Medal News

Volume 39, Number 3, March 2001

Out and about

Volume 39, Number 3, March 2001

SOMETIMES it is easy to see why people collect what they do - and whether those reasons are aesthetic or because of the intrinsic value of the collection, few eyebrows are raised. A collector of porcelain or glass may never have to explain his reasons and a collector of gold coins is always regarded with some envy for the "nest-egg" he has carefully set aside. However, there are some collections that cannot be so easily explained and whilst medals do not fall into the same category as sugar packets or matchboxes, we frequently see quizzical looks when they are mentioned to the non-collector. After all, leaving aside the Orders of Chivalry there are few British medals that can be said to be truly beautiful and, whilst many of them might be silver, even a large collection isn't going to be worth that much in scrap terms, so why collect them? The simple answer of course is that collectors of medals are really collectors of people, be they individuals or regiments, and the medals themselves are just indicators of who these people were, what they did and where they went. It is for this reason that so many medal collectors are also medal researchers or military historians - they don't just want to hoard pieces of metal with coloured ribbons attached, but want to learn everything they can about the history of the pieces they own. Who were they awarded to? Where was the campaign? Why was it being fought? What was the great deed so worthy of reward? The answers to all of these questions, and others, gleaned from this magazine, books, museums or the PRO go some way to bringing the past alive for the collector, allow the 21st century owner of the medal to appreciate something of what the recipient went through to receive his award. But still more effective in this is the visit to the place where it all happened: the tour of the very battlefield where the action actually took place. To many a visit to such a sight is akin to a pilgrimage, an almost holy event long awaited with a memory treasured forever - it is a combination both of awe and reverence and there is nothing on earth as guaranteed to bring home the truth of it all than that first sight of the place where it really did happen. Suddenly this is not old regimental records, not a faded diary or piece of metal on a tattered ribbon. Suddenly this is not a Hollywood spectacular or well-crafted novel, but reality. You can see the ridge where the first charge fell, see the hill from which the bombardment took place, see the remains of the redoubt that held so steadfastly, and you realise that these things actually happened. Hundreds of Zulus really did dash themselves against the fortifications, thousands of infantrymen really did wade across mud and mire to gain a few yards and the Valley of Death really is a valley and not just a line from a poem. In this issue of MEDAL NEWS we have tried to bring a little of the flavour of this experience to you. But don't take our word for it, contact one of the battlefield tour companies advertising this month and go on one of these tours yourself, you really will not regret it. John Mussell

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