Helping History

December 2006, Volume 45 No. 1
You will, I hope forgive me if I once again pass comment on Lord Ashcroft and his stunning collection of VCs. I appreciate many of you will feel that we have given over quite a lot of space to this subject in recent months and I do accept that – however I can’t help but feel that as the Ashcroft collection is one of the most important (and valuable) collections of medals ever formed, then it really should be given a great deal of publicity in the World’s only Medal magazine! However on this occasion I am going to steer away from talking solely about the collection (after all if you want to know more about it you can, and should, buy the book) and refer rather to what the publication of the book, the accompanying television series and the promise that the collection will in time be housed on permanent display in a new “National Centre for Excellence” will actually mean to our hobby.
2006 was the 150th anniversary of the institution of the Victoria Cross and the stamps, coins, television programmes, newspaper article etc featuring the award and its history have all helped to raise the profile of it, and medals in general. Lord Ashcroft himself has featured in the Spectator, the Telegraph on Radio 4 and a variety of other media promoting the publication of his book, the television series which started on Sunday November 19 has further increased the profile of the VC and of acts of bravery and undoubtedly, over the next few months, as a suitable site is sought to house the incredible collection and create this “Centre for Excellence” the Victoria Cross, and what it represents, will still further appear on news bulletins and in our daily papers. However that is not going to be the end of it, we aren’t going to simply see the Collection as something in the background, a tourist attraction like the London Eye or the Madame Taussads – Lord Ashcroft has decided to use the publication of the book, and the television series as a launch pad to put the teaching of military history firmly back in the public eye. At the book launch at the Imperial War Museum on Monday November 6 one of the biggest choruses of approval went to the announcement that every secondary school in the country was to receive a copy of the DVD of the TV series, and a copy of the book, along with a learning resource pack for teachers. Britain’s military heritage, it seems, it to be brought back on to the agenda.
There can be no doubt that history is being slowly rewritten, being revised to make it more acceptable to today’s society – and what isn’t being rewritten is being erased, wiped from the syllabuses of our schools as assuredly as if it never happened. A whole generation of school children has grown up knowing little or nothing about Britain’s colonial and Imperial past, and what they do know is couched firmly in the language of today – words like immoral, criminal and abhorrent are now far more likely to be found in conjunction with the Colonial wars than words like glory, brave or sacrifice. Today’s morals, today’s standards are being used to judge the past and when, as is inevitable, history is found wanting it is re-written to suit and sadly there are many who are none the wiser.
The real tragedy is, of course, that the men who fought so bravely for Queen and Country, the men who laid down their lives in the service of the Empire are being erased too, as the wars they fought in are increasingly seen as crimes so the men who fought in them are seen as criminals, treated as pariahs to be ignored or worse vilified. True, this revisionism seems confined to the Imperial wars of the 19th century at present but how long, I wonder, will it be before the poppies that are so brilliantly displayed on lapels every November get less and less in number as the re-writers get to grips with the First and Second World Wars. You may laugh, may think that it will never happen but as those who fought in those bitter conflicts fade away the memory of just what they went through is fading too and a new “history” is appearing. You think I’m joking? Well ask yourself this - when was the last time you heard about the British fighting the Germans in World War II? Since the advent of the EU and the “united Europe” our enemy in 1939-45 were the Nazis, never the Germans – even now there are school children who have no idea that the Nazis were German – they are often taught as if Nazis were a whole other race of people! Subtle revisionism? Or just paranoia on my part, looking for political correctness where it doesn’t exist? I’m not sure but I do know that forty years ago the glories of the Empire were still being talked about, now the British army was, apparently. just a bunch of butchers. And ask yourself why, in last year’s “re-enactment” of Trafalgar, fought against the backdrop of “we’re all allies now united in Europe” were the two opposing sides the “reds” and the “blues” rather than the British versus the French and Spanish? The truth it seems, it too much for some people to face.
Of course I am not suggesting that this new book, the proposed Centre of Excellence or anything else will, on their own manage to undo the harm that is being done everyday but maybe, just maybe this sort of thing, and the work of public figures like Lord Ashcroft will at least allow the issue to be debated openly – and maybe that’s all we can ask.

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In This Issue

Face to Face13
Lord Ashcroft's VC Heroes
Securing bravery for the nation--understanding one man's mission
Insight17
The man who broke Napoleon's code
Unravelling the Great Paris Cipher
Background21
The first war of the air---the Italo-Turkish War, 1911/12
First forays into war from the vantage of the skies
Collectors' notebook24
Pte Eastham's paybook
Surviving bombings and malaria--documents detail one man's war
Family album28
A vast unfolding drama
A family's loss on the Western Front
Casebook31
Nursing Heroine---Miss Mable Jennings, ARRC, TFNS, MM
A life of sacrifice and dedication in the service of others
Profile35
Master and Commander Thomas Read
An eventful and successful naval career
On Guard39
Fraud, fake or forgery--who did it? Part II
Spotting the imposter--a rare medal fools the experts
Badges42
Badges of the Green Howards
Badges of an old, respected regiment
Opinion44
The Queen's Award
An anomaly of precedents

Regulars

The Editorial Page5
News and Views6
Market Scene10
Did you know?46
From the Archives47
Bookshelf49
On Parade50
Letters to the Editor51
Dealers' Lists53
Medal Tracker54
Classified Advertising57
Diary61