Siegfried Sassoon, the great writer and war poet famously hurled his Military Cross into the River Mersey in 1917 in a ‘paroxysm of exasperation’ over the First World War. Except that he didn’t. He threw in just the ribbon; the medal turned up in someone’s attic, unexpectedly in 2007.
Just recently a Victory Medal was found in the bottom of a lock on the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation, inscribed with the name W. Clarke. Presumably Clarke did not throw his medal away in a grand, Sassoon-like gesture, but how it came to be there is something of a mystery.
Nearly six million bronze Victory Medals were awarded in the War and the same basic design of a Classical winged figure of Victory was adopted by many of the Allied Nations. Interestingly, the Victory Medal was never awarded by itself and was accompanied by the British War Medal or the 1914-15 Stars. Men receiving it who were also ‘Mentioned in Despatches’ were entitled to wear an oak leaf on the medal ribbon. As collectable antiques, Victory Medals are not worth much (apart from the incredibly rare Brazilian ones) but that’s not the point. Behind every medal was a soldier and his experiences of one of the worst wars in history.
W. Clarke was not a great writer like Sassoon, but he has a story behind him and our North East heritage adviser, Judy Jones, is hoping to find out more about what he did and where he came from. In the meantime, the finding of his medal in the centenary year of the First World War continues to move and intrigue us.
As national heritage manager, Nigel’s role is to lead the Canal & River Trust’s team of regional heritage advisers in England and Wales. He has over 25 years’ experience of working in the conservation, archaeology and interpretation of historic buildings and places. He is a member of the editorial board of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation. He has written numerous articles concerning heritage conservation and is the author of several longer published works, including the English Heritage Book of Canals.See more blogs from Nigel Crowe