Tag Archives: medals

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.

Man in a Mask

I was down at the hospital just after eight and left twenty five minutes later, having seen four people breach what I consider acceptable mask etiquette.

One was a staff member chatting to the woman on hygiene duty at the entrance. No mask, despite the signs. Two was a patient, with his mask pulled down to leave his nose uncovered. The benefits of masks are still debatable, but the benefits of wearing one badly are even less obvious. Third was a receptionist who emerged from the office maskless, but laden with a coffee jar and several mugs. She disappeared into a cleaning cupboard to (I assume) make coffee. They spend all that money building the place and the staff have to make coffee in the broom cupboard. Who designs these things? Finally, as I left a doctor arrived. He took a mask from the table at the entrance and just held it to his face as he walked through the building. Is that the sort of grudging use of a mask you expect from a senior member of staff? Are his ears too grand for elastic? What will he do if he needs to use that hand (the other was grasping an attache case)?

All in all, not a great endorsement for the use of masks or the common sense of the staff.

Meanwhile, back at the blood test, I was stabbed in the arm by a woman who had clearly been taught to use a bayonet rather than a needle. As pain radiated through my body I was glad to note that my arm went dead. Whether that was because she hit a nerve or because the band was tight around my arm, I don’t know. I was just glad to lose the feeling. I have had better testing sessions.

I arrived at work an hour and a half early and started packing parcels. We only had three to do and I then took the selfies I am using with this post and started cataloguing medallions of Edward VIII. Many of them are bland. Some are dull, others anodyne.  And still more of them are boring, uninspired or unremarkable.

Empire Day Medal - Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII

Empire Day Medal – Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII

Some are very interesting but unfortunately many are not. You will learn more, whether you want to or not, as I write my posts on collectables.

At lunchtime we had a customer call, without appointment. She was a nice lady who wore a mask. and sold us some coins her father had put to one side. Some were silver, so she walked away with nearly £50.

Then we had thin man, also with no appointment, who had a copy ancient Greek coin as sold to tourists in happier days. It was worthless and he ejected little blobs of spittle as he spoke. Several fell on my hands. I held my breath and regretted not wearing a mask.

Finally we had a collector who looked at our Saxon coins and bought one before deciding to buy himself a second-hand coin cabinet as a belated birthday treat.

It was a very mixed day.

My sister made my mask. It has a nose clip and is generally an excellent mask, fitting well and being quite comfortable in wear. It is, if I could find any fault, perhaps a mask with a pattern more suited to an aunt, or a coin dealer wanting to get in touch with his feminine side, but it is a minor point.

Julia has just made sausage and mash with carrot and parsnip mash, sprouts and onion sauce – a nice plate of comfort food for the end of a wintry day. I will load the photos and go to eat.

All in all, apart from the stabbed arm and the spittle shower, it has been an excellent day.

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A man in a chintz mask

Time Passes…

I originally said I wanted to do two posts a day for a fortnight. Then, in my head, this became two posts a day for 15 days. I’ve just checked and counted up and I’ve done 27 posts in 14 days.

So, despite being ahead at one point, I have missed the target by one post. Or, if I adopt the 15 day target, I’m still in with a chance. Not that it really matters.

Whatever I do, the sun will still rise on a new day and, bit by bit, my life and writings will gradually decay until they disappear and nobody will remember me. That’s a serious point, rather than just me being morbid.

What happens to digital pictures and writing as time goes on? I already have some old camera cards I can’t read, though that may be because they are empty. I really can’t remember. I also have photographs on CD, though I notice a growing trend for laptops not to have CD drives. It’s possible that in a few years my CDs will lie there gathering dust in a house that has no CD drive.

Perhaps it is time to think about using cloud storage, though I’m not really clear what it is or how it really works. I am not altogether comfortable with trusting my life and documents to a third party. I’m afraid of another Word scenario, where I merely rent Microsoft Word instead of owning a copy, and where I belong to an American corporation rather than being a person.

If I live long enough I might have to rewrite that as “a Chinese corporation”, but though the details may change, the reality remains the same.

The header picture shows two British Medals from the Great War – known as “a pair” in the trade. This is the British War Medal (the silver one) and the Victory Medal. All the Allied Nations produced their own Victory Medal after the Great War, with different designs, which is why it may seem familiar to readers from other countries.

It was this that brought on some of these thoughts. We buy something similar nearly every week, and when we ask if they were from as family member, the seller often does not know. They were issued named, and the name often means nothing, because over the years they have forgotten the names of their own ancestors.

The recipient of these medals died in the 1930s, as a result of ill health caused by military service. He was, as far as I could guess from the names and relationships of the mourners, the brother of the vendor’s grandmother. His adverts appeared in local papers of the time – he was a music teacher. He was also a professional musician and a chapel organist for many years.

If you can forget all that in the space of a couple of generations who will remember a man who wrote about eating veggie burgers and similar inconsequential subjects?

Veggie Burgers

Veggie Burgers

Travellers’ Tales and an Auction Result

Number Two son is in Toronto, has already arranged his national insurance number and is on the track of a job. This is all good to hear.

Number One son, meanwhile, is somewhere down south preparing to take a flight on Saturday. When he gets there he will be spending the first ten days travelling round in a camper van.

Ah, the carefree days of youth.

Julia had to wake me up the other day when she left me in the car whilst shopping, but it’s not the same thing as camping.

Most of the day was spent researching medals to go on eBay. I found a couple of interesting stories, which I’m writing up.

The Genghis Khan coin sold for £16. It’s cheap for 800 years of history and a link to one of the most famous names in history. But, on the other hand, it’s expensive for a piece of dust-gathering junk. It’s just a question of perspective.

Another Busy Day

Yesterday we had end to end customers, and the same was true today. Earlier in the week we had a Guildhall Coronation Medal brought into the shop with a selection of other medals associated with Guildhall dinners and the Freemasons. We weren’t able to buy them, though we did buy the associated coins. The owner has taken them home to talk to their children and decide what to do. This is an example photograph from the internet as I didn’t think to ask if I could take a photograph at the time.

The photographs below are ones I took of an interesting group of medals that came into the shop today. They represent 38 years in the army, with six tours – three in the Balkans (one with the UN and two with NATO) and three in Afghanistan. The last three medals are the Golden and Diamond Jubilee medals and the Army Long Service and Good Conduct medal. We tend not to give a lot of medals out. The silver laurel leaves are the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service, which the recipient was awarded for his services in Helmand Province.

Modern Group with QCVS

Modern Group with QCVS

Lots more happened, but that, for me, was the most interesting part. I’m a man who is easily satisfied.

Another Day in the Shop

I did quite a lot of things this week, but it was mostly boring or requires too much tedious detail to describe it.

This morning I mounted a few medals, having finally remembered to take some cotton to work, and for the rest of the day, with a few stops to serve customers, I prepared things for eBay.

These are the medals – a British War Medal from the Great War that is being given to another member of the family, a Burma Star group mounted for the family and two Ambulance Service medals mounted for someone who embarrassed his family by using safety pins on Remembrance Day.

These are three styles of Second World War sweethearts of the Royal Army Service Corps. The one below is First World War – you can tell this from the fact it’s Army Service Corps, as they weren’t made “Royal” until 1918. It’s also made in WW1 style, using tortoiseshell, which wasn’t popular in WW2.Finally, as you can see, it’s hallmarked for London 1917. That’s why hallmarked silver brooches are always more sought after, as they can be dated precisely.

The marks are an indistinct maker’s mark, a lion passant for Sterling Silver, a leopard’s head for London and a “b” for 1917.

It’s not a bad job when you can spend all day handling things that are also the basis of your hobby. And I get paid…

Some medals and a story

We had an interesting group of medals brought into the shop a few weeks ago, though it wasn’t obvious at first.
It was just three medals – a 1939-45 Star, Pacific Star and War Medal. They were in the box of issue, with an address label and had clearly been received through the post, looked at and stuffed back into the box, where they had stayed for the last seventy years.
Those of you unfamiliar with British medals I presume you are staring at the page with a glazed look. If you are familiar with them you are probably going “Aha!”
After a century of giving out campaign medals (our first general issue to all ranks being the Waterloo medal in 1815) we came up with a fairly complicated system for the Great War. I won’t go through it all here, but if you are an insomniac please let me know and I will have a crack at curing you.
In the Second World War we came up with what seemed like a simpler solution, but in the interests of economy they decided not to name them. The Australians, the South Africans and the Indians managed to find the money to do it, but we didn’t.
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WW2 campaign stars and war medal

We issued a range of cheaply manufactured stars with ribbons designed by King George VI. Unless they are accompanied by paperwork or named medals such as a Long Service Medal there is no way of putting a story to the medals.
It always strikes me as a shame when you just have a handful of anonymous medals.
Fortunately we know they were awarded to Mr P Ramsdale of 25, Brownlow Rd, Mansfield, Notts. He must have served in the Royal Army Service Corps or Army Catering Corps because that’s the return address on the envelope.
There are too many P. Ramsdales to isolate the exact one on the Ancestry Website, but there is a reference to him in the local paper – the Nottingham Evening Post of 9th January 1947.
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Percy Ramsdale in the Nottingham Evening Post

Armed with the knowledge that he was called Percy, it became a little easier to find information, though I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for.
The Pacific Star isn’t common to the British Army and a group of three like this usually denotes someone taken prisoner at the fall of Singapore. Frustratingly, I couldn’t find any records to start with, but finally found them on Ancestry. I’m not sure if I’d been missing it up until then, or if it was a new release.
One of the records shows the names of his parents, and the Brownlow Road address. I’m not sure what this signifies as he seems to have been married with a son by then and I would have expected his wife to be on the record.
He is listed as being taken prisoner on 15th February 1942, the day of the surrender of Singapore (one of the worst, and most shameful British defeats, and we’ve had a number of them over the years), and appears on lists of prisoners held in Thailand for the rest of the war.
His year of birth is 1907, not 1905 as given here.
Screen shot of Percy Ramsdale's POW record

Screen shot of Percy Ramsdale’s POW record

It amazes me that a man released from Japanese captivity in the middle of 1945 could be back as a coal face worker by January 1948. They obviously made the m tougher in those days.
It’s not as if he’d had a great start in life. His father’s military career, for instance, lasting from 9th September 1914 until 14th October. He was clearly a patriot, to have enlisted so soon. But, from the reason for his discharge, I take it that his personal qualities as a husband and father may have been questionable. The reason he was “not likely to become an efficient soldier” as specified in King’s Regulations was noted as “Chronic Gonorrhea acquired before enlistment”. However, he does seem to have been a hard-worker – hotel groom (1911), miner (1907 and 1914) and railway worker (1939)
so he clearly did his best for his family.
It can be tricky looking back and making judgements. After all, Ramsdale Snr was just one of 416,891 men in the army treated for VD between 1914-18.
I wasn’t able to trace more information on Percy, until finding his date of death. He died in 1983 at the age of 77. However, I feel lucky to have found this much. It could easily have been different if the family had thrown the box away.
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The Pacific Star

 
 

Sassoon’s Medals – a Complicated Story

Here’s a link to the story of Siegfried Sassoon’s Military Cross, often said to have been thrown in the sea. He actually only tore the ribbon from his tunic and threw that away.

I think I’ve covered it before, but I can’t find the relevant post so I’m repeating it here. If you remember the previous post, I apologise for the repetition.

He talks about it in “Memoirs of an Infantry Officer”, published in 1930.

“I ripped the MC ribbon off my tunic and threw it into the mouth of the Mersey.

Weighted with significance though this action was, it would have felt more conclusive had the ribbons been heavier.

As it was, the poor little thing fell weakly on the water and floated away as though aware of its own futility.”

The slightly inaccurate story is here. (He was not a “hard-up poet”, he had a private income).

Here’s a link to the family row over the medal.

I can’t find the reference to his war medals, claimed by the family after his death and later sold by Sothebys (he never claimed them himself) but if you are interested here is a copy of the sale details from the sale of one of his sports medals.

 

 

Sifting Through History

It was an interesting day yesterday, starting with sorting out several boxes of Royal Mint proof sets. It moved on to refilling the decimal coin albums – the £2s, the £1s and the 50 pences. You can’t knock it, because it’s getting people involved in coin collecting and going through the change in their pockets. That’s how I started.

Collectable decimal coins – one of the mainstays of the shop. The 1807 is the two pound coin that supposedly has the rare variety. It doesn’t.

The first coins that ever interested me were farthings. We had a few at home in the early 1960s, just after they were discontinued. They were small neat coins, with a picture of a Wren on the back. A few years later my grandfather gave me one dated 1901. It had the veiled head of Queen Victoria on one side and, wonder of wonders, the figure of Britannia on the back. I was amazed.

I suppose in the days when we only had two black-and-white TV channels and no internet it was easier to be amazed.

There’s a little more to the farthing than the Wiki entry suggests, they actually date back to the days when silver pennies were cut into quarters (or fourthings) but it’s a good summary of the farthings I’m talking about.

By 1968 I had moved on and bought a book. That told me that it was still possible to get Churchill Crowns from the bank at face value (5 shillings, or 25 pence) and that they would be a good investement for the future. I asked my mother to get me four. Fifty years later they are worth their face value when we buy them in. You see them at all sorts of prices on ebay and antique centres, but that is just proof of either ignorance or greed.  A cupro-nickel crown from the 60s, 70s or 80s is not an expensive coin, and as I noted the other day, we just sorted a thousand for export. The fact that we were able to put together a thousand (and still have plenty left) may be a clue as to how well they sell, even though we are only looking for pennies of profit. It’s a rare week when we don’t buy twenty or thirty. And an even rarer week when we sell one to the public.

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Cupro-nickel crowns commemorating the silver wedding of the Queen and Prince Phillip

Although I didn’t continue with coins, I did continue collecting, which is a long, long story.

Meanwhile, back at the shop, I was allowed to look through a couple of boxes of junk that we have bought from the estate of a deceased dealer. This is the sobering side of dealing in collectables, when you end up with the stuff of someone you’ve known for years.

Coronation medallet of William IV (1831) – an interesting piece of history from the junk box

Apart from being a practical demonstration of mortality it’s also a lesson that everyone, no matter how well organised they seem, has an accumulation of bits and pieces lurking around at the back of their life.

Peninsula War victories of the Duke of Wellington. It’s a bit worn, but so am I, and I’m a lot younger.

A Crowd of Customers and the Laws of Chance

We opened at 10.00 this morning, the phone went at 10.01 and two elderly gents walked in at 10.02 with three bags of coins. One wanted to sell coin.

Meanwhile. his friend wanted to look at postcards, which involved finding various boxes and albums for him. We need to get organised when we move shops. Two shop assistants, two customers. So far, so good.

Then a lady came in to sell some silver, banknotes, coins and medals. It was a shame about the medals, as they had no paperwork or photographs with them. He saw service in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific with the Royal Navy during the war, but without extra details or medals with names on, all the history is lost.

So that was two assistants and three customers. Then a regular customer came and wanted to look at coins. The phone kept ringing with enquiries. Then two more people came in with things to sell…

Two assistants, six customers. It’s not ideal, as you can’t leave people hanging round too long, particularly if you want to take money off them, but you can’t do three jobs at the same time.

Eventually we managed to finish, and everyone seemed happy. I wasn’t even rude to anyone on the phone, though it was touch and go at times. It wasn’t the subject matter, it was the fact that they all start with a similar, lengthy, preamble, which you can do without when you have a full shop.

I don’t mind the fact that most questions are about “rare” coins: the laws of chance dictate that one day it really will be a rare coin or an interesting medal.

It really will.