Face to face

December 2008, Volume 47 No. 1
Everyone a winner

ARMISTICE Day 2008 was the rather appropriate day for the launch of Lord Ashcroft’s new book Special Forces Heroes—and the first day of the Channel Five television series that accompanies it. The launch itself was held at Millbank Tower just half a mile from the Palace of Westminster and, rather fittingly, with a wonderful view of Whitehall and the Cenotaph and was attended by numerous people well known to us all (including a number from the Conservative party in the Commons and the Lords) and some whose faces, at least, are not so well known but whose names, or pseudonyms, have gone down in the annals of military history. Their number included men of the SAS and SBS who took part in some of the most famous Special Forces actions from the last four decades. Their faces might not be known to us but their bravery certainly is.

Like its sister publication Victoria Cross Heroes this new book outlines their bravery as well as the lives and endeavours of the men whose medals Lord Ashcroft now holds in his collection. We knew there was such a collection, he hinted at that last time MEDAL NEWS spoke to him, but it wasn’t until now that we were privy to just what it comprised.

Any of us would be proud to own just one of the groups highlighted in the book—be it Bronco Lane’s Northern Ireland MM, Takevesi’s DCM for Mirbat or any of the service medals of the men who helped release the hostages from the Iranian Embassy siege in 1980—but here they are all together, simply outstanding and I must confess to being somewhat envious of their current custodian!

One can, I think, understand envy: it’s different from jealousy—jealousy includes resentment and I certainly don’t resent Lord Ashcroft at all—here is a wealthy man who has decided to spend some of his money on medals, and in doing so has brought heroism, medals and medal collecting far more into the public’s consciousness than even MEDAL NEWS can do! Indeed in the Channel Five programmes he is introduced to the viewers not as a politician, nor a businessman, but rather as a military historian and medal collector—showing everyone how those little bits of metal and silk are an intrinsic part of the story of the heroes whose actions amaze us all. So as a collector I’m certainly not jealous—I may envy his buying power and his collection, but certainly nothing more negative than that!

Interestingly though there are some in our hobby who believe that what Lord Ashcroft has done—essentially buying up a very large number of the “better” groups and now, with his plans to exhibit them and not sell them on, not give anyone else a “chance” to own them—is actually a hindrance and that he has in some way damaged the hobby. I don’t believe that their attitude is sparked by jealousy— none of those who I have been in contact with exhibit that trait at all, but rather from a sense that we should all get a chance to own such gems and now, as they are all in the Ashcroft Collection, with the possibility of even more being added in the future, we never will.

I can understand their thinking to a certain extent, as a collector myself I would dearly love to own a Victoria Cross, indeed any particularly exceptional group, to “my” regiment (or any regiment come to that!) but often that simply isn’t possible as they are either in a museum or in the collection of a fellow enthusiast (did I hear you say rival...?). At least with the latter I know there’s an offside chance he may one day sell but with the museum, and now with the Ashcroft Collection, I know that my hopes of owning such a group are dashed forever. But let me put it to you like this—if I, or indeed any of you reading this were ever lucky enough to own a VC group, or an exceptional Special Forces group, what would we do with it? How many people would know about it? Get to see it? Very few of course, we’d all be terrified that one day the wrong person would get to hear of it and we’d be burgled, losing it forever—so we would probably opt to keep it in the bank, never to see the light of day until the time came for us to sell it on to the next custodian who would surely do the same. We wouldn’t want to loan it to a museum for many of them too, as fearful of crime as we, would most likely put a copy on display and again leave the real one in the vault, hardly ideal. What Lord Ashcroft is doing with his VCs and, it now transpires with his Special Forces groups is, in the fullness of time, to allow us all, collector and public alike, the chance to see an incredible array of original decorations the like of which has never been seen before—most collectors and museums just couldn’t, or wouldn’t be able to do that. There have been those who have accused Ashcroft of pricing museums out of the picture altogether—and maybe he has, but now that we know his plans is that really such a bad thing? After all, the original will still be accessible to the public, the museum can now spend its money on other things and still put a replica on display if they wish. As that’s what would have likely happened anyway and now the original will be on display too, aren’t we all winners? I don’t want to belittle museums, they do a fine job, but I for one would rather marvel and the actual medals awarded to, and often worn by, the recipients themselves—and the more I can marvel at in one place the better. Lord Ashcroft’s plans will allow me to do that and I for one thank him for that chance.

Oh and for those who are thinking that the Victoria Cross collection has something to do with tax, death duty, etc. let me put it to you like this—150+ Victoria Crosses each averaging £100,000 equals just over £15 million. Lord Ashcroft, according to the Sunday Times Rich List 2008, is worth £1,110 million—you can do the sums yourself but personally I don’t think tax was uppermost on his mind when he started collecting!

You can read the MEDAL NEWS interview on page 16.

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In This Issue

FACE TO FACE16
Lord Ashcroft and the Special Forces Heroes
An interview with the philanthropist and author on the launch of his new book
ONE MAN'S WAR20
A veteran of a British "Small War"
Quelling disquiet in far flung corners
COLLECTOR'S NOTEBOOK24
The KSA and the bar-less conductors
The unsung heroes of the Boer War
MILITARY ROOTS27
A hero's legacy
An emotional pilgimage to Ypres
OUT & ABOUT29
The Essex Regiment Museum
A fascinating tour of a much respected museum
HEROES32
Captain Parslow VC
In search of one hero's story
INSIGHT34
The dismasting of the pilot schooner Rip
Paying the supreme sacrifice
SPOTLIGHT35
Years of Endurance
The 10th Cruiser Squadron and the Northern Patrol
FAMILY ALBUM38
Finding a father
Discovering the ups and downs of an unknown parent
CASEBOOK40
Operation Ironclad
Lending a hand at a crucial time
IN FOCUS44
A close shave in the Atlantic
Turning an "ordinary" set of medals into something special
BADGES46
Badges of University Volunteer and Training Corps
Taking a look at two distinguished institutions

Regulars

THE EDITORIAL PAGE5
NEWS AND VIEWS7
MARKET SCENE13
BOOKSHELF49
ON PARADE51
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR52
DEALERS' LISTS53
MEDAL TRACKER54
CLASSIFIED ADVERTISING57
DIARY61