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.

We will remember them

A photographic postcard of the reconstruction of a French battlefield in Trafalgar Square, London, for the ‘Feed the Guns’ War Bond campaign in 1918, courtesy of Toovey’s

The coming Remembrance Sunday will be particularly poignant falling exactly 100 years after the Great War’s Armistice which came into force at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

The spring of 1918 saw an intensification of fighting as the Germans mounted an offensive to break through the Allies line. Despite some initial gains it sparked the Allies’ counter offensive which became known as the Hundred Days Offensive. It began on the 8th August 1918 with the Battle of Amiens, involving 400 tanks and 120,000 British, Dominion and French troops. By the end of the first day a 15 mile hole in the German line had been won. The offensive continued and in the following four weeks some 100,000 German soldiers were taken as prisoners of war. Germany realised she had lost the war although fierce fighting continued. The Allies pressed forward. The Armistice with Germany was signed early on the morning of the 11th November 1918 in a railway carriage in Compiègne. Northern France.

After the war there was a great movement to create memorials. Edwin Lutyens was commissioned to create the Cenotaph in London’s Whitehall.

Charles Sargeant Jagger – No Man’s Land, brown patinated cast bronze rectangular relief plaque, first conceived 1919-1920 © Toovey’s 2018

The artist Charles Sargeant Jagger had given up his Rome scholarship at the outbreak of war and initially joined the Artists’ Rifles before being commissioned into the Worcestershire Regiment in 1915. He served at Gallipoli and on the Western Front and was awarded the Military Cross for Gallantry. His Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner is amongst his most famous work. Jagger’s bronze ‘No Man’s Land’ shows a listening post in No Man’s Land. A soldier hides among the bodies of his dead comrades in order to listen to the enemy close by.

Courage and sacrifice will be remembered in churches across Britain, Europe and America. The common story and Christian heritage which unites us will be expressed in services of Remembrance and thanksgiving. Once again these familiar bidding words will be heard:
“We have come to remember before God those who have died for their country in the two world wars and the many conflicts of the years that have followed. Some we knew and loved: we treasure their memory still. Others are unknown to us: to their remembrance too, we give our time…With thanksgiving we recall services offered and sacrifices made…”

Early in the war Laurence Binyon wrote ‘For the Fallen’ as he sat upon the Rumps in north Cornwall. These words are often spoken as an exhortation after the two minutes silence has been observed:
‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.’

I hope that each of us will be able to find time in this Remembrance weekend to reflect, offering thanks and prayers for the courage of successive generations who have been called, and continue to be called, to defend the greater cause of liberal democracy, justice and concord.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Feed the Guns!

It’s not always the most expensive lots that capture the attention of our valuation team here at Toovey’s. Such was the case when specialist Nicholas Toovey discovered a fascinating view in amongst a group of London postcards.

“At first I thought it had been put in the wrong collection” said Nicholas, who continued “the uncaptioned view would look more at home with similar unidentified views of Continental Europe, perhaps Belgium or France, that was until I turned it over!” Fortunately at some time in its history a helpful owner had identified the scene in pencil on the reverse – surprisingly this postcard actually depicts Trafalgar Square in London!

A curious scene unfamiliar to most, the ruined church tower covers the statue of General Gordon and the fountain has become part of a destroyed farm house, there is even a windmill. On closer inspection the people milling around are not soldiers but people walking around soaking in the atmosphere of this highly imaginative fund raising event. As they walked around the artificial trenches, visitors were invited to place money inside howitzers and a military truck, or purchase certificates from the modified breech of a captured German gun, thus giving the campaign the name ‘Feed the Guns Week’. Held in October 1918, this transformation in London was the main focus of a nationwide campaign to sell war bonds during the First World War. These efforts raised over £31 million nationwide with captured guns making appearances all round the country.

The postcard, Lot 3128, will be offered individually on the 11th August 2015 with an estimate of £25-35 in Toovey’s Auction of Paper Collectables. Despite its modest estimate, this postcard provides a fascinating glimpse into the past and is sure to delight a collector in the near future.

Remembering the Great War

Left to right: Jeremy Knight, Exhibition Curator, Jonathan Chowen, Horsham District Council Cabinet Member for Arts, Heritage & Leisure, and Philip Circus, Horsham District Council Chairman, beside ‘Poppies’, made by students of the Camellia Botnar Foundation

Horsham Museum & Art Gallery’s exhibition ‘The First World War 1914-1919 Memories and Memorabilia’ begins a year of commemorations in remembrance of the outbreak of the Great War on 28th July 1914. Three generations were united by the experiences of the First and Second World Wars, wars which for the first time brought industrialized might to the battlefield with terrible consequences.

Jonathan Chowen, Horsham District Council Cabinet Member for Arts, Heritage & Leisure, and Philip Circus, Horsham District Council Chairman, seen here with exhibition curator Jeremy Knight, are passionate historians. Winston Churchill was always influenced by the long shadow of history, mindful to heed the warnings the past offers to the present. Jonathan Chowen also understands the importance of history. “It is so important that each generation learns from history,” he remarks, “especially the First World War and the dire consequences of conflict. Acts of remembrance, like this exhibition, maintain our common narrative as a nation.”

First World War troops in the trenches on the Western Front
First World War troops beneath a pyramid in Egypt
‘Middle East in Convoy W.W.II’, a watercolour by Geoffrey Sparrow

The images of the Great War still have the power to shock a century later and they inform our perspectives and understanding of this period. Amongst sorrow, suffering, sacrifice, courage, duty and hope, however, there are the very human and personal stories. This excellent exhibition seeks to give us fresh insights. I grew up with men who had fought in the trenches, men who had experienced gas attacks and the heat of battle and their stories have stayed with me. During the 1970s Jane Bowen interviewed and recorded the recollections of a number of soldiers, which have been transcribed for this exhibition. I had pictured troops in the trenches for months at a time whereas these recordings reveal that troops were in fact rotated on a regular basis. On average, a battalion could expect to spend ten days a month in the trenches and four to five days a month continuously in the firing line. Such care for our troops stands in contrast to the huge loss of life at the Battle of Mons and elsewhere. Their recorded memories give a very human account of the realities of life in the trenches.

Christ’s Hospital school has generously loaned the uniform of Edmund Blunden, the celebrated war poet and a former pupil of the school. Blunden cycled from Horsham to Chichester to sign on and the war played a key part in his life and poetry.

Along with such memories there is a remarkable selection of objects, which provide a tangible connection with the past. These include a First World War periscope, valentine cards, silk handkerchiefs, uniforms and knitwear. There are also the medals awarded to Dr Geoffrey Sparrow, who settled in post-war Horsham, along with a rare copy of On Four Fronts, his account of the war. The watercolour of a convoy in the Middle East, painted by Sparrow during the Second World War and auctioned at Toovey’s last year, adds richness to the photograph of troops beneath an Egyptian pyramid, taken during the Great War, which is included in the exhibition.

Jonathan Chowen concludes, “I am keen to encourage and make visible the extraordinary number of acts of remembrance which are taking place across the Horsham District. The outbreak of the Great War one hundred years ago will make Remembrance Sunday and Remembrance Day particularly poignant this year.” I agree. I have not been called to serve my country on the field of battle. I feel a debt of gratitude to those who fought in the two World Wars and those who serve in our armed forces today, so that we may live in relative peace and security.

This is an exceptional exhibition and thanks must go once again to curator Jeremy Knight.

‘The First World War 1914-1919 Memories and Memorabilia’ runs at Horsham District Council’s Horsham Museum & Art Gallery until 29th March 2014. For further details contact Jeremy Knight at the Museum.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 5th February 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.