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Unique Falklands medal group

Posted on Wed, 30 March 2011 by Alyson Thomas - Medal News

Missed Chances?

WITH the sad but inevitable news that Frank Buckles, last of the US Veterans of World War I passed away aged 110 on February 27, there are now only two people who served in the “War to End Wars” left alive and only one with any medallic entitlement from that conflict. These survivors—Claude Choules who served in the Royal Navy and who witnessed the scuttling of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow and Florence Green who joined the WRAF in 1918 and of course never saw active service abroad (she worked as a waitress in a base in Norfolk) are both “super-centenarians” at 110 and it is of course inevitable that they too will leave us soon. When they do there will, of course, be a raft of newspaper articles about their lives, television programmes dedicated to their memory and a renewed interest, for a while, in the “Great War”. That we remember those who fought and died, or who survived is of course only right and proper but as I read about Frank Buckles’ passing I did start to wonder if we aren’t in danger of losing those from World War II before we know it. Great store has been placed in recent years on the tales of those who fought in World War I: Harry Patch and Henry Allingham became almost celebrities in their twilight years, but as we listened eagerly to their stories and marvelled that they had witnessed the horrors that they had, so we failed to notice that one by one those who fought in the next global conflict were leaving us—and often we hadn’t realised they had fought at all. Last month’s MEDAL NEWS featured the sad news that Ted Carter, known to many of us who attend his son Mark’s regular medal and militaria shows, had passed away quite suddenly. This in itself was a shock but of equal surprise to an awful lot of us was the fact that he had served in the RAF in World War II. Sadly, a quick look at “Fading Away” each month within the pages of this magazine, or at the obituary column of any newspaper, will show you that his story is just one of many. That brave generation is slowly but irrevocably leaving us and it won’t be too many years before we feature the last of them.

I fear that actually we may have already lost veterans whose passing should perhaps have been noticed more than it was. Are there, for example, any veterans of Dunkirk left? Of Alamein? Of Monte Cassino? Of the Battle of the River Plate or of the Battle of Singapore? Most of you will scoff and say “of course there are” and you may indeed know some veterans who fought in these campaigns and battles. But ask yourself this: if you don’t know any such veterans, do you know anyone else who does? And if you don’t, then does anybody? Have we perhaps lost the last survivor from one or more of these battles, or others, without realising it? Have their stories, their tales, their history gone forever? It is certainly possible that there simply isn’t anyone around any more to tell us about the Dunkirk evacuation from a first-hand perspective or tell us about what it was really like at Tobruk. The quantity of World War II medals that is slowly finding its way onto the market these days is testament to the fact that more and more of these Old Soldiers really are fading away and more and more of their memories are lost forever.

The simple fact is that World War II ended 66 years ago and so any survivor from that conflict must now be in their 80s. Of course, they could go on for another 20 even 30 years but sadly many of them won’t and as they do leave us so their story will fade too. That’s part of the cycle of life of course, their passing really is inevitable, but as they become fewer and fewer so I am struck again by the responsibility we medal collectors have. The medals that these men and women won might well one day be all that is left to show what they did and where they did it. Their medal groups will be the only survivors for generations yet to come. Diaries and papers will fade and crumble, tunics will succumb to moth and mildew, but metal medals will survive, their presence all that remains of a generation that is already leaving us far more quickly than any of us would like. So, if you are a collector of World War II medals please realise that you may soon be responsible for passing on the stories we all grew up with, because those whose actions gave us those stories just won’t be there any more. Keep that research up to date, keep the items that make a group attributable to one man or one action together, and don’t always assume that there will be “someone who was there” to go to to ask questions of. One day there just won’t be and the baton will have passed to us—after that there really is no going back.