THERE is an air of mystery around these medals. Following our recent request for any interesting or unusual medals, we have received these pictures from an anonymous reader who signs himself as “D-Day Dodger Desert Rat”.
The reader writes, “In the 1950s Fenwicks, a radio shop in Wolverhampton, advertised a metal detector (dig up a fortune!) sort of thing. So off I trotted with my hard-earned money and bought one.
“If beer and milk bottle tops were worth anything, I would have been a millionaire in the first few weeks.
“The WWI general service medal I dug up in the Cannock Chase area. Around the edge is inscribed 24/2080 RFLM G. Reilly NZEF.
“I haven’t a clue what the other one is, only that it is some sort of nursing medal.”
Readers will be familiar with the First World War general service medal, or British War Medal as it is also known. The medal was initially issued to officers and men of British and Imperial forces who had served between 5th August, 1914, and 11th November, 1918. Those who served in the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Dominion and Colonial naval forces had to have completed 28 days mobilised service to be eligible. The medal was automatically awarded to those who died on active service between the dates.
The qualifying period was later extended to 1920 to include service in mine-clearing at sea and operations in post-revolutionary Russia.
6.5 million medals were issued, the vast majority in silver but 110,000 were made of bronze and these were issued to Chinese, Maltese and Indians who had served in labour battalions.
The medal features a portrait of George V on the obverse while the reverse shows a naked St George, armed with a short sword, on horseback, trampling over a skull and crossbones and a Prussian shield, symbols of German militarism, with the dates 1914-1918.
The ribbon was a wide central watered stripe of orange flanked by two narrow white stripes, two black pinstripes and then two outer stripes of blue. It is not thought that there is any significance to these colours.
The inscription on the edge of the medal shows that Rifleman G. Reilly served with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and readers may be wondering how a Kiwi soldier came to lose his medal on Cannock Chase.
On the outbreak of the First World War New Zealand immediately offered two brigades, one of infantry and one of mounted troops, a total of 8,500 men. This became the NZEF and within two months it had departed for Australia, where it joined the Australian Imperial Force and its convoy for Egypt.
The NZEF served in Egypt, Palestine, Gallipoli and the Western Front. It was initially reinforced with volunteers but conscription was introduced to New Zealand in August 1916. By the end of the war 124,000 men, around half the eligible male population of New Zealand, had served in the NZEF, with around 100,000 serving overseas.
The New Zealand Rifle Brigade, in which G. Reilly would have served, was formed in May 1915 and arrived in Egypt between November 1915 and April 1916. After training they sailed for France and entered combat in May 1916. They fought on the Somme and at Messines, becoming experienced, hardened veterans of the trenches.
In September 1917 the 5th Battalion NZRB was taken out of the front line and transferred to Brocton Camp on Cannock Chase. There their role was to train fresh recruits and Cannock Chase remained the New Zealanders’ home until May 1919.
Mock-ups of the trenches were dug at the camp to simulate conditions in France and Flanders and the New Zealanders even built a scale model of the terrain at Messines, which after the war became something of a tourist attraction but was lost in the 1930s. The scale model, around the size of a tennis court, was rediscovered by archaeologists last month.
The men of the 5th NZRB very much enjoyed their time in Staffordshire, so much so that when they returned to New Zealand the battalion presented its colours to the town of Stafford.
Did Rifleman G. Reilly lose his medal at Cannock Chase or did he deliberately discard it?
The nursing medal is more of a mystery. It was issued by Wolverhampton General Hospital in 1923 and that is about all we can say about it.
The hospital had its origins in the reign of George IV when the Wolverhampton Dispensary was founded in Queen Street in 1821. This was funded by subscription but by 1844 it was found to be insufficient for the town’s needs. A new hospital, the South Staffordshire General Hospital and Dispensary opened in Cleveland Road on 1st January, 1849. In 1873 this was renamed the Wolverhampton and Staffordshire General Hospital and it was granted its royal charter in 1928.
The Royal Hospital’s location made it impossible to expand and from the 1970s onwards much of its clinical specialities were transferred to New Cross Hospital and the Royal Hospital closed down in June 1997.
l Can you provide any further information on this Black Country medical medal??Perhaps you have some interesting medals of your own to share with Bugle readers.?Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Bugle House, 41 High?Street, Cradley?Heath, B64 5HL.