A Medal Sew Rare

Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild played a crucial role in WWI, providing essential garments and supplies to soldiers. Among their contributions was the Rose and Monogram War Service Medal, typically featuring a smaller Q.M.N.G. enamel hanger. This medal symbolizes the immense efforts of volunteers during the war.

While the standard Rose and Monogram War Service Medal is common, the dated war service bars are much rarer. These bars were awarded for specific periods of service. The Surgical Branch bar is the rarest, making it a prized possession for any collector.

Early postcards of a young Queen Mary add to the allure of these medals. Mary was famously known during WWI for the Christmas tin she arranged for every serviceman. These postcards offer a personal glimpse into the era and the woman behind these significant wartime contributions.

For collectors, the thrill of discovering history is unparalleled. Charing Cross Market offers a treasure trove of such items. Whether you’re a seasoned collector or just starting, the market is a must-visit destination. You might walk away with a rare war service medal or a cherished postcard of Queen Mary herself.

Join us at Charing Cross Market and uncover the hidden stories of the past. Happy collecting!

Octopus Arms & Explosive Charges

In the world of military memorabilia, the discovery of unique items often leads to fascinating historical insights. Such is the case with a recent find: a pair of British-made cloth insignia, beautifully crafted with silk detailing on cotton felt, and dating back to the World War II era. The use of silk, a material that provides durability and vibrant color retention, is particularly suited for insignia that would be exposed to harsh conditions or needed to be easily recognizable. They feature a six-legged squid or octopus whose tentacles form the letters “SO” representing a small, specialized unit of Italian torpedo and mine divers, known as “sommozzatori.”

The intriguing design of these patches includes a chained sea mine and hammer above the creature, symbols typically associated with torpedo and mine workers in the Italian Navy. This detail was crucial in identifying the insignia’s purpose and origin. These elements are not merely decorative; they signify the skilled and dangerous work undertaken by these divers during the war, particularly against British naval forces.

Made during a period between 1943 and 1945, these patches likely served an educational purpose for the British forces. Following several successful attacks on British shipping by a small group of six Italian torpedo divers, there was an evident need to understand and possibly replicate the techniques and strategies employed by this formidable unit. The creation of these patches in Britain suggests a deep level of intrigue and respect for the specialized skills of the Italian divers.

These rare formation signs are not commonly seen and represent a unique chapter in the shared history of British and Italian military operations during WWII. They underscore the complexities of wartime strategy and the lengths to which nations went to study and learn from each other.

The Lost Lancer

A real curiosity this week: four pieces of lead, or grape shot, on an iron wire with a parchment label. Under UV light, we can just make out the details.

It seems to refer to a soldier named John Sheel, who was a member of the 1st Lancers regiment. The text indicates that he was taken as a prisoner of war at a place called “Thingvalla de Campagny” on December 2, 1870. This date and context likely refer to an event during the Franco-Prussian War, which included the Siege of Paris in 1870-1871. The term “Thingvalla” does not correspond to any known location in France, and it might be a misspelling or a historical name that is no longer in use.

Battle Scars Worn With Pride

The Wound Stripe is a British military award introduced in 1916 to honour soldiers wounded in battle during the Great War. These stripes, worn on the left sleeve of the uniform, became a symbol of bravery and endurance.

Initially, the stripes were made with gold Russian braid, but this proved impractical for soldiers as they required sewing onto the uniform and were difficult to keep clean. In response, an all-brass version was created for durability and ease of maintenance. Another variant included a zinc backing plate, which might have been a cost-saving measure or a response to material shortages during the war.

For collectors, the Wound Stripe offers a tangible link to World War I. It represents the personal sacrifices of individual soldiers, as reflected in the variations of the stripes’ materials and design.

Photographs from the era bring these stories to life, showing the individuals and the hospital staff who played vital roles in the war. Each stripe and photo is not just a collectible; it’s a piece of history, a remembrance of the trials faced and the resilience shown in life-threatening situations.

The Case of the Vanishing Flag: A Fusilier’s Badge

This week we’re examining this 1941 badge from the Inniskilling Fusiliers, marked by the elusive maker “S.D.A. & CO 41.” Amidst World War II’s pivotal moments, this battalion was in British India, later thrust into the Burma campaign’s arduous battles, notably under the 14th Indian Infantry Division in Arakan.

The badge stands out with its Enniskillen Castle representation, conspicuously missing the customary St. George flag—a detail that stirs curiosity. Was it a strategic omission for combat practicality or a field adaptation? It’s a tangible piece of the battalion’s adjustment to the exigencies of war.

Contrasted with its predecessors, which proudly sport the flag, this badge’s alteration marks a distinct chapter in military regalia. It’s a remarkable emblem that connects us directly to the tactical and symbolic nuances of its era.

Collectors appreciate such items not just for their rarity, but for the historical dialogue they invite. This badge, with its enigmatic mark and altered iconography, offers a snapshot into the daily realities of wartime—where even the smallest details like a flag on a badge could be subject to change in response to the environment and the necessities of war.

The Quest for Victorian Valor: The Rarity of Grouped Medals

In the intricate realm of war medal collecting, the Victorian era presents a unique challenge. Condition, unit, rank, and historical action are the keystones of value. The first checkpoint for a collector is the ‘coin-like’ definition, ensuring the sharpness of detail, followed by the verification of correct and precise naming on the medal.

As time marches on, complete collections of Victorian medals become rarer, a scarcity compounded by the practices of yesteryear’s collectors who often sought one of each type, leading to the fragmentation of original groups.

Today, a complete ‘grouping’—a soldier’s full entitlement of medals—holds a premium over individual pieces. The Queen’s South Africa Medal, awarded for service in the Boer War, exemplifies this with its three clasps, including the seldom-seen ‘Laing’s Nek’. Notably, it marks one of the rare instances where British Regimental colours were lost in battle—the first being at Isandlwana, another poignant moment in South Africa’s martial history.

For collectors, such a group represents more than metal and ribbon; it symbolizes the full narrative of a soldier’s service, making it a coveted and valuable addition to any collection.

The Croix de Guerre

Another iconic medal in our recent series, the French Croix de Guerre, is a distinguished medal of intricate design, first established in 1915. Cast in bronze, it features distinct reverse circular panels denoting the year—1914-15, 1914-16, 1914-17, 1914-18—akin to the British Mentioned in Dispatches. Recognizing various levels of military commendation, it’s adorned with stars or oak leaves:

  • A bronze star signifies a mention at the regiment or brigade level.
  • A silver star denotes division-level acknowledgment.
  • A silver-gilt star represents corps-level mentions.
  • The bronze palm is awarded for army-level mentions, with a silver palm equating to five bronze ones.
  • A silver-gilt palm is reserved for those mentioned by the Free French Forces during World War II.

Highlighted here are the second war examples with a 1939 back panel, initiated by Charles de Gaulle in 1944 featuring a gilt finish with a red and green ribbon, alongside the Vichy Government version, introduced in 1943, displaying a green and black ribbon. Notably, the Paris Mint is known for its superior craftsmanship. Authentic pieces comprise three main components: the cross, the affixed circular panel on both sides, and a securely soldered suspension ring.

The Rare Turkish Crimea War Medal

In a follow up to last week’s post, today we focus on the Turkish Crimea War Medal (British issue), shown here on the right, which holds its own unique tale of loss and history. British servicemen were intended to receive their own medals, but fate intervened when the ship carrying 22,000 British medals was tragically lost at sea. As a result, the soldiers were presented with one of three versions, the most prevalent being the Sardinian type.

What distinguishes these medals is the symbolic positioning of the Turkish flag, placed prominently to the left of the British ensign on all variants, a design choice that cements the alliance between the nations during the conflict. Additionally, each version carries a distinct inscription in the exergue: “Crimea 1855” signifies the British issue showcased here, while the French and Sardinians have their own language variations.

The Crimea War Medal

For the budding medal collector, the Four-Bar Crimea War Medal represents not just a piece of history but a lesson in the nuances of military memorabilia. Awarded to British forces for their valour in the Crimean War (1853-1856), this medal is very distinctive, particularly when it features the maximum four clasps – Alma, Balaklava, Inkerman, and Sebastopol, each denoting involvement in critical battles.

A unique aspect of these medals is the variation in the ‘ALMA’ bar, attributed to the fact that some clasps were produced by French manufacturers and subsequently issued to British recipients. This detail is common and does not detract from the medal’s authenticity; rather, it adds a layer of interest for collectors.

Initially issued unnamed, recipients could later have their medals inscribed with their names. This engraving could be done professionally or, in some instances, regimentally impressed. For collectors, the value increases significantly for pieces with regimental impressions due to their official and traceable nature.

When collecting, be mindful of the naming. Unnamed medals may have been privately named. While this personalises the item, from a collector’s standpoint, the regimentally impressed naming holds more historical value and is a sought-after feature. Each medal tells a story, and the depth of that story can be partly inferred from these intricate details.

The Purple Heart

Another iconic medal today. In the realm of military collectibles, the Purple Heart holds a special place, symbolizing bravery and sacrifice. The medal’s journey from its inception in 1922 to its current design reflects significant historical shifts.

The early medals, with their gold finish and purple glass enamel heart, evolved during World War II to a more practical purple celluloid center due to mass production needs. Notably, WWII versions feature a sewn-down medal bar, while later ones have a slot fitting for the ribbon.

One of many recipients, the medal shown here was Arthur Wayland Clemmer, a U.S. Army Warrant Officer from Kanawha, West Virginia. Clemmer’s service number, 35211203, marks his unique place in military history. Awarded the Purple Heart for a wound sustained in service, Clemmer’s story adds a human dimension to the medal’s legacy. Born in 1917 and passing in 1984, his life encapsulated the experiences of many soldiers of his era.

For collectors, the nuances of the Purple Heart, such as naming conventions (hand-engraved in early versions, later machine-engraved) and manufacturing details (some medals numbered for production tracking), are of great interest. Additionally, multiple awards are denoted by bronze oak leaf clusters on the ribbon.

Arthur Clemmer’s Purple Heart is not just a medal; it’s a tangible piece of history, connecting collectors to the personal stories of those who served. It stands as a tribute to individual courage and a collective memory of sacrifice.