Heroism on the Frontier

Posted on Tues, 11 October 2016 by Alyson Thomas
Posted in: Medal News
Heroism on the Frontier On Display...For Now

It is with sadness but little surprise that we heard that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is to sell off no fewer than 13 of its properties to make way for yet more private (civilian) housing. Earmarked for sell-off are sites that include RAF Henlow in Bedfordshire, two World War II era airfields (Chalgrove in Oxfordshire and Colerne in Wiltshire), Stonehouse Barracks in Plymouth, in use by the Royal Marines continuously since 1756 and, particularly worryingly, Amport House in Andover, Hampshire, currently the British Armed Forces Chaplaincy centre and home to a particularly fine collection of medals to the Royal Army Chaplain’s Department (RAChD). The chaplains have only been there for 20 years, following the closure of the depot of the RAChD at Bagshot Park in 1996, and soon, it seems, they will be on the move again. And they aren’t the only ones affected by this recent announcement—the Royal Military Police (RMP) Museum at Southwick Place is also set to close.

As of yet there are no firm plans as to where either the Chaplains or the RMPs (or their medals) will end up, but wherever it is (assuming there will be somewhere eventually) you can bet that there will be some considerable delay from the time the old sites are sold to the time a new home is found—you only have to look at the dreadful situation with “Firepower”, the museum of the Royal Artillery, which closed this year and yet its new Wiltshire home isn’t even vaguely ready. 2020 is the earliest date that the stunning RA collection will be able to be viewed again. Currently the medals, artefacts and other exhibits are lying in storage somewhere but, as was seen with the RNLI gold medal this month (see “News & views”) putting things in storage isn’t always as safe as one might assume . . . is the same fate to befall some or all of the medals of the Chaplains and the Redcaps?
Sadly these announcements are just the latest in a long line from the MoD, who seem to be hell bent on saving money at the expense of history. In the past few years we have learned that Kneller Hall, home of the Museum of Army Music is due to be closed and sold off. The Royal Logistics Corps Museum will move to Worthy Down around 2020 on the closure and sale of Deepcut and the Army Medical Services Museum at Ash Vale will relocate to Cardiff in 2020/21 on the redevelopment of their current site. The Royal Highland Fusiliers will move to “another site in Glasgow” and the Queen’s Royal Hussars will move to another site within Warwick following the closure of the two current museums of the Regiment in 2017 when their funding is withdrawn (in common with the funding for most other Regimental Museums). Durham Light Infantry Museum is already closed.

Now, we medal collectors have always had a love/hate relationship with museums—we love them because they have some of the most stunning displays of medals for our delight and delectation, medals that we could never hope to own and yet are able to see and research thanks to the work of the museum. But then again when we hear of “ordinary” medals that we might have hoped to add to our collections being donated to such an institution, only to never again see the light of day, our enthusiasm wanes somewhat. In this instance that is irrelevant though—whether you agree with museums getting medals (and thus taking them “off the market”) or not, you cannot deny that they do a sterling job in preserving the memory (and of course the medals) of their Regiment/Corps/Department and, if we lose them, then we will all be a great deal worse off. You may not like the fact that you are no longer able to buy the medals that are now in your local museum, but you’ll like it a lot less when they are sitting in storage and you can’t even see them . . .

Hopefully all of the “new museums” will get off the ground, despite the rather worrying “crowdfunding” business plan that many of them seem to be adopting. But that isn’t to say we collectors don’t have a part to play too. We don’t know what will happen to the museums and collections over the next few years, but whatever happens they must not be allowed to just disappear—it is up to us to do what we can to ensure they don’t—whatever form of action that may take.

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