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1915: A lecture on War Medals to soldiers in Cuckfield preparing to go to war

Updated: Dec 27, 2022

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 27 April 1915



The men of the Post Office Rifles who are billeted in the Church Room at Cuckfield were afforded an opportunity on Friday evening of hearing an interesting lecture by Mr. W. Herrington on "War Medals.”

The Lecturer, who had a very attentive and appreciative audience, chatted to the men in an easy and conversational manner, telling at the start how the idea for the lecture originated, and his subsequent hunt for medals. At times he levelled criticism at the designers for a lack of artistic work, or for the design of medals which were not illustrative or symbolical of the campaigns for which they were awarded.

The Post Office Rifles in Cuckfield High Street 1915

It was just three years ago, Mr. HERRINGTON said, that he was asked by a neighbour of his (Colour- Sergeant Hounsell) to copy a medal given for long service in the old Volunteer Force. He had never copied one before, but he was so pleased with the result that he decided to copy others for lecturing purposes, and, as he frankly admitted, he had "begged, stolen, borrowed or bought" specimens of all the medals issued by the War Office during the last century, except two, those for the Niger Expedition of 1886 and 1897, and the second Ceylon medal, 1818.

After showing the Militia Long Service medal, which Sussex, being an agricultural county, was particularly interested in, illustrations of the Victoria Cross and the Distinguished Service Order were exhibited. The audience were then taken back to the Stewart period.

English Civil War Oliver Cromwell Army Dunbar Medal 1650 Roundheads Military

In those times medals were only issued to officers, but after the battle of Dunbar, Oliver Cromwell insisted that all ranks should be decorated, and the medal he obtained had a reference to the Lord of Hosts on the front, for, like the Kaiser, Cromwell thought the Almighty was always on his side. On the reverse was a view of the House of Commons. No more medals were issued by the War Office to the rank and file till Waterloo, but private medals were given by gentlemen to those who fought in the Battle of the Nile, and also at Trafalgar. In respect to the latter the officers of high rank were given gold medals, those of lower rank had silver, and the men pewter. The men considered pewter medals were small reward for their services, and many were thrown into the sea when presented at Torbay.

Over fifty years after Trafalgar the Navy General Service Medal with clasp for Trafalgar was issued to all who could be found, but by then many who had served had died. Slides of medals for the Peninsular Wars and the Crimean War were shown. and brought forth several interesting stories from the Lecturer.

In 1855, when England, France and Sardinia assisted Turkey against Russia, Turkey presented complimentary medals to the soldiers of those countries. The ship bringing the medals to England was sunk and a further lot were sent. But the second consignment differed in a slight respect in the arrangement of the flags, and the result was that English soldiers were given medals intended for the French and Sardinians. The illustration of this medal was from one belonging to a former local resident, who, Mr. Herrington said, was much put out when told he was wearing a Sardinian medal.

For services in the Crimea English soldiers received from France the Medaille Militaire, and officers in high command received the Military Cross of the Legion of Honour. Slides of these were shown, and of the latter the Lecturer said the design had never been beaten in all the world. Sardinia also gave a medal, which was inscribed “Al Valore Militaire.” There was no Russian medal to commemorate the Crimea.

Turning to Afghanistan, medals were shown of Ghujnee, Kelat-i-Ghibize and Cabul. The medal given for Jellalabad appeared without the effigy of the late Queen Victoria, and for that reason was called in by her Majesty, but many men conveniently lost them, as they considered the second design not so good. Lord Roberts' famous march from Cabul to Kandahar was also commemorated.

Turning to India, some little known but interesting medals awarded by the East India Company were shown, including the Deccan Medal, Seringapatam, Nepaul, Army of India, Army of the Punjab and Army of the Sutlej. The Persian inscriptions were amusing, as continued reference was made to "the bravery and intrepidity exhibited by the Sepoys of the English Company," and slides followed of those issued for the Indian Mutiny, the brief campaign in Tibet in 1903-4, Ceylon and Burma!). For the second Burmese war the East India Company issued a new one, which was a gem and symbolical of the war and country. For Waterloo the Duke of Wellington commenced the second distribution of military medals for the rank and file, and this medal bore the effigy of George, Prince Regent, as George III., in whose reign the battle was fought, was insane.

Mr. Herrington emphatically stated that it was the English who won this battle, but the Germans, under Blucher, came along and turned the defeat of the French into a rout. The various Germanic States issued medals to the German soldiers, slides of the Hanoverian and Prussian medals were exhibited, and also those awarded by Nasau and Saxe-Coburg. An inscription on the latter is worth recalling in the light of present-day happenings. it was in German, and translated reads "in the struggle for right."

Turning to the Colonies, slides of the Canadian medals for the Fenian Raid in 1866 and North-West Canada,1885, were commented on, and the “ugliest medal ever made,” the Lecturer said, was the Australian' medal given to the troops of that Colony when they first fought for the Empire, in the Soudan in 1885. An Australian medal was shown, which is given to local forces in Victoria for long and efficient service. A slide of a New Zealand medal awarded in connection with trouble with the Maories was followed by pictures of the South African medals. These, Mr. Herrington said, would particularly interest them, as he had seen many men of the Poet Office Rifles wearing the South African ribbon. Two for South Africa, in 1853 and 1877, and a later one for the Cape of Good Hope were shown and two given by the British Smith Africa Company for Matabeleland, 1893, and Rhodesia, 1896.

The Lecturer said it was not common knowledge, except among military men, that two medals were struck for the last South African War—the Queen's and the King's medal. A Sergeant who possessed both, lent him them for copying, but was so proud of them that he would not leave them but waited while they were copied. For the defence of Kimberley, 1899-1900, the mayor of that town, who was a wealthy man, gave a reward in the shape of a star to the forces engaged in the defence, and this was called the Kimberley Star. A slide of the medal given to the volunteer force for the Natal rising in 1896 concluded the South African series.

The attention of the audience was then directed to Egypt, where Great Britain assisted Turkey on several occasions. If ever there was a nation on the face of the earth that ought to be thankful to us it was Turkey, commented Mr. Herrington, and slides of the first Egyptian medals, Syria, 1848, Egypt, 1882, and the Khedive's complimentary star for the latter year were shown. Tel-el-Kebir, the Soudan, Omdurman and the Upper Valley of the Nile were commemorated with medals, whilst for Khartoum, General Gordon gave a reward to the troops himself. This decoration was called Gordon's Star, and was of very rough execution, the work being done by an Egyptian smith. Coming to West Africa, Wolseley's medal for conspicuous gallantry in Ashantee was shown with the first Ashantee medal and also the Ashantee star for the five weeks' campaign in 1896. The War Office did not think it worth while to issue a medal for this campaign, so Queen Victoria commanded one herself. It was designed by Princess Henry of Battenberg, and bore the simple but cherished inscription, "From the Queen" on the reverse, with " Ashantee" on the front. Another medal was issued for the third Ashantee war, quite different from the "Star" and first medal. East Africa was commemorated by Uganda, 1900, and Abyssinia.

To close the lecture Mr. Herrington showed three medals for Polar discovery. The first two were for the search for the North-West passage, and the third was instituted in 1876 for Antarctic work, and is the same as is awarded to-day.

Although 140 slides were put through the lantern (which was worked by Mr. Frank Knight) several were omitted, including those for Java, Mauritius, China and the Baltic, and Mr. Herrington has hopes of bringing his lecture right up to date shortly by the addition of slides of the Military Cross and the French Medaille Militaire, which have been awarded to Mid-Sussex men during the present war.

Sergeant CARDINAL proposed a hearty vote of thanks to the Lecturer, saying they might travel many miles without seeing and hearing what they had that evening. The men signified their appreciation of Mr. Herrington's kindness by loudly applauding.



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