Selling Val­our

RCN News - - Contents -

When our vet­er­ans of the Sec­ond World War packed up their mea­gre col­lec­tions of per­sonal ef­fects, uni­form kit and doc­u­ments and walked up the gang planks of hulk­ing grey troop­ships bound for Europe and the Far East, they car­ried with them the in­no­cence of youth, the trep­i­da­tions of young men and women about to test their met­tle and a pow­er­ful sense of im­mor­tal­ity. Those that re­turned, in some cases five years later, were un­bur­dened of their youth, re­lieved of their in­vin­ci­bil­ity and de­void of any ro­man­tic no­tions about the glo­ries of war. As they boarded trains and headed home across this mag­nif­i­cent coun­try, there was am­ple time to con­tem­plate and weigh their ex­pe­ri­ences of war. There was a real sense of the fu­til­ity and ob­scen­ity of war, of great per­sonal loss and tight­ness brought on by years of de­pri­va­tion, yet there was an over­rid­ing feel­ing that these past dif­fi­cult months and years would be the great­est of their lives.

These men and women, these war­riors, were not born to it or nat­u­rally mar­tial in their out­look. They came from a hardy, sim­ple and un­com­monly po­lite pop­u­lace, spread like sewn seed across a land some 3,000 miles in breadth. They came from farms, high schools, fac­to­ries, gov­ern­ment of­fices and a wide sam­pling of ev­ery walk of life. There were heirs to for­tunes and men not long off the bread lines. There were men and women of cities and those from more ru­ral roots. There were lon­ers and be­longers, free­boot­ers and pedants, lone wolves and team play­ers. They went to war as a scat­ter­ing of di­verse back­grounds, and those that sur­vived and re­turned, did so as equal parts of one great ex­pe­ri­ence.

The large per­cent­age of them would never don a mil­i­tary uni­form again. Most pilots and air­men would never fly again; sailors never sail again, sol­diers never fire a weapon again. They chose in­stead to fade back into the struc­ture of so­ci­ety, like ac­tors ex­it­ing a stage be­hind a scrim, wo­ven back into the fab­ric of the land, in­vis­i­ble on the street. For the last seven decades, he­roes, giants and le­gends walked un­seen among us.

These men brought home with them small per­sonal col­lec­tions of pho­to­graphs, ar­ti­facts, me­men­tos, log­books, and bits of uni­form—talismans of their good for­tune, mem­o­ries of lost friends, and dec­la­ra­tions of their trav­els and ac­com­plish­ments. Nearly all kept these tan­gi­ble mem­o­ries in boxes and al­bums, many of which found their way to dusty at­tics and mouldy base­ments. Ev­ery one of them, how­ever, brought home or was later el­i­gi­ble for cer­tain medals and dec­o­ra­tions depend­ing on their theatre of ser­vice. These sim­ple things of brightly coloured wo­ven rib­bon and non-pre­cious met­als were their mem­ber­ship cards to an hon­oured so­ci­ety of du­ti­ful and honourable men and women, nearly all of whom had made some sac­ri­fice to gain en­try—phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal in­jury, de­pri­va­tion, deep loss, home­sick­ness and even death. To walk into a room at the Le­gion Hall with one’s “gongs” on one’s chest was an act of great pride, for they told a tale about your ser­vice and con­firmed your be­long­ing. A stranger could come up to you and shake your hand, and with a sim­ple knowl­edge­able glance at your cam­paign stars and medals, know that you fought in the Far East or the At­lantic or the Pa­cific. Bars or “clasps” told an even more de­tailed story of hard­ship—con­firm­ing that you were at Dieppe, Hong Kong, in Bomber Com­mand or the Bat­tle of Bri­tain.

Medals, known as “dec­o­ra­tions” and “or­ders” such as the Distin­guished Fly­ing Medal and Cross or the Mil­i­tary Cross earned you greater re­spect, more know­ing glances. The sim­ple colour­ful ar­ray of medals and dec­o­ra­tions on your chest could of­fer a story of rank and gal­lantry—Air Force Cross, DFC with Bar, Distin­guished Ser­vice Or­der or Cross, Ge­orge Cross, Or­der of the Bri­tish Em­pire and even Vic­to­ria Cross. I have met only one Vic­to­ria Cross re­cip­i­ent in my life, Pri­vate Ernest “Smokey” Smith, and be­ing in his pres­ence, as gre­gar­i­ous, rough hewn and down-to-earth as he was, made me speech­less with re­spect and awe. He wore the sim­ple crim­son rib­bon of the VC and the cross it­self was made from melted down can­nons cap­tured from the Rus­sians in the Crimean War.

For all these men and women, the cam­paign medals and dec­o­ra­tions were the sin­gu­lar tell that be­trayed their great­ness, worn only on days when they gath­ered to­gether. The fam­i­lies of these men and women were tear­fully grate­ful for their re­turn, were in awe of their ac­com­plish­ments and proud of the hon­our they had brought to fam­ily blood­lines. For ser­vice­men who had died in the line of duty, all medals and dec­o­ra­tions for which they were el­i­gi­ble were sent to their next of kin—in many cases, a young bride.

Upon the deaths of these vet­er­ans, their dec­o­ra­tions and hid­den-away me­men­tos passed on to their sons and daugh­ters and from them even to grand­chil­dren. If the fam­ily had a strong tra­di­tion of re­spect and hon­our for the fam­ily mem­ber that per­ished in com­bat

or came home to them a hero, these ar­ti­facts were trea­sured and cared for, as were the sto­ries and mem­o­ries of ser­vice and sac­ri­fice. To­day, many a baby boomer has his or her fa­ther’s medals pol­ished, mounted in a shadow box of black vel­vet and on dis­play in a place of hon­our. Al­bums and barrack boxes are re­spect­fully and care­fully opened on Re­mem­brance Day and mem­o­ries un­leashed, emo­tions re­leased, hon­our made public.

Sadly, this was not al­ways the case. Many vet­er­ans kept quiet about their ser­vice and got on with re-in­vent­ing their lives and rais­ing a fam­ily. Chil­dren took this to mean they did not want to talk about it and as a re­sult, in some cases, never un­der­stood the full ex­tent of the story, never fully trea­sured the power of it all to bring great­ness to a fam­ily’s her­itage. If a child­less widow went on to re­marry as most wid­ows did, the medals and me­men­tos served only to re­open sad mem­o­ries of a lost love or to put stress upon the sec­ond mar­riage. They were of­ten kept in stor­age and upon her pass­ing, meant very lit­tle to a child who had no blood con­nec­tion or fore­knowl­edge of the de­ceased ser­vice­man.

And so, as that great­est of gen­er­a­tions grew old and be­gan to di­min­ish in num­bers, a grow­ing per­cent­age of these price­less ar­ti­facts and dec­o­ra­tions be­gan a silent slide into obliv­ion or have be­come de­tached from their orig­i­nal fam­i­lies. As bud­gets shrunk and time passed, na­tional in­sti­tu­tions such as our own Li­brary and Ar­chives Canada, who once held open arms to uni­forms, log­books and mem­o­ra­bilia, be­gan to turn down the ac­qui­si­tion of our mil­i­tary her­itage. One pretty well has to be a sem­i­nal fig­ure in Sec­ond World War history or be highly dec­o­rated for them to ac­cept your di­ary and log­book these days, and even then there are those in these in­sti­tu­tions who would pre­fer not to have to deal with them.

I have been con­tacted many times by rel­a­tives want­ing to find a home for their loved one’s log­book or dec­o­ra­tions as they felt that the fol­low­ing gen­er­a­tions no longer felt that con­nec­tion with history. One could feel the des­per­a­tion as they sought to find a home for them be­fore they were lost. Over the years, as ter­ri­ble as it is to con­tem­plate, some were land­filled. Many were laid out at a garage sale; many more were mis­han­dled and dam­aged be­yond re­pair. Then came eBay.

With the ad­vent of eBay, things that once were con­sid­ered price­less and be­yond the dirt­i­ness of dol­lars, found an in­trin­sic mon­e­tary value. Now a great grand­child could sell off those dusty, old and mean­ing­less medals to a col­lec­tor and with the money, buy some ob­ject of their ma­te­ri­al­is­tic de­sire… on eBay of course! These ob­jects do not, in and of them­selves, have the abil­ity to speak to their mean­ing and great­ness. A young thirty-some­thing in his new “Beemer” doesn’t give a rat’s ass about “all that crap” in the base­ment, not be­cause he is self-ab­sorbed or ig­no­rant (though this is pos­si­ble), but rather they have never been in­formed of the great­ness that lies within the rib­bon and me­tal and old pho­to­graphs. If it means noth­ing to them, but some­thing to a col­lec­tor, then why not sell it off and buy some­thing that does mean some­thing… like a new 3D tele­vi­sion.

Just this minute I went to eBay to find some num­bers. There is a whole mas­sive cat­e­gory ded­i­cated to “mil­i­taria”. I sim­ply clicked on the search win­dow with­out ask­ing for any­thing in par­tic­u­lar. To­day, 17 March 2015, there were 710,383 items for sale of mil­i­tary her­itage. A good per­cent­age was re­pro­duc­tions, but there was at least half a mil­lion medals, pho­to­graphs, col­lec­tions, uni­forms and mil­i­tary equip­ment items for sale.

The beauty of eBay is that it con­nects these ar­ti­facts with col­lec­tors, peo­ple who ac­tu­ally do care about them. I have no is­sue with most col­lec­tors for many un­der­stand the emo­tional and his­tor­i­cal na­ture of these ar­ti­facts, and are sim­ply in­ter­ested in keep­ing them safe. I have no is­sue with younger gen­er­a­tions who place no fa­mil­ial value what­so­ever on these ar­ti­facts, for they were not taught or brought up in a fam­ily that val­ued such her­itage.

What truly sad­dened me are two things. Firstly, the mon­e­tary value reached by col­lec­tors is es­tab­lished by and is de­pen­dent on the rar­ity of the cam­paign medals and the level and num­ber of the dec­o­ra­tions. The medals of Flight Sergeant Smith with a Distin­guished Ser­vice Medal and Burma Star might be val­ued less than a Wing Com­man­der Jones with a DFC and Africa Star. Bat­tle of Bri­tain and Malta prove­nance might bring a pre­mium over and above a Bomber Com­mand mem­ber’s medals. It dis­tresses me to see a scale of value put on men and women who were sim­ply car­ry­ing out the or­ders they were given. A man, who ac­cepted his fate as an in­struc­tor pi­lot and car­ried out his du­ties with pro­fes­sion­al­ism and de­vo­tion to duty is some­how, through the fil­ter of money, con­sid­ered to have con­trib­uted less. It makes me sad, for all ser­vice has the same value, if not the same story.

Se­condly, and this is the most se­ri­ous prob­lem, col­lec­tions of pho­to­graphs, me­men­tos and medals are of­ten bro­ken up and their com­po­nents sold off in­di­vid­u­ally in or­der to wring greater profit. Re­cently, my good friend Richard Mal­lory All­nutt, a gifted writer, pho­tog­ra­pher and ex­tremely knowl­edge­able his­to­rian and ad­vo­cate of cher­ish­ing our her­itage drew my at­ten­tion to seven black and white post­cards that were for sale in­di­vid­u­ally on eBay. The post­cards were orig­i­nally a set of seven, for each was num­bered. The post­cards were made aboard HMS Vic­to­ri­ous and de­picted seven pho­to­graphs taken aboard the Royal Navy air­craft car­rier dur­ing her search for and her at­tack on the Ger­man bat­tle­ship Bis­marck. The cards were likely cre­ated in the pho­to­graphic sec­tion aboard the car­rier and of­fered to crew mem­bers as me­men­tos of the ac­tion—each hav­ing been ap­proved by the Navy cen­sor aboard. Each post­card had no­ta­tions on the re­verse side de­scrib­ing the scene on the front that were clearly writ­ten by the hand of some­one who had been aboard dur­ing the Bis­marck cam­paign. The im­ages de­picted scenes of a ship ready­ing for ac­tion and then find­ing and en­gag­ing the en­emy.

If my mem­ory serves me well, they were of­fered up for sale at around £30 (pounds ster­ling). Within days, they had dis­ap­peared from view on eBay, pur­chased likely by a col­lec­tor of mil­i­tary me­men­tos or pos­si­bly even spe­cial­iz­ing in such things as Royal Navy air­craft car­ri­ers, mil­i­tary post­cards or even as spe­cific as all things Vic­to­ri­ous. The prob­lem was, how­ever, that the last post­card of the se­ries was not sold and was still avail­able on eBay.

This card showed a sim­ple view of the Chapel of Saint Christo­pher aboard HMS Vic­to­ri­ous. Of all the cards it was the only one which did not de­pict any of the ac­tion, did not speak of the Bis­marck nor show any mil­i­tary hard­ware. I be­lieve (and I could be just guess­ing) that the buyer saw this as less valu­able and in do­ing so broke up the set by sim­ply pur­chas­ing the ones he de-

sired. But here’s the thing. I be­lieve that this post­card was per­haps one of the most telling of the set—al­lud­ing to the stresses and emo­tions of those “in peril on the sea.” It is clear from the an­no­ta­tion on the re­verse side that the writer sought so­lace there through­out the ac­tion. In many ways, this tells us how some sailors dealt with their fears and mor­tal­ity, how they found the strength to face a pos­si­ble toe-to-toe bat­tle with a fear­some en­emy. History is only com­plete if all of it is em­braced. To cut away parts that are less de­sir­able is to re­move the nu­ance and depth. Sad.

The first in the se­ries of eight post­cards. The im­age fea­tured on the front can be found in the photo archive of the Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum with the at­tached cap­tion: HMS Aurora, es­cort­ing Vic­to­ri­ous in dash to get within strik­ing dis­tance of Bis­marck, finds dif­fi­culty in keep­ing up in poor weather. The back side of the card car­ries a point form de­scrip­tion of the front from a man who, from the var­i­ous cards, ap­pears to have been on board Vic­to­ri­ous. The in­scrip­tion reads: Pur­suit of Bis­mark. [Sic – The writer spells the ship’s name in­cor­rectly through­out] 1) Com­mence­ment of the chase. 2) The wake of “Vic­to­ri­ous” denotes tremen­dous speed at which she was trav­el­ling. 3) A heavy sea bridge – High, break­ing over es­cort­ing cruiser. The bows of which are just emerg­ing thro’ the spray, like the head and shoul­ders of a man. 4) Note in right half of photo, on hori­zon-line two of our de­stroy­ers screen­ing “Vic­to­ri­ous”. Although Aurora looks small in this im­age, she was in fact a 6,600 ton light cruiser. Photo: Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum

In this dra­matic shot of the bows of Vic­to­ri­ous, we see the raw Arc­tic and North At­lantic weather that ham­pered mak­ing con­tact with the Ger­man bat­tle­ship. The flight deck of Vic­to­ri­ous is some 50 feet above the wa­ter, so she is div­ing deep in a trough to take wa­ter over her deck. The in­scrip­tion on the card’s back reads: Pur­suit of Bis­mark 1) “Vic­to­ri­ous” in heavy seas off “Ice­land”. 2) Re­ced­ing plume-like spray of a wave, in front and on both sides of bows. 3) Mea­sure off one inch in front of the ship, and you will have the for­ma­tion of another heavy-wave, about to break over the flight-deck. To the right we see one of her long range ra­dio an­ten­nae, nor­mally low­ered to hor­i­zon­tal for fly­ing oper­a­tions. Photo: Ad­mi­ralty Of­fi­cial Col­lec­tion, Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum

One of the best known pho­to­graphs of the Bis­marck chase and sink­ing is this one of the wind-whipped af­ter flight deck of HMS Vic­to­ri­ous lashed by rain with her com­ple­ment of Sword­fish Tor­pedo bombers tied down and rid­ing the heavy swell. All nine Sword­fish of 825 Squadron are clearly vis­i­ble as well as, in the ex­treme rear, two Fairey Ful­mars from 800Z Flight (just their pro­pel­ler tips are vis­i­ble above the last Sword­fish’s up­per wings). The writer de­scribes the scene: Pur­suit of Bis­mark 1) “Vic­to­ri­ous”, mak­ing her way to the take off point. of the first at­tack by planes on the Bis­mark. 2) On the evening of the at­tack, the planes hud­dled to­gether on the af­ter end of flight-deck. 3) As you look at the photo, you will ob­serve a tor­pe­doe [sic], se­cured to the un­der­car­riage of the plane on the ex­treme right. One feels the tense an­tic­i­pa­tion of the crew as they await con­tact with the en­emy. The au­thor of the words on the back of the card was likely be­ing kept in­formed of progress through the “tan­noy” or by word passed down. Photo: Ad­mi­ralty Of­fi­cial Col­lec­tion, Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum

Although this pho­to­graph from the Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum’s Ad­mi­ralty Of­fi­cial Col­lec­tion seems like sim­ply another Sword­fish tak­ing off from Vic­to­ri­ous, it is in fact the first Sword­fish to take off in an at­tempt to find and at­tack Bis­marck. The three men in this “String­bag” are at the very pointy end of a mas­sive op­er­a­tion in­volv­ing dozens of Royal Navy ships of the line. It would be these three men who would make first con­tact with the Ger­man raider. The no­ta­tions on the back give clear in­di­ca­tion that the writer was on board, for some of these de­tails would not be avail­able to the gen­eral public af­ter the fact. Pur­suit of Bis­mark 1) The first plane to at­tack, ris­ing off the flight-deck. 2) The ship was brought up to the wind, and made “steady”. 3) So strong was the wind, ship’s speed was re­duced for steady­ing-pur­poses. Nor­mal speed and lift­ing force of wind re­quired for such a take off = 40 miles per hour.

In one of the hard­est to read, yet im­mensely dra­matic, photos in the col­lec­tion and of the Bis­marck pur­suit, a Fairey Sword­fish ob­server of the Fleet Air Arm pho­to­graphs Bis­marck, the pride of the Ger­man Navy, steam­ing in heavy seas be­neath a heavy wet sky on 24 May 1941. We have added the arrow to bet­ter spot the ob­scure form of Bis­marck. The post­card of­fers the same view but closer in to the Ger­man bat­tle­ship. The in­scrip­tion on the back by the au­thor who be­gins to show a love of the ex­cla­ma­tion mark, reads: Pur­suit of Bis­mark 1) In the gath­er­ing dark­ness of an ar­tic-night [sic]. Bis­mark! Was sighted! 2) You can see her in the cen­tre of the pic­ture. 3) She is at the end of an arc like evad­ing turn. This photo was taken I be­lieve, by the first plane off. to at­tack. And register a hit. Look­ing at this im­age one can only imag­ine the pow­er­ful sense of ex­cite­ment and dread go­ing through the minds of the 825 Squadron Sword­fish’s three man crew. One can feel the frigid Arc­tic air, the damp­ness; hear the roar of the Pe­ga­sus en­gine and the wind in the wires, feel the threat of the mighty bat­tle­ship and the deep cold wa­ters upon which she ploughs her way home—a home she would never see. Photo: Ad­mi­ralty Of­fi­cial Col­lec­tion, Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum

The post­card at lower left de­picts the smoke ris­ing from Bis­marck when she was struck by a tor­pedo from one of Vic­to­ri­ous’ Sword­fish. While I could not find that ex­act photo on the Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum’s online photo records, I did find a sim­i­lar one from an ar­ti­cle on the UK’s Daily Mail Online news­pa­per dated 12 De­cem­ber 2012. Co­in­ci­den­tally the ar­ti­cle was about the sale, at auc­tion, of a sim­i­lar set of post­cards from another Vic­to­ri­ous crew mem­ber’s col­lec­tion. These cards all had sim­i­lar in­scrip­tions on the back, but the post­card of the tor­pedo strike smoke on the hori­zon had a photo taken a few mo­ments later (above). A sur­viv­ing Bis­marck crew mem­ber de­scribes the tor­pe­do­ing; “They came in fly­ing low over the wa­ter, launched their tor­pe­does and zoomed away. Flak was pour­ing from ev­ery gun bar­rel but didn’t seem to hit them. The first tor­pedo hissed past 150 yards in front of the Bis­marck’s bow. The sec­ond did the same and the third. Helms­man Hansen was op­er­at­ing the press but­tons of the steer­ing gear as, time and time again, the Bis­marck ma­noeu­vred out of dan­ger. She evaded a fifth and then a sixth, when yet another tor­pedo darted straight to­wards the ship. A few sec­onds later a tremen­dous shud­der ran through the hull and a tow­er­ing col­umn of wa­ter rose at Bis­marck’s side. The nickel-chrome-steel ar­mor plate of her ship’s side sur­vived the at­tack ...” This at­tack put Bis­marck down at her bow and had slowed her speed. Days later, another Sword­fish would crip­ple her rud­ders with another tor­pedo, al­low­ing cap­i­tal ships of the Royal Navy to catch her up and des­patch her. The in­scrip­tion on the back of the post­card reads: At­tack on Bis­mark! “El­e­ment of sur­prise!” “The best method of at­tack.” 1) The first tor­pe­doe [sic]. Well and truly laid. Finds its mark. On the Bis­mark. 2) Note the smoke of ex­plo­sion. 3) An inch to right of Bis­mark, is I think, the plane es­cap­ing “low over the sea”. Photo: Royal Navy The last two pho­to­graphs/post­cards of­fered for sale on eBay were in­fused with a deep sense of re­lief on the part of the writer. It is these words, com­bined with post­cards likely pro­duced aboard HMS Vic­to­ri­ous her­self, that gives them such power and in­trin­sic mon­e­tary value over and above the price­less na­ture of the me­mento. One can feel the ex­hale re­lease of ten­sion as the sailor writes... giddy even, over­whelmed by ex­cla­ma­tion marks: “Fi­nis!” “The end of the chase.” Rolling home to dear old Eng­land! From many miles across the sea! Note: The sea washed sides of “Vic­to­ri­ous.” Many a heart will beat true! Many a drink, will be drunk! By the proud men who built you! For your ef­fort! Ere’ “Bis­mark” was sunk! Photo: Royal Navy

When I checked the progress of the sale of the cards on eBay, I was sad­dened to see that all but the last card were sold, likely to the same bid­der as they dis­ap­peared at the same time. I was sad, be­cause it was fairly ob­vi­ous that the buyer did not care to pur­chase that last card as it had no mil­i­tary hard­ware por­trayed, no ac­tion, no Royal Navy ship work­ing her way to and from bat­tle. In fact, the last post­card, a shot of the chapel aboard Vic­to­ri­ous, looks as if it was taken in a land-based build­ing. Only the ship’s struc­ture, pip­ing and emer­gency lights give it away. My guess is that the buyer did not think this was as im­por­tant his­tor­i­cally as the oth­ers. It breaks my heart that this may have hap­pened, as for me, this shot has as much im­me­di­acy and im­por­tance his­tor­i­cally as the rest, largely be­cause of the in­scrip­tion on the other side: The Church of “St Christo­pher”. H.M.S. “Vic­to­ri­ous”. “Wherein I some­times dwell.” Padre: - The Rev; Dixon. M.A. R.N. Here clearly, the writer ex­presses with his hon­est Heart of Oak, that old adage: There are no athe­ists in a fox­hole. That the writer cared enough to in­clude it in his 7-card memoir of the Bis­marck ad­ven­ture is proof enough that it be­longs in the set, yet the buyer did not pur­chase it. And so his­tor­i­cal me­men­tos be­come a sort of emo­tional di­as­pora, scat­tered on the winds of time and whim, bro­ken down to com­po­nent pieces, to be sold off ac­cord­ing to a scale of value. Photo: Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum

But it’s not all sad. Some­times fam­ily mem­bers can be re­united with the me­men­tos of a long lost rel­a­tive. Re­cently, English­man Phil Grimwade was search­ing the in­ter­net for in­for­ma­tion and his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ence to his great un­cle Lieu­tenant Al­bert “Tid­dles” Brown, a Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Cor­sair pi­lot who died when his air­craft was brought down by flak whilst straf­ing the Ja­panese-held oil re­finer­ies at Palem­bang, Su­ma­tra. To his ut­ter sur­prise and de­light, he came upon Brown’s ser­vice medals for sale on eBay.

Brown’s widow would have been the re­cip­i­ent of these medals and when she re­mar­ried and moved to Canada, all con­nec­tion was lost by the fam­ily. It was likely that her chil­dren (a son who never met his fa­ther and per­haps oth­ers with no blood­line lead­ing to Brown), sim­ply did not see the fam­ily value in them. Likely, as new gen­er­a­tions came any emo­tional con­nec­tion to them had been bro­ken. Grimwade was able to pur­chase them and bring them home to the fam­ily of Al­bert Brown. Thanks to Grimwade’s in­ter­est in his great un­cle who was held in great es­teem, some of Al­bert’s me­men­tos are back where they truly be­long—cher­ished, revered, well cared for.

And here’s the rub. With­out an online auc­tion ser­vice like eBay it is very un­likely that Grimwade would ever have been able to find the medals and with­out the in­ter­net, to find any in­for­ma­tion about Brown for that mat­ter. In fact, his search brought him to find a cou­ple of ar­ti­cles on the Vintage Wings of Canada web­site that made men­tion of “Tid­dles” Brown.

I ask you to imag­ine that an an­ces­tor was a Royal Navy of­fi­cer aboard HMS Vic­tory with Nel­son at Trafal­gar, or a great grand­fa­ther who fought his way up Vimy Ridge with the Cana­dian Army or per­haps a great un­cle in the United States Marines who fought a mer­ci­less bat­tle against the sui­ci­dal Ja­panese at Iwo Jima. Imag­ine how proud you would be. But then imag­ine how these pow­er­ful sto­ries would flow with fa­mil­ial blood and come to life if you held in your hands a tri­corn naval of­fi­cer’s hat once doffed in “huz­zahs” for Nel­son at Trafal­gar, a bay­o­net that an an­ces­tor had af­fixed to his ri­fle as he fol­lowed a rolling bar­rage up Vimy ridge. These sto­ries are what fam­i­lies are made of. These an­ces­tors and rel­a­tives are the things that make you great, that colour our lives and bring mean­ing to our world. They are where we come from. They are our blood.

I am not one to quote song and lyric, but truth­fully in this case the best words about all this and our duty to re­mem­ber and teach our chil­dren come from a song—Teach Your Chil­dren by Crosby, Stills & Nash. I leave you with them now...

You, who are on the road, must have a code that you can live by. And so, be­come your­self, be­cause the past is just a good bye. Teach your chil­dren well, their fa­ther’s hell did slowly go by, And feed them on your dreams, the one they picked, the one you’ll know by. Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry, So just look at them and sigh, and know they love you.

And you, of ten­der years, can’t know the fears that your el­ders grew by, And so, please help them with your youth, they seek the truth be­fore they can die. Teach your par­ents well, their chil­dren’s hell will slowly go by, And feed them on your dreams, the one they picked, the one you’ll know by. Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry, So just look at them and sigh, and know they love you.

Lieu­tenant Al­bert “Tid­dles” Brown was a Fleet Air Arm (FAA) Cor­sair pi­lot fly­ing from the Royal Navy’s air­craft car­rier HMS Il­lus­tri­ous dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. When Brown’s great nephew, Phil Grimwade, spoke re­cently of his un­cle, he said “Al­bert has al­ways been an enig­matic char­ac­ter for us, my late Grand­fa­ther would some­times speak about their child­hood but any men­tion of his ser­vice in the FAA was gen­er­ally dis­cour­aged and his death was never spo­ken about. We think that Al­bert’s death

af­fected him quite deeply, and his of course was the gen­er­a­tion that ‘didn’t talk about things’. Per­son­ally I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant to share this in­for­ma­tion be­fore it is lost—the WWII vet­er­ans are dwin­dling now—so have taken it upon my­self to find out as much as I can.” Grimwade went search­ing for in­for­ma­tion on the in­ter­net, he found not much in­for­ma­tion but was as­ton­ished and de­lighted to find his Great Un­cle’s war ser­vice medals for sale on eBay! Af­ter Brown was killed in the line of duty whilst straf­ing the Ja­panese-held oil re­finer­ies at Palem­bang, Su­ma­tra, his ser­vice medals were sent posthu­mously to his widow. Brown’s widow and young son left the UK af­ter the war and moved to Canada along with his medals.

When Phil Grimwade en­tered Lieu­tenant Al­bert “Tid­dles” Brown’s name in the Google search win­dow, he was both shocked and de­lighted to find that the war ser­vice medals of his long-lost great un­cle were up for sale on eBay. It was sad to re­al­ize that Brown’s widow’s sec­ond fam­ily had not truly trea­sured these price­less me­men­tos, but Grimwade jumped at the chance to bring them back home to Brown’s fam­ily, where his mem­ory was so greatly re­spected. Clock­wise from up­per left: The War Medal 1939–1945: a Bri­tish medal awarded to those who had served in the Armed Forces or Mer­chant Navy full-time for at least 28 days be­tween 3 Septem­ber 1939 and 2 Septem­ber 1945. It would be paired with the rib­bon at right above (Red, white and blue stripes). The Burma Star: awarded for ser­vice in the Burma Cam­paign be­tween 11 De­cem­ber 1941 to 2 Septem­ber 1945. It was also awarded for cer­tain ser­vice (spec­i­fied by dates) such as China, Hong Kong and in the case of “Tid­dles” Brown, Su­ma­tra, where he was killed. Be­cause Brown was a re­cip­i­ent of the Burma Star, he could not re­ceive a Pa­cific Star. In­stead, he was awarded the equiv­a­lent: The Pa­cific Clasp, the small hor­i­zon­tal bar which was to be af­fixed to the rib­bon of the Burma Star. The Burma Star rib­bon, re­puted to have been de­signed by King Ge­orge VI him­self, is the one sec­ond from left above (The broad dark blue stripes rep­re­sent Bri­tish forces, the red stripe Com­mon­wealth forces, and the bright or­ange stripes rep­re­sent the sun). The 1939–1945 Star: was a cam­paign medal is­sued to ser­vice­men and women of the Bri­tish Com­mon­wealth for any pe­riod of op­er­a­tional ser­vice over­seas be­tween 3 Septem­ber 1939 and 8 May 1945 (2 Septem­ber 1945 in the Far East). It re­quired a min­i­mum of 180 days afloat for Navy per­son­nel such as Brown. It was sus­pended from the dark blue, red and light blue rib­bon sec­ond from the right above. Fi­nally, at bot­tom, The At­lantic Star and its gor­geous rib­bon (up­per left) which was awarded for no less than six months afloat in the At­lantic or Home Wa­ters. The 1939–1945 Star must have been awarded BE­FORE com­mence­ment of qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the At­lantic Star. The beau­ti­ful rib­bon from which the At­lantic Star hung was also said to have been de­signed by Ge­orge VI and the gra­di­ent wa­tered-blue, white and sea-green stripes de­noted the colours of the At­lantic Ocean. It is telling to note that the medals them­selves came in their orig­i­nal wax-pa­per sleeves and that the rib­bons had never been at­tached, nor the Pa­cific Clasp sewn to the 1939–1945 Star. While Brown’s medals were in pris­tine con­di­tion, it was clear that they had rarely seen the light of day. Photo: Phil Grimwade

A group pho­to­graph from the Sec­ond World War shows 30 pilots of the 15th Fighter Wing of the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm at Surabaya with Al­bert Brown (sec­ond from right in mid­dle row). The pilots in the Wing group photo are as fol­lows: Back row: Harry Whelp­ton, Reg Shaw, Matt Bar­bour, Tony Graham-Cann, Jock Fuller­ton, R. Quigg, Steve Starkey, Pete Richard­son (wing ob­server), Jake Mil­lard, Eric Rogers, Hugh MacLaren, Colin Facer, Stan Buchan, Gord Aitken, Hugh “Moe” Paw­son; Mid­dle row, seated: S. See­beck, Johnny Baker, Alan Booth, Bosh Mun­nock, Norm Han­son, Mike Trit­ton (the unit’s new com­man­der),

Bud Sut­ton, Percy Cole, Don Had­man, Al­bert “Tid­dles” Brown, Les Re­tal­lick; Front row, sit­ting on deck: Neil Brynild­sen, Jimmy Clark, Mike Ritchie, Brian Guy. Photo via Paw­son Fam­ily Archive A close-up of the pre­vi­ous photo re­veals Al­bert Brown sec­ond from right on mid­dle, re­splen­dent in his Navy whites and trop­i­cal shorts. Photo via Paw­son Fam­ily Archive

By Dave O’Malley

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