Medal News

Volume 48, Number 10, November 2010

The RN to the rescue

Volume 48, Number 10, November 2010

Rights and Wrongs The annual service of Remembrance held on the Sunday nearest Armistice Day (November 11) and the march past the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, is a splendid opportunity for us collectors to view a stunning array of medals as worn by those who won them. Sadly there are no recipients of World War I medals with us in the UK to take part any more and the stock of World War II veterans is inevitably dwindling as they fade away or simply become too old and frail to take part, but nonetheless there are still some amazing groups to be seen. Indeed they are to be seen up and down the country in local church parades and across the globe as veterans of many countries, and those still serving, gather to remember those who fell in the two World Wars and all those conflicts since. of course we must not forget that these parades are not held for us to gawp at the gongs on show, these men and women are not walking showcases for us to stare at with envious eyes—they are the men and women who actually won these medals, often at very great risk to themselves, or they are the next of kin of such personnel now fondly remembered but too often taken from their families far too soon. That said, it is exceptionally difficult to be a collector and ignore the rows of medals glinting in the autumn sun and we are probably all guilty of looking on in awe at the medals, as well as at those who wear them. Often of course there will only be one or two medals worn—if the recipient was a national Serviceman in the 1950s he’s unlikely to be able to match the chest full of stars and medals that a World War II veteran might be entitled to . . . or so you may think. Every year around this time one subject manages to split the medal collecting community and every year the same, very good, arguments are wheeled out in support of both sides. Unfortunately the positions of both sides are so entrenched that arguing does little to help and to be honest the subject is so emotive, the two “sides” so deeply entrenched in their views, that I don’t think there will ever be a solution anyway. this most serious of subjects? the cause of such deep divides? . . . : the wearing of unofficial awards and the inevitable appearance of such awards at the Cenotaph parade and elsewhere. I know that this has been covered many times before and I know that nothing I say here will change anyone’s views one way or the other. There are those who firmly, indeed passionately, believe that the purchase and wearing of such awards should never be countenanced, indeed should actively be outlawed, whilst others believe, just as passionately, that those who wear such things have every right to show the world where and when they served and if their government hasn’t allowed them to do that through official channels then they should be allowed to do it for themselves. The arguments on both sides are complex and numerous and I won’t go into them here. I will say that if you yourself have served and have earned your official medals, then I bow to your views on this subject. You have every right to agree or disagree with the practice of wearing such awards as you see fit. However, for those of us who haven’t served I think we need to take a different view of things and look at it not from a moral but from a collector’s viewpoint. Recently I heard of a couple of collectors who have actually removed the “unofficial” medals from groups that they have acquired, stating that if it isn’t official then they aren’t interested, and I can’t help but feel that somehow this is missing the point. You may not like this so called “bling”. You may feel that those who wear it are cheapening themselves and end up looking like Christmas trees—that’s your prerogative, but I don’t believe it is anyone’s prerogative to start messing around with somebody’s history. If a veteran, now long gone and whose medals now reside in a collection somewhere, decided that he wanted to apply for an unofficial medal or two, or even three, or four, then that was his choice (and there are many who make that choice)—the collector may think it wrong but it isn’t up to him. Those unofficial medals are part of the story, part of the history of that serviceman and whilst you may personally feel they shouldn’t be worn on parade, the fact is that they often are and that’s just the way it is. The debate on the rights and wrongs of such awards is unlikely to ever reach a conclusion. As I said, the two “sides” are simply too entrenched in their perfectly valid and understandable views, but as collectors it isn’t necessarily our right to get involved in that debate anyway. The medals we now own aren’t ours by right, we didn’t win them, we didn’t serve in campaigns and wars to earn them, all we did was buy them (our own and family medals aside of course) and if we start messing around with groups in our collections just because we aren’t completely happy with the way they are, and thus start messing around with history, then I would suggest we probably shouldn’t be collecting in the first place. We aren’t the owners of these medals, we are simply the current custodians of them and personally I don’t believe it is our place to judge those who wore them first. The eagerly awaited Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum, London, housing the World’s largest Collection of Victoria Crosses and George Crosses, opens on November 12, 2010—we’ll be at the opening so look out in next month’s Medal News for more details!

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