Tag Archives: POW

A Piece of History

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.

The Message

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.

The list

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.

 

 

 

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

 
 

Nottingham Badges of the Great War

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.

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.