27 October 2011

South Africa Medal 1834-1853

By General Order No 634 on the 22nd November 1854.

Awarded to survivors of the African frontier wars of 1834-5, 1846-7 and 1850-3. This was the first medal specially struck for military service in Africa which was available to all ranks.

Silver, 36mm diameter, with an ornamental scroll swivelling suspension. The obverse portrays the diademed head of Queen Victoria and the legend VICTORIA REGINA. The reverse depicts the lion of South Africa crouching in front of a protea bush. Above are the words SOUTH AFRICA; in the exergue, the date 1853.

As with the Indian Mutiny Medal, the South Africa Medal design is another father/son collaboration. The obverse of the medal was designed by William Wyon (1795-1851) who was the official chief engraver of the Royal Mint from 1828 until his death. (See also the Army of India Medal). The reverse was designed by Leonard Charles Wyon (1826-18910, William's eldest son, who became Second Engraver at the Royal Mint in 1844 and who succeeded his father as Modeler and Engraver in 1851.

Watered, orange-yellow with two narrow and two wide stripes in dark blue.

Indented in roman capitals, as seen on the Military General Service Medal.

None issued.

The medal is commonly called the Kaffir Wars medal. Royal Mint records show that 10,558 medals were struck between 24th April 1855 and 31st March 1862; this number including two patterns presented to Queen Victoria, those issued to deserters and later cancelled, replacements, duplicates etc. The actual number of medals awarded is, according to British Battles and Medals, 8,540.

The obverse photograph is courtesy of Dix Noonan Webb; the reverse courtesy of Neate Auctions. British Battles and Medals has been invaluable in putting together the information.

21 October 2011

Medal prices to make you weep

I've just returned from a short business trip to Colwyn Bay.  When I travel, I like to sniff out the local secondhand and antiquarian booksellers and, if I'm able to, pick up a book as a memory of that trip.  I found a nice volume on Indian Regiments on a trip to Canterbury the other week, and yesterday visited the Bay Bookshop and came away with a second edition of E C Joslin's Standard Catalogue of British Orders Decorations and Medals (1972).  I recommend the shop if you happen to be in Colwyn Bay; nice people to chat with and a great military section.

You know that Joslin is going to be a depressing read when you read in his foreword, that "... we have experienced some remarkable figures at auction such as £3,500 for a fairly ordinary VC...".  What would he have thought of the Ted Kenna VC sale I wonder.

Anyway, back in 1972 your silver Queen's Sudan Medal would have been valued at £8 and a Khedive's Sudan medal at anything between £7 and £22.  Prices for medals with multiple clasps are not given.  These days you'd be lucky to get away with spending less than £500 on a Queen's Sudan and Khedive's Sudan.  As for the First World war medals, £2 might have got you a 'bare-arsed' 1914 Star, but you'd have had to pay double that for the same medal with the Mons clasp. 

I'm on the look-out now for the first (1969) edition of this book, plus subsequent editions.  I still rue the day, back in the days when I did not collect medals, that I sold a 1914 Star trio in my local market for £12.  Then again, that was some years ago and looking at Joslin's valuations, it probably wasn't such a bad deal (although that's one sale that I do regret).

11 October 2011

7162 Pte Alexander Burns, Royal Highlanders

I've written about 7162 Private Alexander Burns before.  Since that post, I've managed to retrieve his Boer War medal rolls from Ancestry, and also his First World War medal index card.  I looked in vain on WO 363 and WO 364 for a surviving service record, and also checked WO 97 over at findmypast.co.uk on the offchance that there might be something there that had been mis-filed.  There wasn't.  I did however, find papers in WO 96 which show that Alexander joined the Forfar and Kincardine Artillery (militia) on the 11th October 1898. He signed his name as "Alex Burns", giving his age as 17 years and 11 months and his place of birth as Dundee.  He was a mill-worker employed by Mr Scott of Dundee; not a lot to go on in terms of research leads, but at least it's a lead of sorts.

Alex was slight. He stood five feet, five and a half inches tall and weighed 109lbs (which is just seven stones and 11 pounds).  He had a fresh complexion, grey eyes and brown hair.  A scar on the second finger of his right hand is also recorded.

Alex's attestation was approved at Perth on the 12th October 1898 but he was barely with the regiment before he joined the Royal Highlanders on the 20th January 1899.  He had completed 49 days of drill and his character was noted as "good". 

There are only four pages of this service record that survive in WO 96 but crucially, on page four, Alex's father is recorded as Frank Burns of 17 Arbroath Road, Dundee.  This again, should enable further research.