Robert Murray Stamp Shop, Edinburgh

1918 - Armistice Centenary - 2018
A Selection of Medals

We handle many medals, and it always strikes me that the stories behind these bits of metal are very real. Sometimes the medals come to us already with a story, sometimes we can build the story, and on other occasions it can be difficult to find out much.

On this page, to mark the centenary of the 1918 Armistice, we show simply the medals we currently have in hand for sale in our next auction. At other times we'll have more or fewer, and from time to time we have some quite important groups or single medals.

ww1 medals morton
An interesting First World War group on five counts;
{1} Any group awarded to a member of the RAF is unusual.
{2} It includes the Royal Air Force Meritorious Service Medal. A maximum of 60 medals were awarded in any year, and in all, there were 854 issued with the George V portrait.
{3} The medals are in tip-top condition, as if they have never been handled.
{4} Also with this group came the remains of an identical group mounted for wear. You'll see (below) that all that is left are the ribbons (one with the oak leaf) and two of the suspender bars. Was this damaged accidentally (or even maliciously) and a set of replacements applied for ?
{5} There is also a tug-of-war medal from Italy in 1918.
7992 Pte. R.S. M'Candlish, Scots Guards.
The three medals are;
The 1914 Star. Awarded to troops serving in France or Belgium between 5 August and 22 November 1914. There were 400,000 issued, and these were nearly all army members before the outbreak of war. The medal is often called "The Mons Star".
British War Medal.
Victory Medal.

The upper group of thee is very similar to Private McCandlish's (above), but has the 1914-15 Star, awarded to people who saw service up to the end of 1915 (but who hadn't qualified for the 1914 Star).
These were awarded to 449 Corporal J. Smellie of the Lanark Yeomanry. (For those unfamiliar with the name, "Smellie" is usually pronounced "Smiley".)

The pair shown below was to 911385 Private J. Sangster, of the 46th Canadian Infantry. The absence of a Star shows that he didn't see service until 1916 at earliest.

Our researches show that all of these servicemen survived the war, although we have no way of knowing if they were injured or disabled in any way.
There are three separate recipients represented in this next picture.

The pair at the top were to S-13763 Private N. McCaskell, serving with the Royal Highlanders (the Black Watch).

In all about six million of each of these medals were awarded. Some recipients sold them (the silver in the BWM was worth about five shillings) or gave them to friends or children. Some were lost or stolen; many have been thrown away in house clearances. Still more have been given to museums. Those remaining largely belong to either the families of the recipients or to collectors.
You have to remember that at the time these medals were being sent out, after the war ended, they were not always valued as we might now expect. With so many being distributed they were certainly not scarce. Many people had mental scars from their experiences and when the medals arrived they just brought back bed memories, so they threw them away.
The families of people killed in the war also received them (usually with a metal plaque and a printed scroll). Some families treasured these, others thought that it was an insult that they had given their son and all the king would give them were three bits of metal through the post.

First World War medals were normally engraved with names etc. round the lower edge, but miniatures (like this group of three) were not. This neat little group, mounted up for wear, came to us on its own, with no paperwork or other information. The first medal is the Military Cross - a gallantry award - so there certainly is a story behind this, now lost.

The single red-ribboned medal at the right is a more unusual medal from between the wars.
The Shanghai Municipal Council Emergency Medal was issued in 1937. To quote from The Medal Yearbook; "Awarded to members of the Police, Voluntary Corps, Fire Brigade and civilians for services during the emergency of August-November 1937 when fighting between the Chinese and Japanese in and around Shanghai threatened to encroach on the International Settlement".

Probably the most interesting group on this page is also the messiest. It all came in to us in a soap box, and is just a guddle of Second World War medals and badges. However, there was also the crumpled, torn, and sellotaped scrap of paper - what now remains of the printed note which was sent to the family of any member of the services who had qualified for medals but who had been killed.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is a great resource for researching this type of thing, so we know that Sergeant George Mcpherson Jack was a Flight Engineer and was killed on 1st September 1944. He was nineteen years old and came from Edinburgh.
Further research tells us he was serving with 138 Squadron which operated out of Tempsford aerodrome in Bedfordshire. This was a fairly clandestine base and squadron, specialising in flying supplies and agents for S.O.E. operations in occupied Europe. Their flight that night was part of "Operation Bob 325" and seems to have been delivering an air drop to underground workers in the Netherlands in advance of Operation Market Garden. Their Stirling bomber encountered a violent storm while crossing France, their wing hit trees and the aircraft crashed, killing all eight crew. People from the local community recovered the bodies and buried them in their communal cemetery at Arc-et-Senans. The crew comprised six Australians, an Englishman, and George Jack from Edinburgh. They are still buried there, the only Allied servicemen in that graveyard.
Another unusual group.
Philippa Wren was a Wren. Born in London, she moved to Australia and joined the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service in 1945 at the age of 19, seeing service on H.M.A.S. Cerberus as a coder.
The 1939-1945 British War Medal was the same as those awarded to other British and Commonwealth forces, but the Australian ones (and South African) were named around the edge, whereas most were not. Her miniature is also mounted in "lady's style".
The bronze medallion reads "Board of Trade/Rocket Apparatus/Proof of Service at a Wreck". As far as we can understand rocket apparatus (for firing a line to a ship in distress) was held at various coastguard and lifeboat stations etc., but if brought into use the officer operating it would often have to commandeer some passers-by to help to operate it. These "volunteers" would then each be given one of these tokens which could later be exchanged for a payment due to them. It looks like Wren Wren was possibly involved is this way at some time but kept the token.

A Second World War group including three stars (1939-1945, Africa, and Italy). The medals are not named, but the accompanying Pay Book gives the soldier's details, from which a keen collector will be able to trace his full service record.

The circular silver lapel badge, called the King's Badge, was given to forces personnel who had been invalided and were unable to continue in the services. It could be worn with civilian dress, and was a way of showing others that you had already "done your bit".
The most modern medals shown here are these from the Korean War.
The one at the upper-right is the UK Korea Medal, given to British and Commonwealth forces. The one to the left is the United Nations Korea Medal, which was given to UN forces of all nationalities.

Page posted on Sunday 11 November 2018
Robert Murray Stamp Shop, Edinburgh