Medals Speak Strongly of a Remarkable Woman’s Courage, Service and Duty

Nursing Sister Annie Alexander medals and awards

Medals speak strongly of remarkable courage, service and duty. They are collected with great reverence and a desire to keep the stories of the recipients alive.

Nursing Sister Annie Alexander’s story was vividly retold when a group of medals and associated papers and photographs were sold in Toovey’s specialist auction for £5500.

World War I nurses were members of the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS). There were about 10,000 regular and reserve QAs serving in countries as far afield as France, India, East Africa, Italy, Palestine, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Salonika and Russia.

This rare group of seven First World War period British and French medals and decorations awarded to Nursing Sister Annie Alexander comprised a Royal Red Cross , a Military Medal, a 1914-15 Star, a 1914-18 British War Medal and a 1914-19 Victory Medal, a French M‚daille d’Honneur des Epid‚mies en vermeil and Belgian L’Arm‚e … ses Infirmaries nursing medal, with various related original and copied paperwork and photographs.

A rare group of seven First World War period British and French medals and decorations awarded to Nursing Sister Annie Alexander with associated photographs and paperwork

They related to her service during the Great War at Queen Alexandria’s Hospital at Dunkirk. I ask Mark Stonard, Toovey’s militaria and medals specialist, about the collection and he says “The hospital acted as a station for invalided soldiers from the front. Annie was one of the front-line nurses aiding these soldiers under horrendous circumstances. The hospital was bombed from the air on a number of occasions. Annie was awarded the medals in 1917 along with some of her fellow nurses who worked with her at Dunkirk.

“The Military Medal awarded to Annie was instituted in 1916. The obverse had an effigy of King George V, the reverse bore the inscription “For Bravery in the field.

In total some 115,600 military medals were awarded during the First World War but only 127 were given to ladies. So this was an exceptionally rare group. Winning the Gallantry Medal must have been a source of great pride for Annie. What made this group even more special was the accompanying contemporary photos, paperwork and French and English certificates from the time which bring this very personal story to life.”

Mark speaks with passion and reverence about this remarkable person, her life and our common story, our history.

Detectorist Strikes Gold At Itchingfield

The obverse and reverse of an Edward IV second reign gold-angel c.1471-1483, mintmark and heraldic cinquefoil

A gold-angel coin discovered at Itchingfield in West Sussex has just been sold at Toovey’s for £4200.

Toovey’s coin specialist, Mark Stonard, explains “Dating from between 1471 and 1483 the coin was an example of a gold-angel coin introduced during the reign of Edward IV in 1465. The obverse depicts the Archangel Michael defeating the devil who is represented as a dragon. The reverse is decorated with a ship showing the power of the English naval fleet and the importance of shipping to our overseas trade.”

I ask Mark about the coin’s discovery, he replies “The coin was found at Itchingfield in the Horsham District by a responsible detectorist. It was recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme and returned to the finder. The finder and the landowner decided to enter this remarkable coin into Toovey’s specialist coin sale where it made £4200. It’s so important to emphasise the value of recording finds made by metal detectorists. The location and context of where things are found gives us a fantastic record of what has been before us.”

Mark continues “These coins were often known as touch pieces and were thought to bring good fortune and healing. It was thought that coins given at Holy Communion could be rubbed on parts of the body suffering from rheumatism to bring a cure. This tradition was also employed using coins given by the King or Queen in a ceremony which illustrated the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ before God. People of royal blood were thought to have the God-given power of healing through touch which is why the coins became known as touch pieces. Coins which depicted the defeat of the Devil were favoured and emphasised the monarch’s divinely given healing power.”

The obverse and reverse of a Henry VIII first coinage gold-angel c.1509-1526, mintmark castle (well-centred with a nice full flan)

“A Henry VIII first coinage gold-angel coin dating from between 1509 and 1526 was also entered at Toovey’s and realised £3000. These coins are often pierced so they could be worn by the recipient, it was exciting to see these two complete examples.”

Reflecting on the current high prices for coins Mark concludes “The specialist collector’s field of coins remains really strong. These objects help us to understand our history and powerfully connect us to it.”

Mark Stonard is inviting entries for his next specialist sale of coins on and can be contacted by telephoning 01903 891955.

Edwardians Lead the Charge at Goodwood’s 81st Motor Racing Member’s Meeting

Neil Gough racing his 1911 Krit on the famous motor racing circuit at Goodwood

This week I am in the company of Sussex based engineer and racer, Neil Gough, reflecting on the excitement and drama of Goodwood’s 81st Motor Racing Member’s Meeting.

The SF Trophy is always popular with the crowds at Goodwood. These Edwardian racing cars and aero-engined specials from the early 20th century provide a sense of drama and occasion. They led the charge at Goodwood’s famous motor racing circuit. Neil Gough was once again racing his 1911 aero-engined Krit.

I was cheering Neil on throughout and as we start to talk about the race Neil can’t hide his delight. I ask him how his weekend at Goodwood went. In his quietly spoken understated way he grins and says “Quite a good day on Sunday, third, a good end to a perfect weekend.” The result is testament to his skills as a racing driver and as an engineer. The two cars that finished ahead of him, the Darraq and the Sunbeam, had three times the horsepower of his Krit and Neil was still in sight of them as the race finished.

I ask him about the Krit’s extraordinary aero engine, Neil replies “It’s a 9.4 litre V8 Curtiss aero engine from a First World War bi-plane. It develops 100bhp…just over 90mph on the Lavant straight. I’ve overhauled it but there’s always work in progress.”

Neil Gough and his 1911 Krit in the paddocks at Goodwood

With the Edwardians the drivers seem to sit on top of the cars. I ask Neil what it’s like to drive the Krit. He says “It’s a feeling of total exhilaration, you’re fighting it the whole time whilst going as fast as possible. You sit on the car, there are no seatbelts. The brakes are only on the rear. They’re operated by rods and cams, no hydraulics so you have to judge everything very carefully when you’re driving flat out. We all drive with absolute respect for one another when we’re racing.”

I ask Neil what it means to race at Goodwood’s world famous circuit, he says “Goodwood is like nothing else, the crème -de-la-crème. It’s such an honour to be invited to race at Goodwood. The best drivers, the best cars are all there. It’s a superb track, several of the bends have two apexes which makes it challenging and exciting.”

Based at Washington in West Sussex Neil Gough’s remarkable engineering skills are sought by traction engine and steam enthusiasts as well as vintage car owners and racers from all over the world.

Old Cars Draw the Crowds at The Amberley Museum

Rupert Toovey and Bonnie with their 1932 green Riley Gamecock

The Amberley Museum’s themed weekends are always a cause for celebration with trains, cars, traction engines and buses as well as the superb interactive displays which so eloquently speak of the history of our nation’s heritage crafts and industry.

As I drove down that beautiful road between Storrington and Amberley I was met with that majestic open landscape against the backdrop of the Sussex Downs and the blessing of blue skies and scudding clouds. It seemed spring had finally arrived with a warmth on our faces. Wrapped in her tartan travelling rug my terrier, Bonnie, poked her nose out the side of the car and seemed to smile. I was heading to the museum for their annual Vintage and old car day in procession with a group of friends and fellow Riley enthusiasts.

Turning into the Amberley Museum we were met by a scene filled with excitement as the volunteers welcomed us. The Amberley Museum depends on its remarkable community of volunteers.

Amidst all this activity Peter was being steamed up and the vintage Southdowns open top double decker bus prepared for rides. The day drew large crowds who were delighted to be at Amberley in the spring sunshine.

My 1932 Riley Gamecock is a new arrival. I’ve called her Jenny after my favourite childhood Corgi and we’re getting on rather well. At 92 years old she’s a little oily and incontinent but all to be expected. She’s been loved and beautifully maintained over the years and has the most wonderful patina. She and Bonnie drew much attention.

Peter steaming through the Amberley Museum

I love to ride on the railway at Amberley especially when Peter is steaming along. Peter was built in 1919 by W C Bagnall Ltd in Stafford. An 0-4-0 loco, no. 2067, he was originally supplied to the Ministry of Munitions for War and delivered to the Canadian Forestry Corps at Longtown in Cumbria. He was later acquired by the Cliffe Hill Quarry Co in Leicestershire where he worked until 1949. Eventually the Narrow Guage Railway Society (NGRS) took ownership of him. He’s been busy at Amberley since 1983 where he was restored. Amberley were able to buy Peter from the NGRS in 2002, a fitting home for such a delightful engine.

The Amberley Museum offers so much throughout the year a Family Membership really will really will repay you. And it is such a pleasure to belong to this remarkable community of historians, crafts people, volunteers and enthusiasts. To find out more visit

The History of Our Nation Told Through Objects

Stereoscopic photographs of the famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel by Robert Howlett & George Downes, c.1856-1857

My recent visit to SS. Great Britain in Bristol has reminded me of the remarkable love of history seeded in me by Joyce Sleight as a school boy. Joyce taught British Social, Economic and Political History which explored our procession towards the reforming, inclusive, liberal and predominately tolerant society we live in today. It celebrated our industrialists and social reformers whilst tackling head on slavery, child labour and poverty. We were taught to be objective and not to judge history from the perspective of our own times so that the shadow of history could shape our thinking and inspire us to continue in the nation’s centuries long purpose to strive for fairness, to make things better and work for the common good. Education in those days was less about box ticking, process and grades and more about shaping and forming generous, creative, questioning minds. A love of learning for its own sake.

Amongst our greatest engineers was Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Isambard designed and built the Great Western Railway and had the vision and drive to attempt to continue the line to America building three revolutionary steam ships.

The largest of these was the Great Eastern. She left Deptford on the 7th September 1858. Large crowds gathered to witness her steaming down the Thames for her first sea trials. As she passed Hastings on the 9th September tragedy struck. A heater attached to the paddle engine boilers exploded killing six firemen. Isambard’s revolutionary design with water tight compartments and bulkheads saved the ship. Isambard had suffered a stroke on the ship shortly before she set out and many argue that this tragedy hastened his demise. He died on the 15th September 1858.

The Great Eastern ABC, or, Big Ship Alphabet children’s book

Perhaps this explains why the copy of the children’s book The Great Eastern ABC, or, Big Ship Alphabet with its 26 hand-coloured wood-engraved alphabetical vignettes is so rare. It was entered as part of a single owner archive collection by a direct descendent of Isambard’s father Sir Marc Isambard Brunel at Toovey’s and realised £9,000.

You get a real sense of Brunel the man in the photographic stereoscopic slides which sold at Toovey’s for £14,000. The photographs were taken in about 1856-1857 by Robert Howlett and George Downes. They depict Brunel before The Great Eastern.

Objects have such a power to bring history to life and connect us with the story of our processional nation inspiring us to continue to work for the common good.