Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Medal Collecting and Remembrance

From reading some of my recent posts one might be mistaken that medals are just the shiny things worn by young princes or won by glamorous fly-boys.  This is far from the truth, as anyone who as spent time working through World War I casualty lists (as I have recently) will know.  They can be a surviving memento of hard work and sacrifice otherwise forgotten.

This was brought back to me by a couple of posts on the British Medals Forum recently.  The custodian of these medals has kindly allowed me to re-post their story.

The first is a little collection relating to 67540 Pte James Belcher, Royal Warwicks, late Warwickshire Yeomanry.  It consists of a standard World War I pair - the British War Medal and Victory Medal - along with a memorial plaque and scroll indicating that he was a casualty.  But most medal collectors are interested in more than the artifact - to us the real story is 'the man behind the medal'.

James Belcher was an employee of Mitchell & Butchers Ltd, Cape Hill Brewery, Smethwick.  He enlisted as soon as he could do so at Leamington and served with the 14th Warwicks (1st Birmingham Pals) as part of the 5th Division.  In September 1917 they were sent to Flanders where they were in action during the Third Battle of Ypres. The division then moved to Italy and took up positions in the line along the River Piave in late January 1918. They were recalled to France to assist with the German Advance in late March 1918 and were in action during the Battles of the Lys. On the 14th of August 1918 the 5th Division was withdrawn for two weeks rest. Then moved to The Somme where they were more or less in continuous action over the old battlegrounds until late October 1918.

James Belcher had been killed on 7 September: he was nineteen years old.  He lies with 635 comrades in Ration Farm Military Cemeterty, La Chapelle-D'Armentiers, France (Grave Reference I. A. 7.).

Pte James Belcher - d. 7 Sep 1918, aged 19

Not Forgotton - his mother's remembrance

He sleeps beside his comrades
In a hallowed grave unknown
But his memory is written in letters of love
In the hearts of those at home.

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