The power and the glory
Volume 52, Number 7, August 2014
Golden Summer’s Day ON June 17 MEDAL NEWS was privileged enough to be invited along to what must go down as one of the most impressive medal exhibitions/displays of modern times. Now, of course, any large display of medals is impressive to a collector: we love looking at collections, love learning about them, enjoy marvelling at the amount of work that has gone into them and, if we are honest, enjoy that slight feeling of awe when we realise just how much monetary value we are looking at. Any of you who have visited a museum can’t have helped but mentally “tot” up how much the collection you’re viewing is worth and, inevitably, compare it to your own small hoard (admit it we have all done it). However, it is a rare thing to see a collection of medals that you simply cannot put a monetary value on and instead are simply blown away by the history around you. The Ashcroft Gallery at the IWM houses one such collection—to see that many tangible examples of sheer heroism in one place is almost too much to take in and, for one sunny day in June, Apsley House, No. 1 London, shared that distinction. Philip, our Marketing Director, went to the spectacular event and I thought you would like to share his experience in his own words: "The magnificent building on the corner of Hyde Park and Park Lane/Piccadilly may well already be familiar to many of you. The erstwhile home of the Duke of Wellington, it is now a museum that is well worth a visit in its own right, housing as it does some of the most wonderful treasures from the Peninsular/Napoleonic period, including an amazing collection of Field Marshal’s batons and a mind blowing “divorce present”: the Egyptian centrepiece rejected by the Empress Josephine. However, on June 17, for one day only, it became far more than “just” a museum, it became a medal collector’s dream. To coincide with Peninsular War 200 group’s seminar on the 200th anniversary of the end of the Peninsular War and the start of the commemorations of 200 years since Waterloo, Mark Smith, Curator of Firepower, the Royal Artillery Museum, had worked with DNW (who produced the accompanying brochure and helped procure some of the items) to put together a display, the like of which has never been seen before and in all likelihood will never be seen again. With exhibits from 11 separate collections (four museums: Royal Green Jackets, Devon & Dorsets, 15th Hussars and Firepower and seven individuals), Mark had brought together a total of 148 medals, including a host of Waterloo and MGS Medals and no fewer than 13 Army Gold Crosses, 11 Small Army Gold Medals, two Large Army Gold Medals and a Maida Medal, with the highlight being the nine-clasp Army Gold Cross awarded to the Duke of Wellington himself. Words cannot do a display like this justice, so I haven’t left it just to words—there are pictures of some of the displays and individual medals on page 11. However, what you will not be able to ascertain from the pictures is the sheer “feeling” of being in a room with so much history around you. With medals representing the battles from Roleia (Rolica) in August of 1808 through the Peninsular Campaign and on through France over the next six years and ultimately Waterloo, this collection included the awards worn by some of the most important men in British military history. There was the Large Army Gold Medal (Roleia & Vimiera) of Brigadier General (later Lieutenant-General) Sir Miles Nightinghall; the Gold Cross (Roleia & Vimiera, Corunna, Talavera and Busaco) of Colonel (later Lieutenant-General) James Bathurst, 60th Foot, Wellington’s first Military Secretary; the KCB of Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore, 52nd Foot; the Small Gold Medal and Royal Guelphic Order of Major (later General) William Davy, 5/60th Foot; the Gold Cross (Vimeria, Talavera, Badajoz, Salamanca and Busaco) of Colonel Sir William Robe, RA; the Gold Cross (Salamanca, Vittoria, Badajoz, St Sebastian, Toulouse, Nive and Nivelle) and Waterloo Medal of Lieutenant-Colonel (later Major-General) Sir John May; the Gold Cross (Barossa, Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz, Salmanca, Vittoria, Nivelle, Orthes and Toulouse) of Colonel (later General) Sir Andrew Barnard, 9th Foot; the Maida Gold Medal and Army Gold Cross (Maida, Vittoria, Pyrenees, Nivelle, Nive and Orthes) of Lieutenant-Colonel (later Lieutenant-General Sir) Hon. Robert O’Callaghan and, of course, Wellington’s Gold Cross itself—on display for the very first time. Everywhere you turned there was another General or Knight’s medals to gasp and gaze at—the gold as brilliant as when the medals were first issued. Never before had I seen so many Gold Crosses and Gold Medals in one place. I was truly mesmerized, and that was before I got to look at the Military General Service Medals! It isn’t often that an “eleven clasper” pays not second nor third but fourth fiddle in a display, but such was the case here when the 11 clasps on the MGSs to Edward Costello, 1/95th Foot, Henry Wharton, 2/43rd Foot and that of Lieutenant Charles O’Neill, 83rd Foot, were “outdone” (and I use the term very loosely) by the 12 clasps on the medals to Serjeant John Rattrey and Benjamin Housely, both 1/52nd Foot, and on that awarded to Corporal John McCAwley, 1/43rd Foot. They in turn were “trumped” by the 13 clasps on the MGS to Thomas Rollands, Royal Artillery, and Henry Fellersman, King’s German Legion Artillery. But at the “top of the heap” there were no fewer than 14 clasps on the medal awarded to Major (later Lieutenant-Colonel) James Campbell, 45th Foot—one of only 12 such medals and one of only two awarded to officers. The seven, eight, nine and ten clasp medals that were to be found in abundance looked almost ordinary although, of course, they were anything but. This was an exhibition without rival and whilst I was absolutely privileged to be invited along to see it and to be able to share it with you, I do hope that one day, somehow, such a display can be put on once again—if it is, and you get a chance to see it, then I urge you to do so. I’m still blown away by it weeks later and I hope you enjoy the pictures of the event. I realise they aren’t the same as being there, but I’m afraid it is the best I can do!" Lucky Phil, I only wish I could have been with him on that memorable day.
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