Medal for Deccan

Posted on Wed, 30 March 2016 by Alyson Thomas
Posted in: Medal News
Medal for Deccan Inspirational thinking

THE recent decision by Ashby School in Leicestershire to look at selling the Victoria Cross of Lieutenant-Colonel Philip Bent of the 9th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment, bequeathed to the then Ashby Boy’s Grammar School by the late Colonel’s mother (see “News & views”) has, inevitably, drawn criticism from some quarters. Most notably, according to the Daily Telegraph, this criticism has come from Captain Tim Wilkes, chairman of the Trustees at the Royal Leicestershire Regiment Museum, the current custodians of said VC, the decoration having been loaned to them by the school some years ago. Captain Wilkes is quoted as saying that “you have to consider what the wishes of Mrs Bent were when she gave the medals into the safeguarding of the school—to inspire future generations” (Daily Telegraph, February 24, 2016). The good Captain does indeed have a point: if we were able to go back in time to when the grieving mother of young Philip donated the Victoria Cross, would she be horrified at the thought of her son’s medal being used commercially (the school want to use the money raised for new sports facilities)? Or would she, I wonder, have had no trouble at all giving the school something that pupils could actually use? We will never know of course, so such speculation is a tad pointless. But I suspect that if we could go back in time, we would discover one or two things we weren’t expecting. Firstly, I’m pretty certain that Mrs Bent would be stunned to discover that her son’s medal had any commercial value at all, and certainly not a value potentially in the £100,000 plus range; this in turn might well have led her not to donating it in the first place but rather either selling it herself or keeping it in the family for future generations to decide what to do with. Secondly I’m also fairly certain that whether she cared about the commercial value or not, the venerable Mrs Bent would have been rather disappointed to discover that in actual fact her son’s medal wasn’t doing any inspiring at the moment as it has, for some time, been locked away, the Regimental Museum being unable to display it because of the exhorbitant cost of insurance. And that, unfortunately for Captain Wilkes, is where his argument falls down.

I fully understand why Captain Wilkes and the other trustees of the museum would like to keep the Cross in their possession, even if it is only on loan, but if they want to do that then I’m afraid they really do have to find the money to actually put it out on display. I don’t know the museum myself, but I assume they have a replica Cross on display at the moment—that being the case isn’t that “inspiration” enough? Isn’t the story of Lt-Col Bent and his heroic charge, crying “Come on the Tigers”, enough for the future generations the Captain talks about? If it’s not, if the only inspiration they will get is from actually seeing the original Victoria Cross, then why hasn’t the museum raised the cash to put it out before now? Now I’m a medal collector, I own some fabulous groups and singles but I’m not naïve enough to suggest it is solely the lump of metal with its coloured ribbon that would ever “inspire” me. Of course it isn’t, it’s the history of the medal, and the man to whom it was awarded that are the true fascination both for us collectors and the “future generations”.

One thing is certain: if a replica is on display in the museum it doesn’t have any more “inspiring qualities” just because the original is in a bank or safe somewhere, whether in the keeping of the museum or not, and it will not have any fewer of those qualities if the original is sold on to a collector or another institution. Indeed if the latter, then Lt-Col Bent’s story may be an inspiration to even more people—certainly more than whilst the Cross is hidden away. So I for one hope that those criticising the school take a second look at the issue, change their minds and support the sale. As things stand Lt-Col Bent’s story will always be part of the Leicestershire Regiment’s legend. A replica Victoria Cross tells his story just as well as any original in a vault can and by selling the original the school get to benefit in real terms and, potentially, the Cross gets to see the light of day. It is, I think, a “win/win” as middle managers might say. Whether everyone feels that way or not, it is far better, I feel, to have the Philip Bent memorial gymnasium to help future generations than keeping hold of something only for it to never see the light of day. That inspires nobody.

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