First job this morning was to parcel up the Prisoner of War postcard. It appears to have gone to a collector. There were only three people in the bidding and two of them chased it up over £60. As far as I know it’s worth £20-30 as a piece of postal history so I presume it was the story they were bidding for, and that it will be well looked after from now on.
Second job was to parcel up a nice late Georgian medallion. It was struck in 1835 so it’s nearly as late as it can be whilst remaining Georgian. It has been on sale a few months and we turned down several offers because we thought it was a good piece. It commemorates the installation of the marquis of Camden as Chancellor of Cambridge University. Lovely medallion, as I say, but he’s no great looker, and it’s a dull subject. It has gone to America. A lot of our better medallions go to America or China. I feel slightly guilty about exporting our heritage, but we have an excellent stock of historical medallions which is hardly ever looked at in the shop.
Earl of Camden, Chancellor of Cambridge University and, as I said previously, no great shakes in the looks department. Roman nose, piercing stare and, doubtless, a commanding manner, but not easy on the eye.
I then spent the rest of the day beavering away at my desk loading a succession of modern coins onto eBay. They are weird modern combinations – a coin from Niue celebrates Edison and the lightbulb, one from the Cook Islands celebrates the Ascot Gold Cup and one from Somalia is part of a series called “Wildlife of North America”. The Cook Islands coin is quite pleasant apart from that, but the Somalian coin is an abomination and the Niue coin lights up if you press it in the right place. Words fail me…
I despair of any society where people actually collect these monstrosities
Can you see the light?
At least the design is good, even if the mis-match beggars belief.
I seem to have lost all my drafts. It doesn’t really matter in most cases as I rarely actually go back and use one, despite my good intentions. On the other hand I did write half a post last night that I wanted to finish it this morning.
Instead, I will move on to the next subject I had in mind. Prepare to be saddened.
We bought 5,000 cards plus assorted ephemera last week, the stock of a retired dealer. It has been gone through and is really just the leavings of a lot of mixed lots that he bought. It’s taken us the best part of two days to sort it – work that out on an hourly rate if you are interested in the hidden costs of running a collectors’ shop. We have found a few decent cards, but it’s mainly dross. However, they all needed going through and they are all sorted into counties now, which is always a test of general knowledge.
One interesting card we found was a pre-paid card addressed to a prisoner of war in Japanese hands. It has a positive message on the back, as you can see from the photo.
It was posted nine days before VJ Day, so it looked like a happy ending was imminent. However, many people were so ill by then of the war that you can’t guarantee a happy ending, even at that point. I decided that after I checked it on the Prisoner of War roll I’d check the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, just to see if he made it home.
I didn’t need to do that, as it happened. The first POW roll I checked had all the details I needed to close the story.
I suppose the “Return to Sender” stamp on the front should have alerted me to the outcome.
649850 AC1 Victor Ernest Gordon never made it home. As you can see from the print-out behind the card, he was buried at sea on 6th November 1943, a year and a half before the postcard was posted. He died of beriberi, which is a variety of thiamine deficiency brought on by existing on a diet of white rice.
Another roll narrows his place of death to “off Formosa”, about halfway between Java, where he seems to have originally been kept, and Japan, where he was probably bound.
His father would not be the only parent in this situation- the entry appears on British Page 284 of the roll entitled “Unreported Deaths of Allied Personnel”. He is commemorated on the Singapore Memorial, which commemorates 24,319 British and Commonwealth Servicemen who lost their lives and are not recorded elsewhere.
The next stage is that it will be put on eBay. This is what we do, and although it seems disrespectful to consign such a sad and historical document to an auction, that is, when you think about it, exactly what his family did when they sold it. We could give it to a museum, but museums have a habit of locking things away where they are never seen again. at least we are able to tell the story and move it on to a collector who will value and cherish it, and possibly give the story a new lease of life.
It’s a moral question I’ve often had to face in many years of collecting and dealing, but the fact to bear in mind is that nothing comes up for sale before the family, or even the recipient, decides to sell it.
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.
Today I have what is generally referred to in medical circles as “a bad ankle”. Julia refers to it disparagingly and suggests that a reduction in calorie intake may cure the problem. Sympathy, I have noticed, is in short supply, these days. In some ways it’s good that it had happened on my day off, so I can rest in front of the fire, but in others it’s a bit of a nuisance as I had plans for today.
Still, sitting in front of a fire with my leg up isn’t the worst use of a day I can think of.
Sitting in front of the computer waiting for a message so I can reset my OU password, on the other hand, is not a good way to pass the day. I haven’t forgotten the password, it’s just that they have decided we should all reset our passwords on 16th December. I don’t know why and mine, when it is eventually reset, will doubtless be a bit sweary in content. It’s already been ten minutes. These days it’s normally instant. I know this because I forget a lot of passwords.
As it’s at their instigation and I really want access to my account now, I’m not happy. I rarely am when it comes to technology. The trick is to concentrate on the positives rather than the negatives. The internet is a miracle, and not the last refuge of idiots, nerds and password resetting jobsworths.
I seem to have invented the word “engative” whilst typing badly. It seems to have no meaning and the internet wants to correct it to “negative”. I think it has a future – maybe a word used to describe the process of being negative about England. The English are quite engative, as are the Scots, Welsh and Irish. That is to be expected as we’ve been neighbours for many years. I’ve noticed that the Americans on Quora (the last refuge of the Mental Pygmy) seem to be quite negative about England too (though they often mean the UK). This often takes the form of criticism about the British Empire. This is ironic, as our last major imperial misdemeanour took the form of expelling the Chagos Islanders from their homes in 1969-73 so that the Americans could have an air base there.
I feel another blog post coming on – The History of the World in 100 Blog Posts. I will have to look into that…
A poem is never finished, only abandoned.
This is the post that gave me the thoughts and the photographs for the haibun I recently provided the link to.
It was originally about the passing of the old families and the way the houses have become country parks and similar things. The editor preferred it as a haibun about a place, and I preferred to be published, so it’s now shorter and it’s about a pond. It is more in the haiku tradition in this form, stressing nature and lightness, where the original was less light and more about humans.
However, they were only words and there are plenty more where they came from. I am already at work on a new version of the original piece, which will be back, and will feature a lake when it next appears. It will also be longer, though It will probably remain unpublishable It will live again in hope if not in print. I was going to make a clever point about haibun, matter and anti-matter at this point but I googled “matter” to check my accuracy and now realise I’m a lot less clever than I thought. Same goes for my witty linking of quark the particle and quark the cheese – I didn’t realise that cheese could be so complicated. I’ve given it up as a bad job.
Sometimes you have to know when enough is enough. It is probably better to leave you with a vision of purple rhododendrons and thoughts of voles, than it is to make a bad joke about cheese.
In the haiku, I note the mention of history is slightly discordant now that the main focus has moved away from. If I’d thought about it longer I may well have altered that too.
As the opening quote suggests, we just keep working on things until we decide to leave them. Time to leave this one and move on to the next imperfect work.
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
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
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
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 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.
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.
One, ten point lists are handy things to prompt a blog post. Last week I wrote about ten point lists, but they were already in my mind when I sat down at the keyboard. This week I sat down with a completely empty head and thought ‘What shall I write?’ I then thought ‘What did I learn this week?’ and then ‘Did I learn ten things?’ I’m hoping I did, or I’ll have to change the title.
Two, five hundred words are easy if you start with enough in your head. If you don’t have much to say, they can be a real struggle. I knocked out five 500 word posts on my Wednesday marathon and actually had to cut some to keep it to an average of 500 per post.
Three,sometimes less is better. I couldn’t get a good run at the blog last night and petered out after 250 words. I came close to 500 words twice, but the post was better when it was shortened, so I cut the extras out.
Four, freedom is not always good. The USA, with a tradition of freedom, individualism and pioneering spirit is not finding the Covid situation easy. The Germans and Swiss, who are more regimented and organised, seem to have come through the virus in much better shape. The Brits, as usual, fall between the two extremes and are totally disorganised.
Five, the Americans prefer ‘learned’ to ‘learnt’ and, according to the internet article I read, are irritated by what they see as the mis-spelling ‘learnt’. Users of British English, on the other hand, favour ‘learnt’ and see learned as an acceptable alternative. This is probably not accurate as (a) it’s on the internet and (b) I’m sure there are relaxed Americans an picky Brits about.
Six, it’s fun just relaxing and reading WordPress. There is so much to learn.
Seven, the average person eats 20-30 plant foods in a year. I got that from Helen at Growing out of Chaos. For years now I’ve been trying to keep our diet varied, and if that is the benchmark I seem to be succeeding. Like Helen, we are hovering around 60. That’s without foraging, as I’ve let that slip badly.
Eight, I now know a lot more about Edward VIII, anti-semitism, fascism and royalty medallions of the 1930s than I did at the beginning of the week. You might have guessed this from the photographs. Now isn’t the time to go into all that, as I haven’t yet written it all.
CLB Review 1927
CLB Review 1927
Nine, on-line grocery shopping is more difficult than you think. I thought I’d got it all organised but this week I still managed to order frozen spinach instead of fresh and the packs of six cobs instead of four. The big ones that come in the packs of four are good for lunch, but the small one, which come in the packs of six) are only a few bites before they are all gone. That means you have to take four for lunch, and that looks like you are being greedy.
Ten, saag is not, as I had thought, an Indian word for spinach, but for greens of many sorts. The word for spinach is palak. I got this from Helen too. At this point, I would like to apologise to readers from the Indian sub-continent. I know there is no such language as ‘Indian’ but I am not well up on the differences and nuances of the various languages and decided to keep things simple.
So, that’s it, ten things I learnt this week. I have an uneasy feeling that I learnt more than that but haven’t retained it. That, I’m afraid, is what happens as you get older.
It wasn’t what I was hoping for. I could have come up with that on my own. I had honestly meant to write on any subject that came up, but as many of my posts are already on that subject I thought I’d try again.
So I tried again.
“Write about your feet.”
I am very tempted, but it would include thoughts about arthritis and about getting old so, again, it’s nothing new.
One last try.
“Write your obituary.”
You know, I sometimes wonder if the world really does hate me. I have recently had to help with my father’s obituary and I could have done without a reminder. It was bad enough this morning when someone came into the shop to buy a Father’s Day present. I’ll be cheerful again tomorrow, but for tonight I’ll pass.
So, one last try.
“What has made you angry recently?”
That’s easy, the random subject generator has been winding me up for the last half hour. I could, given another hair’s breadth of provocation, really let rip on the subject of random subject generators. It’s not much of a thing to get worked up about but it will do for the moment.
There other things to get worked up about but I’ll leave you with a quote.
“Mashonaland is ours, we conquered it, and have every right to be here…”
This could so easily be a quote from Cecil Rhodes, but it’s actually a quote from Umgandan, a Matabele induna.
Whatever today’s revisionists may think, not all the invaders in Africa were white.
We had tea and cake in the garden this afternoon. As Julia had gone to the trouble of baking banana bread I thought this called for a revival of the Scone Chronicles.
She has been working away in the garden all lockdown and the patio is looking like the sort of place you might find a new species of beetle. Or even a lost tribe.
As you can see, we also had Battenberg, though that came from the shop. Life really is too short to make your own Battenberg. We’ve had Battenberg nearly every week since the start of lockdown, which is one of the brighter spots of the last couple of months.It’s a very reliable cake, and usually cheap. Other budget cakes can be a bit hit and miss, while other, pricier, cakes can be be covered in calories and three or four times more expensive. There is a case to be made which suggests Battenberg is an aid to dieting, but that might be pushing it a bit, even for me.
Banana Bread and Battenberg
The banana bread was excellent – moist, tasty and light without being soggy or crumbling. Fortunately we still have some left. This is the advantage of afternoon tea at home – plenty of chance for second helpings. I won’t recommend it too heartily as I don’t want to have to queue for a table next time I’m here. It is possible for venues to become too popular and I don’t like crowds.
It’s back to work tomorrow. However, the good news is that I have two days off after that.
As I sit and think, it occurs to me that about 68 years ago my parents were married in the time of sugar rationing. I’m now, despite the recent shortages from panic buying, able to buy more sugar than is good for me. History can be a strange thing.
Later we had banana bread for supper with a nice cup of tea. It was slightly drier than when we had last eaten it, but still good. We have enough left for a couple of good slices, but will probably butter them.
Is it just me. or does the position of dried fruit and plate decoration make this slice look like a face?
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.
Copper Fob HMS Victory BFSS 1905
British & Foreign Sailor’s Society
Copper Fob HMS Victory BFSS 1905
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 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.