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Long lost Light Brigade medals return to Wednesbury

By dan shaw  |  Posted: October 24, 2013

  • John Ashley Kilvert wearing his medals

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FOUR medals awarded to a former Mayor of Wednesbury who rode in the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War are to go back on display at Wednesbury Museum and Art Gallery after going ‘missing’ for nearly 40 years.

John Ashley Kilvert was blown off his horse in the charge and was treated for his injuries by Florence Nightingale.

The medals went missing when the borough of Sandwell was formed in 1974. Museum staff thought they had gone forever until recently when they were contacted by Birmingham auction house Fellows to say they had them.

They had been submitted for auction by  94-year-old Mrs Joyce Hands from Walsall, who was selling her late husband Walter's medal collection. He had bought the medals more than 20 years ago, unaware they belonged to Sandwell Council. It is believed they had changed hands several times before he bought them in all innocence.

Once this was explained to Mrs Hands she immediately agreed to donate the medals back to the museum.

Sandwell Council deputy leader Councillor Mahboob Hussain said: "It was a wonderful gesture by Mrs Hands and we are delighted the medals are safely back in the council's hands where they can be proudly displayed once again."

Kilvert was awarded two medals from the Crimean campaign, one by the British government and one by the Turkish.

The British Crimea Medal is one of the most ornate ever issued, with its unique ornate oak leaf clasps and floriated swivelling suspender. Five bars were awarded with the medal with the maximum any individual could receive being four. The Azoff bar was issued to only naval and marine personnel, while the other battles honoured were Alma, Inkerman, Balaklava and Sebastopol.

Kilvert received the bars for Alma, Balaklava and Sebastopol.

The notorious Charge of the Light Brigade, when lightly-armed British cavalry charged the Russian artillery and were mown down, took place on 25th October, 1854, at the Battle of Balaklava.

The Turkish Crimean War Medal that Kilvert received is perhaps even more interesting. The reverse features a cannon, anchor and mortar set upon the Imperial Russian flag while behind fly the flags of the four allied powers — Turkey, Great Britain, France and the Kingdom of Sardinia.

The Turks gave a different version of the medal to each of their allies. The British medal features a British Ensign at second right, the French medal has the Tricolor in this position while the Sardinian medal has the Italian Tricolor with the arms of Savoy.

The inscription also varies. The British medal has ‘Crimea 1855’, the French has ‘La Crimee 1855’ and the Sardinian has ‘La Crimea 1855’.

A consignment of medals for British servicemen was lost when the ship carrying it sank and so they were awarded with whatever medal came to hand, the most common being the Sardinian medal. So it was that Kilvert was awarded the Sardinian version.

On being discharged from the Army, Kilvert settled in Coventry where he married and had a son named George.

When his wife died he moved to Wednesbury where he married again. He lived in Union Street where he opened a pawnbrokers business.

Kilvert entered public service where he was elected to the town council in 1886 and served in a number of positions.

His second wife died in 1900 and, following his son's death in 1902, he sold his business and moved to 13 Pritchard Street, naming his new home ‘Balaclava House’ after the famous battle.

In 1905 Alderman Kilvert, as he was then, became Mayor of Wednesbury. He retired from public office the following year and died on October 17, 1920, aged 87.

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