News & Blog

Bombardment when war hits home

Posted on Wed, 6 December 2023 by Karen Needs - Medal News

Far too fussy WORD, it seems, has got out about my new theme and I was recently offered a pair of memorial plaques to brothers from Exeter. Whilst they were not cheap (what is these days?), the price wasn’t unreasonable, but I turned them down, ostensibly because they were from the “wrong side of the river”. Anyone who knows Exeter will understand that the city is split into two with the River Exe as a broad division. On “my side”, the eastern side, there are the neighbourhoods of St Leonards, St Loyes, Heavitree, Wonford, Pinhoe, et al. Across the bridge, you have Alphington, St Thomas, Exwick and Redhills as well as Marsh Barton where our offices are located. Unfortunately, apart from our one corner of a business park, the names of the neighbourhoods on that side of the Exe are about all I know; the streets, shops, pubs, etc. are all a mystery to me and may as well be parts of Bristol, Plymouth, Gloucester or any other city in the UK. I simply don’t have an affinity with that part of Exeter and thus don’t collect medals to recipients who once lived there. So, I thanked the gentleman who offered me the chance to add these to my collection but decided to pass on grounds that the location was wrong—but I wonder whether my decision was based in part on the fact the plaques had been “well loved” and so highly polished that the names on them were only just legible. I don’t normally consider condition to play an important part in my medal collecting. I collect coins, too, and there it does matter, the slightest hint of polish, an edge knock, anything detrimental at all will seriously affect the value, but with medals I’ve never been overly bothered by what they look like. The condition of a medal is usually irrelevant to the story behind it, to the recipient’s life or, if anything, it may well add to that story—we’re aware that medals to cavalry may be bashed about on the reverse if worn over breastplates; that Egypt Medals may have digs in them where the Khedive’s Star is worn alongside; that medals worn on parade over a long career will be polished and so on. Whilst I don’t suppose for a second Colour Sergeant Bourne had his medals on throughout the action at Rourke’s Drift as the film Zulu would have us believe, it is certainly true that medals have occasionally been worn in battle and it’s only to be expected that they don’t always come out unscathed. Thus, the fact that a medal might be polished or a bit battered has never really bothered me, or so I thought. In this particular case, the fact that the plaques were polished showed just how highly they were regarded by the family. Maybe the young men’s mother, or sister, kept them shiny week in, week out, by way of her own personal tribute, not realising, perhaps until it was too late, that she was rubbing away their names whilst trying to preserve their memory. This, then, is as much part of the “story” as anything else and yet still I decided not to buy. I convinced myself the reason for not purchasing was simply the location, that the brothers were from the “other side” and thus not on theme—until, that is, I got home and realised that actually I have medals to at least three men from St Thomas and one from Alphington in my collection, so the river boundary has clearly not been a hard and fast rule in the past. So whilst I can confidently say that had these plaques fitted my theme more neatly, had they been from “my side” of the river, lived in a road which I knew, then I may have disregarded the fact that I could barely read their names, that condition wouldn’t have mattered one bit and I’d have gone ahead with the purchase regardless—but apparently I do care about condition when it comes to things that don’t fit my theme precisely. In the end, it was that combination of location and polish that was just a bit too much to convince me to part with cold hard cash. It seems, then, that I have to add another caveat to my collecting. I will, apparently, collect medals (and plaques) to recipients who were born in Exeter (or who lived in the City for a decent part of their lives), regardless of condition as long as they lived east of the River Exe. I will also collect medals to recipients who lived on the “wrong side”, but I reserve the right to not add them to my collection if the condition is against them. I fear I’m becoming a little too fussy these days and it’s no wonder my collection isn’t growing as fast as I’d like!