Saturday 12 September 2020

The QSA and Other Medals

 The Orders and Medals Research Society holds an annual convention. This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic the convention was cancelled. One feature of the convention are the members' exhibits - a feast of medals and showcasing research with innovative displays. The exhibits are judged and prizes awarded. To continue the exhibits the OMRS organised a Virtual Exhibition.

Today was the end of the Virtual Exhibition and three awards were given, I was delighted to score Highly Commended in all three categories:

Best Exhibit: Winner Jim Kemp - The Fateful Night of 16th December 1910. High Commended: Chris Bacon - Mystery Bomber, and Meurig Jones - The QSA and other medals.

Best Use of Technology: Winner David Doorne - Let Not The Deep Swallow Them Up. Highly Commended: Jonathan Smith - British Orders – The Documents, and Meurig Jones - The QSA and other medals.

Best Overall Exhibit: Winner David Doorne - Let Not The Deep Swallow Them Up. Highly Commended: Jonathan Smith - British Orders – The Documents, Meurig Jones - The QSA and other medals, Chris Bacon - Mystery Bomber and Jim Kemp - The Fateful Night of 16th December 1910.

My exhibit illustrated how the QSA is the centre point of British military history. Men who earned the QSA served in campaigns from the Crimea to WWII, a period of 91 years. The most recent medal found to be awarded with a QSA is the 1953 Coronation Medal.

A PDF of the exhibit can be downloaded here.

Sgt Ellis - accidentally shot or murdered?

I was recently emailed by a family researcher in Australia asking if I could help clear up the mystery surrounding the death of Sgt 2616 John David Jones Ellis, 4th (militia) battalion Somerset Light Infantry. Sgt Ellis is recorded in the official casualty roll as "Accidentally shot by a comrade" on April 25th, 1900 at East London, Cape Colony.

My correspondent had found two British newspapers (Bristol Mercury 28-04-1900 and Western Mail 27-04-1900) stating that Sgt Ellis has been "deliberately shot" by a private "undergoing punishment drill". 

Which source is correct, the official casualty roll or the newspaper, and can we determine who shot Sgt Ellis?

Court martial records do not as a rule exist for the war and Sgt Ellis' papers do not survive which is a shame. To answer these questions I looked at the QSA roll for the 4th bn Somerset Light Infantry to identify any men who had forfeited their medal for committing a crime. A number of men were noted on the roll as being returned to the UK as prisoners but one remark stood out: 

"Forfeited medal on conviction by civil power, sentenced to penal servitude for life"

The man in question was Pte 5495 WJ Holloway.

Fortunately his papers survive and they are marked in red ink on two pages with the word

Holloway was discharged from the Army on the 24th August, 1900 following his conviction for murder presumably of Sgt Ellis.

The newspapers provide some background to Sgt Ellis' military career. He had been one of the battalion Permanent Staff suggesting he had frist served as a regular soldier. At the 1899 summer camp on Claverton Down Sgt Ellis was the battalion police-sergeant. He later was based at Bath recruting men to the battalion and then moved to the Depot at Taunton. Pte Holloway was recruited in Bristol in November 1899, the two probably did not know much of each other before the battalion left for South Africa.

The battalion was embodied for war service on 4th December, 1899. They did not go overseas until March 1900 disembarking at East London on 2nd April, 1900. Sgt Ellis was killed just three weeks later leaving a widow, they had been married for just two months.

The final proof that validates the usefulness of the medal rolls in this type of research comes with a newspaper report I found in the Bath Chronicle & Weekly Gazette (05-07-1900) detailing the court case. Pte Holloway pleaded guilty, he had shot Sgt Ellis in front of other defaulters. The defence tried to argue Pte Holloway did not know his rifle was loaded and cocked. Pte Holloway was sentenced to death with a recommendation for mercy which was granted.


Wednesday 26 August 2020

Who Was There? The Siege of Wepener April 1900

The clasp qualification states:

“All troops engaged in the defence of Wepener between 9th April, 1900 and 25th April, 1900, both dates inclusive.”

The troops involved were from the Colonial Division with a small number of British regulars. The siege actually occurred a few miles west of the town in a specially chosen site bordering the Jammersberg Drift on the Caledon River. Wepener is in the Orange Free State, so this clasp is cannot be awarded with the Orange Free State clasp.

The clasp is sought after for the action it represents and the fact it was the second smallest issue of a clasp behind Relief of Mafeking. However, that does not make it rare in the market, medals with the clasps are frequently traded. The clasp also appears incorrectly on medals so it is essential to verify the entitlement before paying the premium this clasp attracts.

In November 2012 I completed a new Wepener roll published on The Register. This was the first digital roll ever published. A hardcopy roll was created by Stanley M Kaplan of Johannesburg which he privately printed undated. The Acknowledgements reads like a "Who's Who" in the history of QSA research; MG Hibbard, DR Forsyth and Diana Birch. The roll was assembled before the internet and databases existed for the masses. The approach was to read the medal roll for each unit known to be involved and pick out the entitled men, then follow leads from history books and sales catalogues for 'odd men'. Because the vast majority of clasps were awarded to men in colonial units creating the roll was more difficult. Very many colonials served in more than one unit and some medals correctly carrying the Wepener clasp are named to units that did not serve in Wepener. It can get confusing trying to cross reference medal rolls. Many served in units both of which were present at Wepener, such as 1st & 2nd Brabant's Horse. This raises the question; "With which unit did they serve at Wepener?", to resolve this you need access to the casualty rolls, enlistment dates in attestation papers (WO126 The National Archives) and discharge books (WO127 The National Archives). The Register has resolved a number of these discrepancies.

In 2012 I had the advantage of computers and of course Kaplan's roll, which unwittingly contains some duplicates, I have removed these from the figures presented here for his roll. 

The figures presented below represent updated knowledge on the Wepener clasp.

British Empire Units at Wepener

Unit HMG The Register Kaplan
Brabant's Horse, 1 345 364 371
Brabant's Horse, 2 459 469 470
Brabant's Horse (1st Life Guards)   3  
Brabant's Horse (19th Bengal Lancers)   1  
Brabant's Horse (21st Lancers)   1  
Brabant's Horse (7th Hussars)   1  
Brabant's Horse (8th Hussars)   2  
Brabant's Horse (Bedfordshire Regiment)   1  
Brabant's Horse (Cape Garrison Artillery)   3  
Brabant's Horse (Colonial Scouts)   3  
Brabant's Horse (Liverpool Regiment)   1  
Brabant's Horse (Loch's Horse)   1  
Brabant's Horse (Oxfordshire Light Infantry)   2  
Brabant’s Horse – sub-total 804 852 841
Cape Mounted Rifles 520 521 517
Cape Mounted Rifles (Cape Medical Staff Corps)   1  
Cape Mounted Rifles (Garrison Artillery Royal)   4  
Cape Mounted Rifles (Staff)   1  
Cape Mounted Rifles (Kitchener's Galloping Maxims (Field Artillery Royal))   1  
Cape Mounted Rifles – sub-total 520 528 517
Colonial Defence Force Staff   1  
Driscoll's Scouts 56 47 78
Driscoll's Scouts (Frontier Mounted Rifles)   9  
Driscolls Scouts (Queenstown Rifle Volunteers)   3  
Driscoll's Scouts (Xalanga Border Mounted Rifles)   1  
Driscoll’s Scouts – sub-total 56 60 78
Kaffrarian Rifles 393 418 423
Kaffrarian Rifles (Cape Garrison Artillery)   1  
Kaffrarian Rifles (Queenstown Rifle Volunteers)   3  
Kaffrarian Rifles – sub-total 393 422 423
Royal Scots 81 82 83
Royal Scots (Berkshire Regiment)   1  
Royal Scots – sub-total 81 83 83
Royal Army Medical Corps 6    
Royal Engineers 11 11 11
Total Present at the Defence of Wepener 1898 1957 1953

HMG - for reference the numbers published in an authorative history in 1907; History of the War in South Africa 1899-1902, vol II. Mjr-Genl Sir F Maurice KCB, Hurst & Blackett, 1907 - p315

MG Hibbard ( "The Single Bar" (Cape Town 1964)) gives a total of 1900 Wepener clasps awarded, 1806 to colonial units.

There is no evidence the Royal Army Medical Corps had any representatives at Wepener. Where HMG got this information is not known. Interestingly Hibbard states 6 men of the Cape Medical Staff Corps were awarded the Wepener clasp. Kaplan lists one but he is on the strength of Brabant's Horse.

From the table you will notice the number of other units represented from officers and men attached, and others who served in units prior to transferring to a unit that served at Wepener. This means you may find medals named to units not present at Wepener, many are genuine, but some are bogus and need checking carefully. There are also medals named to units that men served in after Wepener, the South African Light Horse are an example, see here.

Trying to resolve entitlement through Ancestry is not easy as you are completely reliant on the skill of their indexing, which is not great, and having to create and follow a trail from one unit to another. The Register removes this by presenting one record per man with all their units shown as well as clasp entitlement, and other infromation such as awards, casualty and perhaps service in other wars.

Clasps that "got away"

A feature of the Wepener clasp is the confusion when the medal rolls were compiled over who was eligible, many thought the relief force was eligible and you will find on the medal rolls incorrect allocation of the clasp to relief force units. In many cases the entitlement was corrected before medals were issued. The Border Horse roll is a good example of this. 

The table below shows units known to have Wepener clasps issued incorrectly and not re-claimed, some are shown on the roll as eligible but why is not clear. Some of these are known on the market.

Unit The Register Kaplan Notes
10th Hussars 2   Relief Force
9th Lancers 1   Relief Force
Grenadier Guards 1   Relief Force
HMS Doris 1   Odd man
Imperial Yeomanry (Staff) 3   Relief Force
Imperial Yeomanry 1   Odd man
Johannesburg MR/Prince Alfred’s Volunteer Guard 1 1 Odd man
Lancashire Fusiliers 1   Odd man
Royal Irish Rifles 1   Odd man
Total Odd men 12 1  

The "odd men" are simply that, the medal roll indicates entitlement to the clasp but, why needs to be investigated. The Relief Force medals are more straight forward - simple clerical error. 

Eighteen sailors from HMS Doris were incorrectly allocated the Wepener clasp, 17 were re-claimed, one made it to the market and sold for £2800 in 2007. See Barrett J. Carr’s related article published in the O.M.R.S. Journal (Summer 1977).

Right, the QSA awarded to Pte 2675 A Swales, 10th Hussars. He was servant to Mjr-Genl JP Brabazon who was in command on the IY in South Africa and commanded the relief force. Brabazon's entitlement to Wepener was cancelled and his clasp re-claimed. Somehow Swales' clasp was not reclaimed. His medal was considerably cheaper than the HMS Doris medal.

MG Hibbard in his great paper, "The Single Bar" (Cape Town 1964) cites four examples of a QSA with the the single clasp Wepener, all have proved to be multi-clasp entitlements and not all entitled to Wepener anyway.  

  • 829 Trpr GJ Ovens, Brabant's Horse
  • Trpr W Pritchard, Border Horse
  • 1176 Pte CE Jarvis, Steinaecker's Horse
  • 3864 Pte G King, Royal Scots

  • Casualties during the siege

    Unit Total % All Casualties Killed Wounds - Died Total Fatalities % All Fatalities Missing - Released Wounded
    Brabant's Horse 39 23.21 6 2 8 23.53 1 30
    Cape Mounted Rifles 99 58.93 17 5 22 64.71   77
    Driscoll's Scouts 9 5.36 1   1 2.94   8
    Kaffrarian Rifles 11 6.55 1   1 2.94   10
    Scots, Royal 10 5.95 2   2 5.88   8
    Total 168 100 27 7 34 100 1 133

    Buying a Wepener clasp medal

    The Register has logged 551 sales of 303 Wepener clasp medals, The "survival rate" is 15%. This statistic shows they are well traded, this year alone eleven have been recorded for sale. As The Register logs more sales data these numbers will rise. This includes medals named to a unit served in subsequent to the siege.

    Unit Sold Survival Rate % Issued
    10th Hussars 1 50.00 2
    7th Hussars 1 100.00 1
    Brabant's Horse 104 12.48 833
    Cape Garrison Artillery 1 25.00 4
    Cape Mounted Rifles 91 17.47 521
    Colonial Defence Force 1 100.00 1
    Driscoll's Scouts 6 12.77 47
    Engineers, Royal 3 27.27 11
    Field Artillery, Royal 1 100.00 1
    Frontier Mounted Rifles 1 11.11 9
    Garrison Artillery, Royal 2 50.00 4
    Irish Rifles, Royal 1 100.00 1
    Kaffrarian Rifles 73 17.46 418
    Kitchener's Horse 1 100.00 1
    Lancashire Fusiliers 1 100.00 1
    Scots, Royal 15 18.29 82

    Saturday 25 July 2020

    Re-Named Medals - What do they look like? A Beginner's Guide

    The QSA and KSA was always issued named, there are a variety of styles that are either engraved or impressed.

    There is no susbstitute to reading, researching and looking at as many QSAs & KSAs as you can - obviously a medal in the hand is of more value than a sketchy image on the internet or in a book - but needs must these days!

    Fortunately, unlike other campaign medals such as Waterloo and Crimea medals QSAs and KSAs have not been targetted by fraudsters naming up medals to deliberately deceive. However, you come across copies of the medals themselves - usually poor quality and easily spotted when compared to a genuine medal - eBay is full of poor quality copies, have a browse!

    Of more concern are genuine medals that have been re-named, most of these are easily spotted because in order to rename the medal the existing naming needs to be erased. The act of erasing, known as "skimming", always removes part of the medal thus impacting the overall diameter and the width of the rim is not consistent.

    This medal has been skimmed, the two red circles indicate the width of the rim and if you look from 3 o'clock to 9 o'clock the width of the rim decreases as part of the medal has been removed (skimmed) to erase the naming already on the medal.

    In general the details put onto the rim were consistent:

    Royal Navy - Initials, Surname, Rank, Ship
    Army (including colonial units) - Number, Rank, Initials, Surname, Unit

    There can be variation in the Unit; battalion number, volunteer battalion or volunteer service company, the suffix "MI" for mounted infantry.

    Civilians & Nurses: Rank (not for all), Initials, Surname

    You will see variations to the above, generally this is ok, if the medal has not been re-named. Identifying a re-named medal is better than relying on the syntax of the rim details.

    This image shows the naming on the rim from the medal above. This style of naming is common on re-named medals and never seen on officially named medals. You can see the metal in each letter is very rough, hence the name "chisel engraved".

    Part re-named QSA, the rank is correct, the initial and surname have been re-named

    Engraved Naming - found on medals to Army officers (but not all colonial units), some medals engraved on the QSA to other ranks in the RE, ASC and a few cavalry and infantry regiments.

    Top: engraved QSA, compare neatness to re-named example. Bottom is an impressed KSA.    

    QSA engraved in India - very similar to the India General Service medals.

    QSA engraved to a sapper of the Royal Engineers.

    Impressed Naming - most common naming, in a variety of sizes on both QSA & KSA. Medals named during and after WW1 have naming similar to the British War Medal - thin mid-size capitals.

    Official Renaming - the Mint recycled medals and these are known as "official re-names". There will be signs of skimming, but usually less severe than in the first example shown above. The new naming will be in the correct style and you may see traces of the first naming applied.

    Most of the naming was done in the UK, some slver and bronze medals were named in India. Another set of medals to Australian and New Zealand troops were named in those countries, these are medals presented by the future King Edard VII on his world tour in 1901 aboard HMS Ophir, you can read more here.

    If you would like to contribute images of re-named QSAs & KSAs and genuine naming styles nto shown above please contact me.

    Sunday 19 April 2020

    Nesbitt's Horse casualties and the Siege of Philippolis, October 1900 - who was who?

    I picked this piece off the Boer War Medal Collector Facebook group as an excellent example of; 1) problems with the Official Casualty Roll and 2) a great piece of research to resolve problems with the Official Casualty Roll. My thanks to the medal collector and researcher Jonathan Tombs for allowing me to copy his work here.

    The Register has corrected and updated 40% of the records in the Natal Field Force Casualty roll and 45% of the records in the South African Field Force Casualty roll. From these numbers there is still considerable scope for correction, and Jonathan illustrates what is possible and the type of work needed to correct the casualty rolls and enhance our knowledge.

    The problem: a section of the South African Field Force Casualty Roll (JB Hayward & Sons 1982) showing Nesbitt's Horse casualties for the siege of Philippolis. There are no service numbers for the troopers.

    Looking at the medal roll for Nesbitt's Horse there are many men of the same surname, two men naned Schwartz and six men named Scott; how do you separate them out?

    Trooper Swartz (sic) is listed as wounded at Philippolis during the siege in 1900. There are two men with the name of Schwartz on Nesbitt's Horse roll. As my man had an Orange Free State clasp, whilst the other only had a Cape Colony clasp, my logic being as the action was in the Orange Free State anyone at Philippolis would qualify, but there was always an air of uncertainty. 

    After detailing all the data from various sources, I saw on a DNW auction a QSA, which I brought at a reasonable amount, in the hope of proving he was the "J Scott" wounded during the siege.
    I knew that two men with that surname were on the casualty lists but there are 6 Scott's on the medal rolls. As he was the only one to have an Orange Free State clasp and from D Squadron it had to be him. 

    I found a newspaper report from the Grahamstown Journal which listed the casualties in detail, and importantly listed the Squadron they were with, this clinched and confirmed that:- All the Nesbitt Horse participants came from D and F Squadron and all qualified for the Orange Free State clasp. 

    I created a Excel spreadsheet and listed all the data I had from various sources to identify these men:

    • SAFF Casualty List.
    • Newspaper Casualty List
    • Grahamstown Journal
    • Casualty List Times
    • Nominal Roll details listing all those with same surnames
    • WO100/262 Medal Roll details listing all those with same surname

    Another newspaper report from a member of the detachment from Norvalspont was found, this report mentioned Lieut Hanna, Nesbitt's Horse, as leading the men to Philippolis. A report from a relative of Tpr W.G. Hill mentions how Tpr O. Porch [Pooch in SAFF] was killed : 

    "Trooper George Water Hill, Number ??? Who fibbed his age to join Nesbitts Horse in Grahams Town, (he lived in Salem at the time) He was one of the 34 Nesbitt Horse under Lieut Hannah, who galloped to Phillipolis to relieve the siege. He ended up on Tomkin's Kopje for a few days. While the shooting went on, one shot went very close to his head, as he turned to say to his mate next to him, "that was close", the bullet had hit his mate straight between the eyes. His mate was Oscar Porch, whose grave is a few hundred metres away in the Phillipolis grave yard. Granddad recounted that he never looked over the rocks again."

    From all this data, Lt Hanna, Tpr O Porch and Tpr W.G. Hill were all unique names and this clarified the section of the roll that the squadrons were listed. It was clear to see that D Squadron (Roll signed at Colesburg 13 June 1902, and referenced by the Squadron OC as being D Squadron)  and F Squadron (Roll signed at Norvalspont 4 August 1901) were involved, and as the medal roll is separated into sections and squadrons I was able to say for sure which one of the 5 Scott's and which one of the 2 Schwartz's were my men.

    Interestingly, the medal to Trooper H. Dunn was sold as being a casualty, but there are two men with this surname on the roll. One was not even in Nesbitt's Horse at the time and neither was in D or F Squadrons and only qualified for a Cape Colony and SA1901 clasps. Also there is no mention of Dunn in any of the casualty reports. The SAFF list is not 100% and verification is always advised.

    Queens South Africa Medal 1899-1902 two clasps, Cape Colony, South Africa 1901 (Tpr H. DUNN. NESBITT’S H.) With copy medal roll. Trooper Dunn was wounded at Philippolis on 1st November 1900. A town in the Orange Free State, 45km west of Springfontein. The town and district provided burghers for a Commando for the Orange Free State forces. The town personally surrendered by the landdrost on 21st March 1900 to Lt-Gen Sir W.F. Gatacre who had ridden over with a small escort from Springfontein Junction. On 18th October 1900 some 200 burghers under Cmdt G.J. Scheepers attacked the town. The resident magistrate H. Gostling, with 11 police and some hastily recruited 30 men for the town guard, held off attemps to overwhelm them until they were relieved on 24th October by a detachment of Imperial Yeomanry. In December 1900, the garrison was withdrawn. Price: 225.00

    Following Jonathan's lead I have looked at the casualties reported in SAFF for the Siege of Philippolis, the dates range from 23rd October (Trpr Porch), "November" to 16th November (Philoppolis Town Guard). We know from The Gazetteer in The Register that the siege of Philoppolis was from 18-24 October, note the Grahamstown Journal cited above gives a casulty report dated 26th October. The initial force besieged comprised the Town Guard, Orange River Colony Police and some volunteers, some are included in the Grahamstown Journal list. Nesbitt's Horse joined the besieged garrison on 21st October. A releif force of 49 men from various cavalry regiments arrived outside the town on the 22nd but were forced to surrender that night. A second relief force of Imperial Yeomanry arrived on the 24th. The dates given in SAFF for the siege are wrong, except perhaps for Trpr Porch's death.

    I have made corrections in The Register for all the Philippolis casualties, and from newspaper reports added Agent CH Tonkin who was present at the real siege - "A Newlyn Man" (Cornishman 29-11-1900). His wife was there as well.