AN­TIQUES

When so many rushed off to war

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As we com­mem­o­rate the cen­te­nary of the sign­ing of the Ar­mistice in Novem­ber 1918, which brought an end to First World War, it is dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand the spirit of na­tion­al­ist fer­vour and jin­go­ism with which coun­tries rushed to war in 1914.

The Kaiser ap­par­ently as­sured his troops, “you will be home be­fore the leaves have fallen from the trees”.

In Bri­tain there were some re­al­ists like Sir Ed­ward Grey who fa­mously re­marked: “The lights are go­ing out all over Eu­rope”, and Lord Kitch­ener him­self fore­saw a pro­longed and costly con­flict. But many men rushed to vol­un­teer, fear­ing the war would be over by Christ­mas and they would miss out on an ex­cit­ing over­seas ad­ven­ture.

Lord Kitch­ener, re­mem­bered for his iconic, stern-faced “Your Coun­try Needs You” re­cruit­ment poster, is­sued his first re­cruit­ment poster a ‘Call to Arms’ in Au­gust 1914, ap­peal­ing for 100,000 men to vol­un­teer and by the end of Septem­ber more than half a mil­lion had an­swered the call. Many were en­cour­aged by friends, fam­i­lies and sweet­hearts who could never have imag­ined the car­nage that would de­velop in Flan­ders Fields.

The Fine Sale at Keys in Novem­ber had an in­ter­est­ing se­lec­tion of old gramo­phone records from the start of the Great War, in­clud­ing Christ­mas in Camp with Kitch­ener’s Boys, Land­ing of Bri­tish Troops in France and Fire

Alarm on­board a Troop­ship.

The record­ing en­ti­tled Kitch­ener’s Boys Christ­mas in Camp with Kitch­ener’s Boys cap­tures the spirit of ad­ven­ture and na­tion­al­is­tic fer­vour very well. The record­ing was made on the Re­gal la­bel and a roy­alty on sales was paid at the time to the Prince of Wales Funds, a char­ity set up to sup­port fam­i­lies whose men had vol­un­teered for mil­i­tary ser­vice.

A re­cruit­ment poster ‘Women of Bri­tain Say GO’ was typ­i­cal of the way men were en­cour­aged to vol­un­teer and an ex­am­ple was sold at Keys ear­lier this year.

Also at the sale was an item called Great War OBE, MC Group of seven medals be­long­ing to Ma­jor Gen­eral Arthur Wil­liam Purser, Royal Field Ar­tillery. These in­cluded the most ex­cel­lent or­der of The Bri­tish Empire Of­fi­cers (OBE), first type Mil­i­tary Divi­sion breast badge, frosted sil­ver, Lon­don hall­marked 1919, Mil­i­tary Cross, en­graved ‘Ma­jor A W Purser, 1st Jan­uary 1917’, 1914-15 Star en­graved ‘Capt A W Purser, RFA’, Bri­tish War Medal, en­graved, ‘Ma­jor A W Purser’, Vic­tory Medal, en­graved ‘Ma­jor AW Purser’, Ju­bilee medal 1935, Corona­tion medal 1937, plus set of sil­ver minia­tures, both groups mounted as worn, and, each housed in Spink & Son leather cases.

They were to­gether with var­i­ous re­lated items, 1903 ap­point­ment as an Of­fi­cer in Land Forces, 1913 Cer­tifi­cate of Sig­nalling, 1919, OBE doc­u­ment, 1922 Gun­nery Staff course cer­tifi­cate, 1937 Corona­tion Medal doc­u­ment, 1937 list of his sad­dlery, pho­to­graph of Purser in mil­i­tary uni­form, Panoramic group photo of 19th Field Ar­tillery, Bul­ford Camp, 1919, (Purser is seated in mid­dle of front row, wear­ing his medals, a dog at his feet), photo/scrap al­bum cov­er­ing the pe­riod 1904-’06 with seven mounted pho­tos of RFA ma­noeu­vres and other rel­e­vant items, and the Royal Ar­tillery News of Fe­bru­ary 1954 which in­cludes an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Ma­jor-Gen­eral Purser (1884-1953).

There was also a Great War fam­ily group of medals, com­pris­ing three to Ma­jor Ce­cil Frank Wight­man, be­ing the Bri­tish War Medal, Vic­tory Medal and Ter­ri­to­rial Force Medal to Ma­jor Wight­man (1870-1937). Gen­eral Sur­geon with a prac­tice in Roys­ton, Herts, co-author with Sir John Col­lie of ‘First Aid in Ac­ci­dents’, Wight­man’s signed and well-worn copy of the fifth edi­tion was in­cluded with the lot, to­gether with some as­so­ci­ated items in­clud­ing two man­u­script note­books, his copy of ‘A His­tory of Roys­ton’ plus a pair of medals to his adopted son, 2nd Lieu­tenant Wal­ter Pe­ter West­wood, Suf­folk Reg­i­ment, com­pris­ing Bri­tish War Medal and Vic­tory Medal.

At the bat­tle of Pass­chen­daele he was se­verely wounded by a shell burst and then killed by a sec­ond shell. He died on Septem­ber 16, 1917, aged 23 and is com­mem­o­rated at Tyne Cot Me­mo­rial.

There was also a poster show­ing ‘Go! It’s your duty lad, join to­day’ (pic­tured here), a First World War chro­molitho­graph re­cruit­ing poster circa 1915.

A Great War OBE, Mil­i­tary Cross and seven medals be­long­ing to Ma­jor Gen­eral Arthur Wil­liam Purser.

Old records from the start of the First World War..

A Great War fam­ily group of medals.

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