Tag Archives: history

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.

Ten Things I Learnt This Week

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.

 

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.

 

Random Thoughts

I pressed the button on the random subject generator and this was what came up – “What does getting old mean to you?”

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.

 

 

 

Scone Chronicles – 38 – Tea in the Garden

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Is it just me. or does the position of dried fruit and plate decoration make this slice look like a face?

 

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

An Interesting King

The coin is a 1 Fils of King Ghazi I of Iraq. Dated 1938 it is uncirculated and still has traces of its original lustre.

King Ghazi was king for only six years but he seems to have packed a lot in – wanting to annexe Kuwait, conducting an affair with a palace servant, having suspected Nazi sympathies and, finally, dying in a car crash which may have been organised by his Prime Minister.

All this sounds very familiar.

Fils is singular, though some coin dealers write 1 Fil. The plural is fulus but in the west we stick to using fils. Unfortunately it’s also French for “son” so you need to be quite precise in your search terms. In French it’s both singular and plural.

The coin is available on eBay for £25, though lower grades are available much cheaper. That’s a good thing about coin collecting – it encompasses all budgets. You can buy some very interesting coins for a pound or two if condition isn’t important. We did that yesterday, selling a coin of Louis XVI like this one, from 1792, to a young collector. It was very worn, but it was £1 and think of all that history!

Small Cars and Wine Gums

I’ve put some really interesting stuff on eBay today, but as I left my camera at the shop I won’t be talking about that until tomorrow.

The man from the car repairers called today, dropped off a car and took mine away. As part of the process we had to fill in a sheet detailing all the blemishes on my bodywork. Two wheel centres missing, crumpled wing, damaged door, mystery paint transfer, mis-matched mirror shrouds, scuffs on the back bumper from dragging heavy loads out of the boot…

And there are a few minor marks too.

That is before we actually got round to the dinged wheel arch, scratches and paint transfer from the minor accident last week.

This is the car of a man who really needs to get a grip on his driving and the care of his car.

I might add that to my list.

I’ve done everything on the list and the two new haibun are now resting a while until I start the re-writing process.  The results of my car emptying are currently stacked in the house. I found four pairs of cheap reading glasses, which sort of makes up for the pair I lost last week.

I also found eight pens, two pairs of scissors, a bag of salt and  half a packet of wine gums. The wine gums are only slightly fluffy and soon cleaned up when I started sucking them, so all in all it wasn’t a bad day.

The courtesy car is a SEAT. I don’t know what model, but I do know I need Vaseline to get in and out. It’s a bit of a snug fit. Add that to a manual handbrake. a petrol engine and a clutch with a biting point that requires me to put my knee up to ear level when changing gear and you have a car that I’m not altogether familiar with. I also have a problem with feet which are bigger than the space allowed by the car designer.

Due to my generous proportions and a small door aperture I had to exit the vehicle by using a technique that looks a little like limbo dancing. Once I have enough of my lower parts out of the car I put my hand on the top of my head to compress my stiff neck and get my head out. With head and legs out I hook my elbows round the door frame and extract my body in the manner of a wine waiter brandishing one of those corkscrews with the two wings.

I may start adding sound effects tomorrow,

Fortunately it’s only for a week.

The top coin is a 1724 Guinea of George I, from the days when coins were better and monarchs were, quite frankly, uglier. In that year Jack Sheppard the highwayman was hanged and Longman, Britain’s oldest surviving publisher, was founded.

The Medallion Collection

It’s a very modest collection, which was, partly, my intention when I started it.

The idea was to buy a medallion relating to every year of the 20th Century, and to do so with discrimination and economy. (Before you ask, that’s 1900-2000 because I can’t be bothered to argue about when a century begins and ends).

I’ve collected a number of things in my life but I’ve never really made a sustained effort, or had sufficient cash. Not that I’m pleading poverty, just that my eyes are bigger than my wallet. Once I’ve bought a few things I start getting ambitious.

Look at this one – linking piers and medallions. What better for a man who likes piers and medallions? It’s nearly 200 years old and it isn’t expensive in collecting terms. However, I can’t see Julia being too happy to find we were on baked potatoes and beans until the end of the month because I’d blown the housekeeping. She’s very patient with me, but even she has her limits.

The first medal celebrates the life of Dr Kwame Nkrumah. I presume it was made in 1972 to commemorate his death. It doesn’t have a pier on it, but it does have a map of Africa and some interesting history behind it.

He was 63 when he died, just two years older than me. In that time he had achieved independence for Ghana and established a fame that still endures. That doesn’t leave me with much time for achieving something as I’ve loafed away my first 61 years and all I have to show for it is a small collection of  medallions.

The second one marks the Cambridge University Press’s move away from hot metal to digital printing.

I like medals made from re-used metal. I have one made from the copper of the Foudroyant )one of Nelson’s old ships) and one made from the lead of Selby Abbey. The Selby Abbey one was sold to raise funds for rebuilding the fire-damaged abbey. I really must find them…

It’s interesting to hold something in your hand and think that it used to be something else, though I suppose all metal was once something else, even if it was just ore.

This isn’t an elegant medal but it marks the end of an era. It was £6, including a box and explanatory leaflet.

I aim to spend around £5 on a medallion, which allows me to complete the century for around £500 and lets me buy something regularly. A collection needs regular additions. Or an addict requires a regular fix, depending on how you view collectors.

Looks like I missed the midnight deadline. I remember thinking it was 11.40 and time was pressing. Then I woke up at 12.10 sitting in the computer chair. I left it another eight hours before posting, as my ability to edit improves greatly after sleep.

 

Crossing Off Another Day

I have packed parcels, as usual. I have drunk coffee, despite my preference for tea (because I am offered coffee and am too lazy to make my own drinks). And I have eaten my sandwiches.
It has not been a day of high excitement or great drama. We have been using the internet as a displacement activity, and to inform ourselves so we now know that Doctor Ferdinand Porsche was chauffeur to Archduke Franz Ferdinand during his National Service. This reminds me that although I know the names of the Archduke and the assassin, the name of the 1914 chauffeur seems to be absent from the records.
I also now know that Nickola Tesla was a Serbian, liked pigeons, liked walking and didn’t like paying his bills.
I then moved on to eBay, selling gold-plated coins with pictures stuck on the back.
They are not quality coins, but if you buy them from us they are reasonably priced. Buy them from the manufacturer and they will cost you a lot more.
I’m seriously thinking of  applying for a job copywriting for the manufacturers, using words like sumptuous and avoiding words like value for money. Today I managed to get the word “skullduggery” in, so sumptuous should be easy.
That’s why I’m going to be nice about the makers of crap coins. Well, maybe not nice, but possibly neutral. If they find the blog I don’t want to put them off by being honest about the expensive tawdry garbage they market so aggressively.
I finished off the day with coins which have been made into jewellery. The best bit is this 1676 Half Crown.
Half crown of Charles II

Half crown of Charles II

It’s not the prettiest coin, it’s been made into a brooch, and someone has started to make a hole at the top, but it has seen some history in its life.

When it was minted Charles had only been back on the throne 16 years and Cromwell’s head was still on a spike above Westminster Hall. It probably circulated during some of the wars with Holland, Monmouth’s Rebellion and the South Sea Bubble. It might have been handled by Prince Rupert, Sir Isaac Newton or Sir Henry Morgan.

You never know, it might even have still been in circulation when America declared its independence.

That’s a lot of history for one small coin.

Storms and Stuff

It’s very windy this morning, though according to the weather forecast it isn’t a storm. As I lack formal training I can’t actually tell the difference.

Julia’s brother rang us last night to tell us. He’d been in the park next to the mosque shooting in New Zealand yesterday and heard the gunfire.

I wasn’t worried because I’d forgotten he was there. Julia wasn’t worried either, because she hadn’t realised how close to the shooting he was. Now she’s worried. I’m not. Over the years I’ve allowed her to do the worrying. She has more compassion than I do.

Time for work now, but I thought I’d share my brief connection to history.

There is, I feel an irony to the situation where an Australian gunman tries to draw attention to the perils of immigration  in New Zealand. I’m sure the Maori and Aborigines are already aware of the perils of uncontrolled immigration.

As for Trump’s wall, which is in the news again, well if I wasn’t going to work I’d feel compelled to mention that he really should give Texas back to Mexico…