Last summer I had a holiday in the Isle of Skye. The weather was so awful that it forced me into the town of Portree, where I found a small antiques shop. There, amongst the usual junk, my eye was caught by a silver badge which had a decided Great War look about it.
In the centre of the badge was the Royal Cipher - GRI surmounted by a crown. Round this were the words 'For King and Empire - Services Rendered'. Something stirred in the muddle of my memory. Was I looking at a Silver War Badge? A brief haggle and the badge was mine. If you're wondering, I paid £18.00.
Back home, the research began. I asked myself two questions - what was the Silver War Badge and who had this one been issued to? There was a number stamped on the reverse which must surely lead to a name.
The first question was easily answered by consulting 'The Collector and Researcher's Guide to the Great War' by Howard Williamson. The badge, which is of sterling silver, was issued to men of all three services who were discharged because of wounds, sickness, or old age. To qualify, the recipient had to have served for at least seven days between 4th August 1914 and 31st December 1919 and his incapacity must have been caused by military service. The badge was instituted in 1916.
The reason for the badge is obvious. By wearing it, a man not in uniform could show that he had done his bit and was no longer physically able to continue. The badge was accompanied by a certificate which gave the man's full name, service number, and unit. Ther certificate also bore the serial number of the badge.
Williamson identifies four seperate issues:
1st issue: September 1916 - March 1918. Serial Nos 1 - 360,000 (with horizontal pin). Serial numbers 360,001 - 450,000 (with vertical pin)
2nd issue: August 1918 - December 1919. Serial Nos B 1 - B 350,000.
3rd issue: December 1919 - April 1920. Serial Nos O 1 - O 5,000
4th issue: December 1919 - June 1922. Serial Nos 450,001 - 525,50
Badges in the 2nd 3rd and 4th issues all had a vertical pin.
Details of the recipients of the badge are recorded on a Roll of Individuals Entitled to the War Badge, prepared by the appropriate infantry (or other service) record office. The roll gives the man's full name and service details and, in the case of an officer, his home address. Copies of the rolls are in the National Archives.
Now, to answer my second question - who had received badge no B 30837? A trip to the N.A. would surely give this information.
At the N.A. I was told that the index to the rolls was filed in name order, not by badge number. Without the man's name, they could not produce the relevant part of the roll. I pointed out that it was the man's name that I sought, but apparently the badge number on its own could not lead me to the name. Then another assistant mentioned that someone, not an N.A. employee, was delving into Silver War Badge records. If I left my name, address and 'phone number, with a note of my query, I would be contacted.
A few days later the private researcher rang. He confirmed that he had the roll which included badge no B 30837 and could send a copy upon receiving an sae. For payment he asked for a book of first class stamps.
The roll came by return of post. It showed that my badge was issued to M2/177095 Private John Cameron of the Army Service Corps. He was discharged on 25th October 1918 because of sickness. Other details of his service also appear on the roll.
ASC service numbers reveal the soldier's trade. Each number has a prefix which gives this - Williamson lists 40 different trades. The prefix M indicates that John Cameron was an electrician and the second prefix 2 shows that he was a new army recruit. The roll also shows that he was in a motor transport unit.
I'd like to know more about Private Cameron, but ASC units can be difficult to trace. It is just possible that his medal and silver war badge index cards at the N.A. may contain clues about where he served and possibly his division. Whether or not I can discover anything else about him, tracing his story from his Silver War Badge has been fascinating and has given me an insight into one of the ways the country acknowledged men who were incapacitated during the Great War.
Not bad for a chance visit to an antiques shop on a wet holiday!