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“Theirs not to reason why” …

Posted by Big John on April 18, 2011

It’s not often that I let you into my private life, so I thought that you might like to know about one of my hobbies. I collect Victorian medals, although I doubt if ‘proper’ medal collectors would count me among their number, for most of my medals have been ‘rescued’ rather than collected. Collecting top quality medals can be a very expensive business, so I prefer to acquire ones which have ‘had a hard life’ and restore them, as near as possible, to their original condition.

I’ve always been interested in the Victorian era and in particular the military campaigns of the period and the men who fought in them. That’s why I’m not too bothered about the condition of the medals I find, as much as I am interested in researching the history of the men to whom they were awarded, and this starts with the soldier’s name and other details impressed or engraved on the edge of the medal.

The photograph shows a medal that I purchased recently which had been made into a “widow’s brooch”: a common practice in Victorian times. It had been awarded to a soldier from a Scottish Highland regiment for his service during the Indian Mutiny of 1857-1858 (Also known as India’s First War of Independance). Further research showed that this man was a survivor of the sinking of H.M.S. Birkenhead in 1852, when the tradition of   … “Women and children first” … was established. He also received the 1853 South Africa Medal for serving in the Kaffir Wars which were fought against the Xhosa people.

My collection includes medals from the Crimean War of 1854 – 1856 (You know, Florence Nightingale, The Charge of the Light Brigade and all that stuff.) .. the Zulu War of 1877 – 1879  (remember the movie) .. and .. the Afghan War (Yes, that’s right, we never learn !) of 1878 – 1880.

The restored Indian Mutiny Medal is now the centrepiece of this display.


8 Responses to ““Theirs not to reason why” …”

  1. Ginnie said

    What an interesting hobby, John. I knew there was a more serious side to your character but, as you say, you rarely display it. It’s nice getting to know you better.

  2. Grannymar said

    I love the way you have displayed the medals. Are the frames deep? I had Jack’s WW11 medals and would like to do something with them for Elly, my daughter. What is the best way to clean them?

  3. Betty said

    A fascinating hobby! The older I get, the more interested I am in history. My son says it is because I have lived so much of it. Ungrateful wretch!

  4. Big John said

    Grannymar … You can buy deep display frames, but I use cheap photo frames to which I fit a false back made of thick card.
    Unlike Victorian campaign medals which were made of solid silver, WW2 medals are made from yellow copper/zinc alloy in the case of stars and cupro-nickel in the case of Defence and War medals. Gentle cleaning with a soft metal polish impregnated cloth should work on both. If realy dirty try this …

  5. Rummuser said

    Ah John, there is always two sides to a story what? I bet you had me in mind with that bit about the India mutinee and the war of independence! Anyway, that is an interesting hobby that you have there. I wish I had one like this to collect things. I am not inclined to collect anything!

  6. Big John said

    Yes, I was thinking of you Ramana.
    I bet all you jolly old Indian chaps would just love to have us pukka sahibs back in charge, don’t yer know. 🙂

  7. Grannymar said

    Thanks John, I have four medals with ribbons on a large pin. They are: 1939-45 Star, Burma Star, Defence Medal and the War Medal 1939-45. I store them wrapped in a yellow duster at the moment. Now I want to get going on framing them.

  8. Paul Nixon said

    Thanks for posting your link on my blog, John. You’ve got some nice groups there. I recognise the Egypt Medal and Khedive’s Star, the Afghan Medal and Kabul to Kandahar Star, Crimea, Boer War of course. Perhaps one of these days you can write up on some of the groups in your collection. I keep meaning to get some of my own medals framed but haven’t got around to it yet. There’s a lot to be said for a medal that’s seen hard times though; and nice to see them chrished now.

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