Volume 48, Number 3, March 2010
All that glisters . . . THE recent award of the PDSA’s Dickin Medal, the “Animal VC”, to the bomb search dog Treo serves as a timely reminder that our hobby isn’t always about the more obvious campaign and gallantry medals. The Dickin Medal itself is of course a gallantry award, given to animals whose bravery in the line of duty deserves recognition. Since its inception in 1943 27 dogs, 32 messenger pigeons, three horses and famously one cat (Simon of HMS Amethyst) have been awarded the medal and it remains highly prized by collectors. However, its award does highlight how diverse our hobby is. Yes, it is a gallantry award and, yes, it was awarded for action in a war zone—but it was awarded to an animal—hardly a standard issue gong like most in our collections! It is all too easy to think of medals purely as “souvenirs” of war given to service personnel as “mementoes” of bravery or deprivation on campaign and whilst it is true that the medals with the really interesting stories attached, those awarded for famous actions or to particularly vicious battles or wars, do fetch the most money at auction or grab the headlines in the press, we must not forget that there is far more to our passion than just them. A quick look at the MEDAL YEARBOOK will reveal that of the 370+ medals in the main section of the book (this discounting the Life Saving, Commonwealth and Unofficial sections), only 48 are gallantry decorations (although some orders are awarded for gallantry of course) and 166 are included in the campaign section to denote action of some kind (this includes the badges, memorial plaque, etc., where appropriate). In other words, well over a third of the book is concerned not with bravery or war per se but rather with medals of commemoration of some kind, be they celebrating long service, Royal Coronations or Jubilees (sorry about that mistake last month!), good shooting or anniversaries of the award of other medals! And the recipients are as diverse as the medals themselves. We have medals awarded to children; medals issued to women starving themselves in the name of equality and emancipation; medals issued to members of the Royal Household and Royal messengers; medals awarded to those who excel in the fields of science or art; medals for nurses, prison officers, policemen, the fire brigade and for “loyal” government servants; medals for recruiters; medals for service in a motoring organisation and of course medals awarded to animals. Ask any non-collector about medals and the VC will, naturally, be uppermost on their mind as bravery is what they normally associate medals with. Few, I suspect, will think about an independence medal or Coronation gong and yet often it is these very medals, the innocuous ones that hang around amongst bigger, more important-looking awards that actually make our hobby so much more interesting. It is all too easy to forget that those medals that come after page 205 of the YEARBOOK all have a story to tell too. Of course, most of us will gravitate towards the conventional campaign or gallantry collecting and many of us will not really consider the “miscellaneous medals” as important parts of the group at all. But consider this: a World War I trio or QSA/KSA pair with an LS&GC attached might not have the romance of an MC group, but the inclusion of that long service medal tells us much about a man who had to serve for a long time (21 years in the case of the early Victorian Army or Navy) often enduring terrible conditions. A bravery award can be won in a hot-headed instant but a long runner can only be achieved after years of level-headed slog. A “Royal Visit” medal can pinpoint the recipient’s historical location just as assuredly as any gallantry award. A Polar medal will speak of conditions just as harsh as those endured on many campaigns and a good shooting medal will tell of training and dedication on a par to that of any soldier in battle. Yes, it is true that the “hot-headed” bravery awards have the romance factor and the good old campaign medals have the research advantage, but don’t forget the quirky ones, the unconventional ones, they have a story to tell too! Read more about the “unconventional” MSM in the second of Ian McInness’ excellent series of articles on page 14 and, of course, don’t forget there will be a fine array of “miscellany” on offer at the Britannia Medal Fair on March 21. For a full list of dealers attending and for more details see pages 28-29. It’s not too late to send in your “wants” on the form that appeared in last month’s MEDAL NEWS.
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