An Investigation into Medals & Coins

war medal

Abyssinian War Medal, 1869

The Abyssinian War Medal was awarded to those involved in a 1867-1868 expedition to Abyssinia to secure the release of British labourers sent to the country at the request of King Theodore, but imprisoned on their arrival along with other British representatives. Though 43,000 men were involved in the campaign (only 14,683 being soldiers) and vastly outnumbered, total casualties were only 2 killed and 27 wounded, and the King committed suicide when the city of Magdala fell to the British.
This medal was awarded to Able Bodied Seaman T. Simpkin, whose vessel, HMS Spiteful, despite only being a paddle-steamer single-handedly quelled piracy in the Arabian Gulf during the campaign, in a month’s cruise in 1868 in which she captured 6 vessels and rescued 200 slaves. Simpkin was presumably part of this effort, and Lester Watson purchased the medal awarded for it at some point before 1928.
The Museum is glad to acknowledge the help of Mr G. M. Stein with the history of this medal.

bronze medal

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Medaille Commomorative des Dardanelles, 1926 (Great War)

After Germany’s diplomacy successfully induced Ottoman Turkey to join the Great War on Germany’s side in late 1914, a substantial naval force was amassed by the Allies against Turkey. Key to its operations was control of the Dardanelles Strait between the Aegean Sea and Sea of Marmora.
A large naval force was assembled to open the Straits, but heavy losses necessitated a change of plan to an infantry assault over land on the Gallipolli Peninsula to take control of the Straits. A force principally composed of Australian and New Zealand troops, supported with British home units and French marines, was landed and held on on the Peninsula for ten dogged months, mounting numerous ineffective offensives while naval support dwindled. Turkish resistance on all fronts proved more solid than had been anticipated and the troops were finally withdrawn in October 1915 when Bulgaria joined the war on the German side. Those who remained in the theatre became part of the Arme d’Orient at Thessalonika, for which they were awarded a separate decoration.
French troops who survived combat in the Dardanelles, in which French forces took nearly as many casualties as the Australians, were in 1926 awarded this medal. The piece is unnamed, and the identity of its recipient thus unknown. Lester Watson purchased it at some point before 1928.

medal.JPG

Silver Cross (Canadian Memorial or Widow’s Cross), awarded in memory of Pvt. C. Smith, 1914-1919

Silver Cross (Canadian Memorial or Widow’s Cross), 1914-1919

The Silver Cross, now known as the Canadian Memorial Cross since the introduction of a similar award by New Zealand in 1960, was instituted in 1914, and was issued to the mother and/or widow of any Canadian serviceman killed in action during the Great War of 1914-1918. The initial award was concluded in 1919, but a new version struck in 1940 for Second World War service deaths and it has remained on issue since that time. In 2006, indeed, the first award was made to a widower in memory of his wife, who had been killed in combat in Aghanistan.
This cross was awarded to the next-of-kin of Private C. Smith, of the Royal Canadian Army. As the cross bears the monogram of George V, his fatal service must have been during the Great War, but no more is known. Lester Watson acquired the cross at some point before 1928.

victoria cross

Victoria Cross, awarded to Sgt. E. J. Mott, 1917

Victoria Cross, 1917 (Great War)

The Victoria Cross is the highest award for gallantry that can be made by the United Kingdom. Instituted in 1856 to recognise deeds done in the Crimean War, reportedly at the suggestion of Prince Albert, the new medal was to be given “for valour”. Even today this simple statement justifies the medal’s award. The first medals were legendarily struck from bronze from the captured Russian guns of Sebastopol, although it is now believed that the metal came from older Chinese cannon that were found in the Arsenal in 1857. (These weapons may however have been captured from the Russians during the Crimean campaign.) The design was entrusted to the London jewellers’ firm of C. F. Hancock & Sons, Holborn, and it is there that the Victoria Cross is still made when it is awarded today.
The fighting on the Somme during the Great War of 1914-1918 is still regarded with horror as one of the greatest bloodbaths ever permitted during modern combat. British casualties at Ypres and on the Somme from 1915 to 1918 outnumbered the entire British casualty list for the whole of the Second World War. Despite the questionable strategy of the Battle, however, this was obviously a place and time where opportunities for deeds of heroism were rife, and thus many medals were awarded during this campaign. This is one of them.
On 27 January 1917 the 1st Battalion of the Border Regiment, in company with the 1st Royal Enniskillen Fusiliers had orders to attack a section of the enemy position south of Le Transloy, known as Landwehr Trench. An artillery barrage of 96 eighteen-pounder guns, with support from 30 Australian howitzers, preceded the attack which began at 5:30 a.m. along a 750-yard front. By 7:00 a.m 117 prisoners had been taken and the first and second objectives had been captured with light casualties. Consolidation on the flank however proved difficult because of the frozen ground, enemy shelling and pernicious sniping. It was here that Sergeant Edward J. Mott became the Border Regiment’s first VC of the War. The citation from the London Gazette for 9 March 1917 records his actions as follows: `No. 9887 Sergeant Edward Mott, 1st Bn Border Regiment. For most conspicuous gallantry and initiative when in attack, the company to which he belonged was held up at a strong point by machine gun fire. Although wounded in the eye Sergeant Mott made a rush for the gun and after a fierce struggle seized the gunner and took him prisoner, capturing the gun. It was due to the dash of the non-commissioned officer that the left flank succeeded.’
This medal forms part of what Lester Watson’s catalogue lists as Group 2, and its provenance is discussed in the page for that group.

 

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coins
coins 2

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sir-john-soane.jpg
Taken in The Commercial Rooms (Wetherspoons) in Bristol, I thought this was beneficia l research for my BAMS project and I found it inspiring to observe closely and read. I took this photograph before leaving.

Investigating various war medals, medals of honour and coins is beneficial towards developing my concept and designs for the live brief of BAMS. By furthering my investigations, I am building a clearer understanding of how each side of a coin or medal correlate to each other. This will aid my developmental stage immensely, as a better understanding of the relationship between each side of the medal will speed up my progress of starting to design an outcome.

I am planning a trip to one of the local museums in Bristol for Friday, to further develop my investigation into the process of medal and coin-making. I am positive by creating an extensive research portfolio, will help increase the inspiration and ideas for this live brief. I aim to start designing my concept before August is out.

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Author: lawrenceaaronmaker

Studying a BA Hons in Artist, Designer; Maker at Cardiff Metropolitan University.

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