I had it all planned in my head. I was going to come home from work, write the blog post, prepare tea, watch quizzes, make tea and then watch a bit more TV before working on the computer.
So I came home, watched a quiz, fell asleep, ate tea (prepared by Julia), watched TV and started frittering time on the computer. It wasn’t quite how I had planned it. I also missed the cut-off time for making changes to my grocery order.
It is now late and I am writing a blog post whilst feeling tired, and remorseful for my lack of energy.
We had an interesting medal brought in this afternoon, along with some cloth arm badges. The medal is named to the Royal Naval Air Service and one of the cloth badges is from the RNAS too. The other two were worn by the same man but are just general naval badges – the chevron is for 3 years service and the anchor is the badge of a Leading Seaman, or Leading Mechanic in this case.
The RNAS was a short-lived organisation, formed in 1914 as an air arm of the Royal Navy and disbanded when it became part of the RAF in April 1918. It was an interesting organisation and carried out various duties in the war, such as strategic bombing, airship flights, anti-submarine warfare, the development of aircraft carriers and it even had an armoured car unit. From this you may deduce that nobody was really sure what to do with it.
The recipient of the medal is fairly well documented. Born in London, he joined up in 1916 at the age of 18 and served at RAF Cranwell (which was, at the time, a base of the RNAS, despite being in the middle of Lincolnshire), was demobbed in 1919 with the rank of Corporal Mechanic (paid 5 shillings a day) and by 1939 was an engineer in Loughborough who was also a member of the ARP. He died in Worthing in 1966.
Approximately 100 years after his war service ended, his family sold his war medal and uniform badges to us.
RNAS Mechanic’s Arm Badge
They say we all die twice – once when we stop breathing and once when nobody remembers us. Sometimes, when I find details of a medal recipient, it feels like we are helping him live again.
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.
Julia came home from work with Bear Claws tonight. In case you aren’t familiar with th eterm, this means that she brought fruit-filled danish pastries home. They are a treat and not a terrible deformity.
We sat round the fire, drew the curtains and reverted to winter, in much the same way as the weather has done ever since I said that Spring was here. Tomorrow I was going to have a walk, but the forecast is for rain, so I am reconsidering. Having lived as a recluse for the best part of a year I don’t really want to go out just to get wet. In fact I don’t want to go out. I’ve got used to having a lid on my life and I’m not sure about going out and just having sky overhead.
Stange how these things creep up on you. is it lockdown, or am I just becoming old?
I have been doing research on medals today for work. One was an interesting group – aman who served 21 years in the Royal Army Medical Corps in the Boer War and Great War. He was decorated twice, wounded, had enteric fever, and became a publican after leaving the army.
His reward for for all his service – the death of his eldest son in 1941, serving in a second world war.
No mater how bad we may think things are, it sometimes serves us well to look back at history and see how much adversity other people had to face.
I note that daffodils are out now, and the crocuses don’t seem to be doing at all well.
If you look up “Sweetheart Brooches” on the internet you will find a few links to eBay and a leading dealer, then you find a link to a post of mine. That is a ridiculous state of affairs, partly because there should be more information out there, and partly because I only made a couple of short mentions of them. The highest-ranked entry of mine isn’t even the most informative post I wrote about sweetheart brooches. The internet is indeed a mysterious place.
Cambridgeshire Regiment Sweetheart
The Cambridgeshire Regiment was a small unit and the badges are hard to find. This one is mounted on a wishbone, a symbol of luck, promise and potential. Nickel-plated brass.
As usual, when things have been slack, I have reverted to spending too much time on eBay. Whilst it is a pleasurable activity it can also be a disastrous way of spending time as I can’t resist buying things, and it soon starts to add up. Fortunately, having spent many years as a dealer in collectibles, I have a built-in aversion to paying full price, which tends to keep things within bounds. Despite this I’ve still managed to add eight items to my sweetheart collection.
Sweetheart brooches are strange things, because they weren’t even called that until the 1970s. Well, not in the UK – they may well have been called that in the USA, where there is a wide range of sweetheart items. Until that time, in the UK, a sweetheart brooch was a brooch bought for a sweetheart and they tended to feature motifs of birds, hearts or flowers. They were not military themed, as the brooches are that we now call sweethearts. These are mentioned in various news reports before the Great War, often cropping up in breach of promise reports. Those were definitely different days, when a man’s promise to marry could be enforced in court, and the gift of a brooch could be used in evidence.
Lancashire Fusiliers Sweetheart
The Lancashire Fusiliers badge is stamped “Sterling” on the back, showing that it is silver but offering no dating evidence. I would guess it’s late WW1.
In contemporary newspapers the brooches we now call sweethearts are known as Regimental Brooches or Badge Brooches. They are to be seen in newspaper adverts and feature in reports of weddings, when the groom gives a regimental brooch to his bride. These reports are mainly from the 1920s and 30s and I suspect they are the high-quality brooches which rarely feature in my collection.
The type of brooch known as white-faced enamel sweethearts (as featured in the header picture) are usually well made, and are made from brass and enamel. A cheap brass and enamel brooch could cost as little as 4d, the white-faced enamel type would cost you 1/6d. (That is fourpence and one and six (one shilling and sixpence) for those of you who don’t know.) Fourpence is worth 2 new pence and 1/6 is worth 7½p.
Yorkshire Light Infantry Sweetheart
Nickel-plated brass again. Cheapish quality but with the military motif of crossed rifles, which you don’t often see. This is the first of its type for my collection.
At that point I had better stop and deliver a quick word on British pre-decimal currency in 1914. There were 240 pennies in a pound, 12 pennies in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound. We also had farthings (¼d) and halfpennies, pronounced ha’penny, (½d).
When we went decimal, with 100 pennies to the £1 a new penny (1p) was worth 2.4d. The abbreviation became p for penny rather than d for denarius (even though it was pronounced penny).
That’s about as clear as I can make it. I have condensed two thousand years of coinage into six lines, but I think I’ve covered the basics.
WW2 Aircrew Sweetheart – silver
RAF Pilot’s Wings are quite common, but the half-wings for other aircrew are not so easy to find. The style of this one is distinctively WW2 with the brooch bar and dangler style. The “S” for Signaller brevet was issued from 1944 onwards to the aircrew who used radar and similar technology, which was all developed during the war.
To put this in context, an infantry private in the British Army was paid a shilling a day (1/- or 5p in decimal terms). He was also fed, and got meat every day, which was better food than most of them got at home.
The header picture is a white-faced enamel sweetheart of the Scots Guards. It cost a day and a half’s wages and would have been bought by a new recruit for his mother, girlfriend or sister as he embarked on a great adventure. There are eight brooches pictured here. On average, one man in seven was killed, which means that it’s likely one of the men who bought these brooches didn’t make it back home.
This is a sweetheart brooch of the 10th (The Prince of Wales’s Own) Royal Hussars, consisting of a regimental badge on a cavalry sword. It is a nice brooch to obtain because the ones with swords are difficult to find, as are brooches to cavalry regiments. In 1914 there were 733,514 men in the British Army, with less than 16,000 being cavalrymen, so you can see why the cavalry brooches are difficult to find.
There is a fault with the brooch, which is probably why it was reasonably priced (I hesitate to say too much about prices because Julia reads this blog). The hallmarks on the reverse are, unfortunately incomplete.
You can tell that the maker is MB in two circles which is Marshall Brothers, that the item was marked in Birmingham (Anchor) and is sterling silver (Lion), but the final element, the date letter, is under the hinge. This is irritating, but not unknown, and it’s a nice addition to the collection, even without a date letter. It’s likely to be around 1912-16, based on the dates of similar items.
Finally, we have a sweetheart brooch of the Welsh Regiment, hallmarked Birmingham 1898 and again made by Marshall Brothers. The hollow silver horseshoe was a common design at the turn of the century and persisted until the early years of WW1. This is a nice early example.The regiment was known as the Welsh Regiment from 1881 – 1920 and the Welch Regiment after 1920.
Welsh Regiment Sweetheart
Hallmarks – Birmingham 1898
This example has the regimental motto on it – Gwell angau na Chywilydd (Better Death than Dishonour) – rather than a scroll with “The Welsh” on it as brooches sometimes deviate from the official badge pattern. There’s some minor damage to it, but what do you expect from a brooch that has survived for 122 years?
Along with the personal link, that this was originally a gift with a great deal of meaning to it, the wear is all part of the charm.
Silver Brooch HMS Celerol
Hallmarks – Birmingham 1915 Frank H Mannox
The final brooch says “Well Done HMS Celerol”. I’m not sure what they did well, and can’t find any record of it. Celerol was a Tanker/Oiler, a class of ship used to escort convoys, import oil and refuel other ships. Launched in Sunderland in 1917, Celerol stayed in service until 1958. She was a hard-working ship, serving in two World Wars and the Russian Intervention, but she seems to have avoided both fame and disaster. Although several of her sister ships were sunk by enemy action Celerol survived to meet her end in the breaker’s yard at Bo’ness.
Despite all my moaning and mention of boredom I’m having a reasonable time at work and, let’s face it, the money is enjoyable. After 25 years of precarious self-employment I’m just starting to relax with the idea there will always be money at the end of the month.
Here are some of the things I’ve been working on recently.
The first one is a railway whistle – a traditional ACME Thunderer, as you can see, with the “LMS” stamp of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. It came to us with a number of other bits, including a pair of First World War Medals, a membership card for the LDV, which was the forerunner of the Home Guard, and a nasty looking bomb or shell splinter.
Home Guard Membership Card 1940
Medals, card and shell splinter
The whistle disappeared in the post and we were just getting ready to reimburse the customer when, according to a note he sent today, it appeared. It’s taken a month. Such is life on eBay.
Private Mobbs served in France at the end of the war and hasn’t left much trace of his military activities, but, despite being in a reserved occupation, he was prepared to give up his nights and days off to train with the Home Guard to defend the country all over again.
The next photographs show poppies on coins. The commemoration of the Great War is becoming increasingly mawkish as time goes on, and the recent centenary celebrations have made things worse. Everybody, it now seems, is an expert on the First World War, and everybody has an opinion. I have my own opinions about many of these opinions, but I’ll keep them to myself. All I’ll say is that Blackadder Goes Forthis a comedy, but many people treat it like a documentary.
Falklands Crown 2014
Falklands Crown 2014 mounted on postal cover
This is a crown issued by the Falkland Islands. The Falklands are not strangers to war, with a major naval engagement there in 1914, as well as the more modern war.
UK £5 2017
UK £5 2017
The second is issued by the UK, the first time (2017) that the UK has issued a commemorative of this type, though other Commonwealth countries have done so.
The story of then poppy as a remembrance of the Great War is an interesting one, and although we tend to think of it as a British thing, we owe it to an American academic called Moina Michael. She took the poppy on board and popularised it, and wrote a poem of her own in response to McRae’s famous In Flanders Fields.
They are poems of their time, and are probably not quite in line with modern taste, so the poem of the day is Larkin again, with MCMXIV.
Today started well when I had just a short wait to have my arm stabbed. The blood flowed well and I was able to et out and get Julia to work in plenty of time. I’m hoping the free flow of blood indicates that it is going to give me another five or six weeks before the re-test. Tomorrow’s post will tell.
We will spool forward to my recent telephone conversation with the doctor. It seems that while testing for the arthritis consultation they took it upon themselves to test for liver function using a new test they can now do.
So, I had a test done for something we hadn’t discussed, for a condition I’m showing no symptoms of, to get a result that isn’t germane to the current issue so that I can be investigated for a result that isn’t any cause for concern and that isn’t going to cause any problems.
Meanwhile, I still have trouble dressing myself because of the arthritis in my fingers and would like to get that sorted before winter sets in.
But that doesn’t matter because they have a new test they can do for something that’s more interesting. I’ve agreed to have a scan because I was so tightly wound up by this point that I was on the point of being rude, and I’ve been brought up to be polite. I also don’t believe in being rude to people who may have to check my prostate at some time in the future.
But I am not happy.
On a brighter note, Number One son will be home tonight. He’s having two nights in Nottingham then going up to Leeds to look for a job. This is good as we get to see him and discuss his trip, then we get rid of him. This, despite what Julia may think, is the natural cycle of life. You are born, you grow, you get a job, you leave home and pay your own bills. Then it starts over again. You settle down, you have kids, you moan about their effect on your finances…
The grandparents turn up and get them excited, give them fizzy drinks then go home and leave the consequences. I’m looking forward to that bit.
In the middle of all this, I had a delivery in the shop.
My military sweetheart collection is progressing in a shaky and uncertain manner. Like all my collections it is under-financed, under-researched and badly neglected. I’ve decided to put a bit more structure into my collecting. With the sweethearts I’m going to start looking at eBay a couple of times a month and buying something that seems reasonably priced. If I don’t find anything it doesn’t matter. If I do, it will be a bonus. If I buy one item a month for the next ten years that will be 120 extra brooches for the collection.
Royal Scots Greys Sweetheart Brooch
Hampshire Regiment Sweetheart Brooch
Lothian & Border Horse Sweetheart brooch
Last week I bought a lot of brooches from eBay consisting of six pieces. I therefore stuck to my principles (just about) but managed to add five to the collection – one, I think, is destined for the swaps box. They have a definite Scottish theme to them with four out of the six being Scottish Regiments.
They are a sort you don’t often see – made to look like a hanging banner by folding celluloid over a pin. I suspect they were cheap at the time and , because they don’t look like jewellery, they didn’t survive in such numbers as the more durable and attractive metal ones.
Royal Engineers (Broken Pin)
Royal Scots Sweetheart Brooch 2
Royal Scots Sweetheart Brooch 1
At 600 words that’s more of a memoir than a post, so I’ll let you go now. Thanks for sticking with it so long.
It was lighter when I left work tonight, which made me feel better. I was also feeling happy because two of yesterday’s medallions (Sir Francis Drake and Grace Kelly) sold overnight. They are now on their way to the customer.
I then started entering more items on eBay. We set ourselves the target of having 1,000 items of stock when I started in the shop, which looked like a big jump from the 600 we then had listed. When you consider the number we’ve sold, we must have entered around 2,000 items to get to this figure.
Here are some of the bits that went on today.
Masonic Past Master’s Jewel – Heaton Lodge, Bolton, Lancashire
RAOB Jewels Lord Balcarres Lodge, Chorley, Lancashire
People collect Freemasons regalia keenly, and though there are collectors for Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes (otherwise known as RAOB or Buffs) it isn’t collected quite as keenly. They are both mysteries to me, though they are popular with many people. There are other friendly societies such as the Oddfellows, Druids and Foresters, but their regalia is not so common. Many of them were set up to provide health and insurance benefits for members in the days before the welfare state.
Locket WW1 Soldier Green Howards
Locket WW1 RE Soldier
The last bit is a locket with pictures of two Great War soldiers in it – probably brothers, or maybe father and son. It’s had quite a lot of wear and I suspect there is quite a story behind it. We bought it with a Green Howards cap badge but the vendor didn’t know anything about the history. It’s frightening how quickly families forget.
As a man who is interested in the past, it can be an interesting job.
We’re closed until the 2nd January now, but as that is my day off I have four days of leisure stretching ahead of me. I wonder what I should do to fill the time…
Here’s the link to the horse blog I mentioned on Sunday – Sense and Sentimentality.
Sorry it took me so long to find, I’m not very organised.
I have a number of horse-based stories from the Great War, which all confirm in my mind that it’s better to be shot at than be anywhere near a horse. However, it’s still an interesting subject, despite my misgivings.
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.
Nottinghamshire Voluntary Knitter Badge – WW1
Entertainers Badge – Nottingham – Great War
POW Relatives Association
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.