow a 12 hour window and pack a mac just to be on the safe side.

Over the Ecocentre

As for the internet prediction, we can all be wise after the event. It’s a bit like my grandad’s weather forecasting seaweed that used to hang on his back wall. As he once told me, you can tell the weather from that. If you feel the seaweed and it feels wet, it means it’s raining.

Of course, both my grandfather’s lived in Lancashire. That’s the county where they say that if you can look out to sea and see the Isle of Man, it means it’s going to rain. If you can’t see the Isle of Man, it already is raining.

Five to Go!

It’s beginning to occur to me that I really ought to become more interesting for my upcoming 3,000th post. The trouble is that I’m actually becoming more boring. I can tell this because I keep repeating stories. Mostly I remember and delete them, but it’s happening more and more. Then there’s the general feeling, when trying to think, that I’m running through porridge. I just seem to go slower and slower as the resistance builds up. This is despite making serious efforts to improve my sleep patterns. It has got so bad that tonight I had to describe “the button on my torch that makes the light go on” to Julia. Then it occurred to me that the word was “torch”.  With a memory like that it’s not a surprise that writing poetry is becoming more of a challenge. Fortunately, this sort of thing is the exception and I’m not ready to vegetate just yet.

Tonight I watched one of the kids from across the road on his way to football practice. To lace his boots up he raised his feet and put them on top of the garden fence  (waist high!). I can’t even raise mine a quarter of that height. I was going to say that it’s only a few years ago that I could flex my back so far that I was able to stand on my fingers. All my fingers, not just the tips. However, now that I come to think about it, that was 20 years ago. A lot has changed since them.

These days I have to put my feet up on a step (just a low one, as they don’t lift so far, as previously mentioned) to allow me to reach. Some exercises are probably called for. Unfortunately my poor memory means I will write that today and won’t remember it until next week, when it vaguely drifts through my mind. I may have to start writing things down to remind myself.

Currently, the house is full of the smell of mushrooms. As soon as I finish here, it will be filled with the sound of fast-revving electrical machinery. Yes, it’s mushroom soup for tea again. Wednesday soup is becoming a habit. It’s a good, healthy habit, so I’m hoping it takes root. That way I don’t actually need to remember it, I just do it. In 20 years time the staff in the care home will probably be puzzled as to why I wander into the kitchen and pick up a hand blender every Wednesday . . .

We have cream tonight, which I bought for the bread pudding and quiche I didn’t make. Julia used it for making cream and strawberry scones yesterday and we will pour some on the fruit flan tonight, so I may put a drop in the soup too.  After all, I wouldn’t want to get too healthy too soon. It was a bit of a luxury, as I can make quiche and bread pudding without cream, but I don’t want to cave in to the cost of living crisis and live like a pauper.

Home made Mushroom Soup with an olive roll and a scatter of pumpkin seeds and spring onion

After the Coronation

Today I made two changes to my routine from Coronation day. One was that I didn’t watch the Coronation on TV, though I did eat cake and sleep. The other was that I wrote before having breakfast (croissants with bacon and cheese) so I have at least three pieces started. Yesterdays good intentions sort of faded during the day and by this morning were floating like ancient banners in a chapel, a few threads and dust held together with memories and good intentions.

I suppose breakfast at the Palace was fairly laid back – no tantrums from Harry, no major protests, no terrorism. It can’t be much fun being Royal at time like this, when such things have to be taken into consideration.  It must have been more laid back in 1953. At that point there had been no major protest since 1848 and no terrorist plot since 1887. I say “terrorist”, but there’s evidence to suggest it was actually the British Government who really planned it, though the earlier attacks had undoubtedly been by the Fenians.

The news today was a mixture of gleanings from lip-readers and gripes from a variety of sources. It’s the general sort of news you get these days after public events. Even if I read it, most of it doesn’t stick. I did note that many Americans were anti-Royal in the results of a poll that was conducted, and that France’s opinion was divided – the left wing disliking monarchy and the right-wing liking it.  After the events 1776 in America and 1789 in France I can’t say that either result is a surprise. I’m just amazed that 250 years later anybody has a view. It’s often said that the British live in the past, but I’ve never been asked to give my opinion in a  poll like this. I tend not to have opinions on things that don’t affect me. And even if they do affect me I try to avoid putting too much energy into having opinions that aren’t going to change anything.

I’ve just watched a little of the Coronation Concert, and am going back to watch a bit more. The effects are good, the artists are generally lacklustre and so far only Lionel Richie and Miss Piggy have shown much star quality.

The top picture is Edward VIII as Prince of Wales. When considering today’s Royal Family it’s hard to ignore Edward VIII who seems, in a variety of ways, to have been an evil role model for many of today’s family.


Coronation Tradition

My grandfather built his own TV for the coronation, a story which I have told before, and they all sat round with neighbours to watch the seven inch screen. It was therefore, with a fine sense of tradition that I sat down and watched the Coronation on TV. Not quite all of it. I missed a bit at the beginning. And a bit while I made brunch. After that I watched more, napped for a little, made afternoon tea (including Coronation Chicken sandwiches), was shouted at for snoring and eventually saw the Royal Family on the balcony. I didn’t actually want to watch the ceremony, I just like the medals and uniforms. I like to say that as the shop’s medal expert I need to keep up with these things, but really I’m just a small boy trapped in a crumbling body.

This is good tradition.

My father, who was still the Royal Navy in 1953, stationed at Chatham, lined the Coronation route. It rained and he got wet. I briefly thought of him, but confess that I felt no need to follow in his footsteps. I’m sure King Charles will do fine without the presence of a wet Wilson by the side of the road.

All in all it’s a day to relish tradition. Everyone is keen to tell us how out of date and second class we are as a nation, but for just one day it would have been nice to sit back, be traditional, ignore the bits I didn’t like and relax. However, I wasn’t allowed to, as a lot of the comments from one of the BBC team, a history expert, hinged on how times were changing, always tinged with reproach. This is how life is these days, no matter what you do, somebody always wants to criticise.

I don’t have a picture suitable for a coronation, but let’s face it, nothing says celebration like a nice piece of cake. I used Battenberg in the top picture because it has a link to Royalty.

Sticky Toffee Cake

Just Eight Posts Left

That’s right, I just have eight posts to go before my 3,000th. Or, as I’m writing this, I should, more accurately, say seven to go. It’s like the “sleeps” system of counting down to Christmas. Or even counting down to a Coronation. It is currently 11.00pm on Friday, so to say there is a day until the Coronation is not really true, or helpful. However, it is just one sleep until the Coronation. and though it still  isn’t very precise, it is accurate.

The other thing about posts is that anything can be a post. Even a single picture can be a post. I suppose a single word could be a post if I wanted. I know that a single line can be a poem, it’s called a monostich. I bought a book of monostich poems for my Kindle. They are very short and almost entirely rubbish. What was I thinking of? At the time, in a fit of enthusiasm after reading an article, I was thinking that one disjointed line could be a poem. I’m now not sure that, in general, it can. And even if it can, I’m not sure that it’s possible to maintain that quality through an entire collection.

It’s a bit like haiku. You can’t just put three lines together and call it a haiku, because there is a bit more to it than that. I’d define it as soul. The Japanese also have a word for it. Unfortunately I’ve forgotten it. They have so many words for things and my memory is going rapidly downhill. So, a haiku is three short lines and a little soul. Hard to explain, but easy to experience when you read a good one. Unfortunately, a lot of haiku aren’t that good. My best ones are merely good enough to scrape into a middling sort of magazine, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever written a decent haiku.

Just one more thought and I will go for tonight. I wrote a tanka prose a couple of months ago, which was accepted and published, though I did rework the tanka, as the editor thought it was perilously close to the sentimentality of a greetings card verse. I can’t remember how he put it, but the words “greetings card verse” were definitely part of it. I thought I was being profound.

The difference between a tanka and a greetings card verse is, as far as I can see, very small, apart from the fact you can get money for writing greetings cards.

COVID Precautions Fade Away

There’s a definite change in the way we treat COVID.

On Sunday,none of the vaccination candidates were wearing masks, though the volunteers and vaccinators were still masked. In contrast to the queues (and red tape surrounding my coagulation status) that we used to have, there was little fuss. I just walked in, confirmed my details, was shown to a table. There, I had my medication status checked (I have to show I’m on drugs that reduce my immune response, and they mutter about my Warfarin). They used to have to call a doctor over to confirm I could be vaccinated because they were afraid of me bleeding excessively. Nobody could tell me why they were so bothered about it when flu vaccinators and blood testers just used to bung the needle in without a care in the world. Considering the rate of flow from a tint hole with the amount of blood I have in my body I could probably make blood faster than I was losing it. I’d certainly be likely to die of old age before I bled to death.

Compared to the complication, queues and lectures that had to be endured to get a vaccination, this was the simplest of times.

They didn’t even tell me to wait for 15 minutes in the car park this time. From the days when you used to have to log in and out of the waiting area, to the times they told me just to sit in the car for 15 minutes, to merely wishing me goodbye, has been a steady decline. At one time they told us we weren’t covered by our insurance to drive for 15 minutes, but I have checked the car insurance companies and they say they are happy that you are covered to drive as long as you feel OK and have no history of problems.

Meanwhile, at the surgery this morning there are no masks and no mention of masks. The waiting area was crammed and people seem to be bringing companions with them again, after being asked to come on their own during COVID. It was a nightmare of crowds and noise and I didn’t enjoy my wait at all.

You would think, looking at the way we now live, that there had never been a pandemic and that COVID has gone away. Over 150,000 people have died from it. Compared to the Great Plague of 1665-6, which killed approximately 100,000 in London and 100,000 in the rest of the country  we got off lightly, considering that the population at the time was around 5 million compared to our current 67 million. On the other hand, 40,000 people were killed in the Blitz . (approximately half of them in London).  The population in WW2 was around 40 million. I’m loathe to say “only 40,000” but it does set the figure in perspective. It amazes me that we can just shrug it off as easily as we seem to have done.

Photo by cottonbro on