We will Remember
Volume 42, Number 1, December 2003
How often have we, as collectors, given our interest as “24th Foot” or “Devon Regiment”? Maybe “Zulu War”, “World War I”, “Long Service” or “medals named to ‘Willoughby’”. By and large that is how we collect—by regiment, by campaign, by ship, by name, etc., etc. Of course we do, how else are we to make our collections logical? Make them manageable? There is nothing wrong with collecting thus, indeed such a logical approach is to be encouraged, however having sat and watched the dwindling band of veterans from World War II and the very few now left from World War I take part in this year’s service of Remembrance, the parade and subsequent wreath-laying at the cenotaph, I was once again struck by the fact that the conflicts that we remember each year were not simply fought by Regiments or Battalions but by real individuals, men who in many cases paid the ultimate sacrifice. As medal collectors few of us would say we treated our collections just as “things”— we don’t look upon our medals as jewellery, or items simply to be set aside, and even in this age of high prices we don’t view our acquisitions just in monetary terms; most of us do care about the history behind the medal, are interested in the campaign for which it was awarded, are familiar with the make up of the Regiment, where it fought, how many battalions it had, etc. But how many of us stop to wonder a little more about the actual man to whom the award was made? Certainly if he was “famous”, a gallantry winner or high ranking officer, then research is easier and so we might be able to safely say we have done our best to remember him. But what if he was a lowly Private? A man for whom no gallantry medal was forthcoming, who was never mentioned in despatches and who fought alongside thousands of others just like him? A man with an undistinguished career but who nevertheless earned the right to wear the medals we now have in our possession? When we hold his medals in our hands do we really give him much thought? Do we ever really wonder just who he was? He was somebody’s son, brother, husband, father, and whilst he is long gone now, whether a casualty of the conflict for which he won his medals or simply an Old Soldier who finally faded away, he deserves to be remembered, deserves to be looked on not just as a regimental number or a faceless man in a charge or line, not just as a part of a whole, but as an individual in his own right. So next time you go buy a seemingly insignificant BWM/Victory pair to “your” regiment or pick up an IGS to a man who bore your surname, take some time to think about just who he was; not about the battle where he was wounded or maybe died, not about where his battalion landed and subsequently fought, not about whether he’s also entitled to a Mutiny medal or LS&GC, but about him. Often we talk about the “man behind the medal”—such stories are frequently to be found in the pages of MEDAL NEWS. But those stories are often written by a relative, someone who would remember the recipient whether he had medals or not—but every medal in your and my collections has the story of a man behind it and even if we never discover what that story was, it’s worth while remembering that it is there.
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