I was always shown the masses of military medals as a young child that my Grandad had been awarded but never truly considered the collectability of them.
Can these be collectible? Is there a market for military medals? Such a personal award will surely come with a hefty price tag…
The nation awards thousands of medals for courage under fire and outstanding bravery in the heat of battle. But medals themselves cannot tell the whole story. Only the people honoured this way can really describe what can have often been horrendous experiences. Those who survived and witnessed actions where men and women made the ultimate sacrifice, also know something of the truth.
But collectors and hobbyists will always cherish those awards which have heart rending backstories – stories of courage under extreme pressure. Famous collections from individuals often come up for auction. It is safe to say the level of demand for them never diminishes!
We will remember them!
No-one can put a price on courage, so what do high monetary valuations often raised by military medals say about us? Maybe they emphasise the true value of those human traits to which we all aspire, such as courage, self-sacrifice, honour and friendship.
Here are examples of medals which attracted massive interest, not for the value of their precious metal content, but for the stories and people they represent.
- Courage under fire
Sergeant ‘Tommy’ Palmer was a member of a Special Air Services elite unit ordered by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to storm the Iranian Embassy in London during a hostage siege in 1980. At one point in the successful mission to rescue the captives, his hair and clothes caught fire. He was one of three soldiers decorated for his bravery during the events of that day. Tommy was awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal (pictured below along with Tommy’s other service medals).
Tommy’s QGM sold at Bonhams in 2010 for £98,750.
2. ‘Pied Piper’ the air ace
Yorkshire-born Ronald Fairfax Hamyln, nicknamed, “Pied Piper” by his chums, was one of the most decorated RAF pilots of the Second World War. He shot down scores of enemy planes during the Battle of Britain. In a single day, he downed five German fighters, a feat that earned him an immediate Distinguished Flying Medal. His medals collection was auctioned off at Spink in 2014, where they achieved a final value of £90,000.
3. No greater courage than this
Jim Prescott and John Phillips were both elite bomb disposal experts. They were part of the task force sent to recapture the Falkland Islands from the Argentinians in the 1982 war.
When a 1,000 bomb Argentinian bomb hit the frigate HMS Antelope and failed to explode, it was their job to neutralise it. They had done so successfully on another vessel the day before. This time it went wrong and the bomb exploded killing Jim and severing John’s arm. The ship was evacuated but could not be saved.
Jim was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. It sold for £120,000 at Dix Noonan Webb in 2012. John’s medal awarded for the same incident also sold at an earlier auction for £120,000.
4. Victoria Cross is the pinnacle
The most famous British gallantry medal is of course the Victoria Cross. Our military history is peppered with stories of how VCs have been won. Since it was introduced in 1856, 1358 VCs have been awarded. The stories behind them are always spine-tingling and inspiring. When a VC comes up for auction there is always frisson of excitement.
How much is a VC worth at auction?
Flight Lieutenant Reid was a bomber pilot during the second world war. In 1943, on a bombing raid in Germany his aircraft was critically hit on two occasions. Despite being wounded, and losing various members of his crew, he continued with the mission. His VC sold for £335,000 at Spink in 2009.
Shout’s VC sold for nearly half a million
New Zealander Alfred Shout received his Victoria Cross for his courage at Gallipoli during the First World War. Alfred managed to capture a swathe of trenches occupied by Turkish troops before he was fatally wounded. He was the most decorated Anzac soldier of the war. In 2006, 91 years after Gallipoli his medal sold for around £490,000!
Inspired by these military medals? From Poppy 50ps, to Battle of Britain commemoratives, to D-Day stamps, we have a whole range of military collectibles for collectors to enjoy…