Medals: Living Story Books of Anonymous War Heroes

Alex Coulson and his WWI Medal Collection

When others collect real automobiles – vintage or new – or remote-controlled cars and other toys or even comic books, Alex Coulson collects First World War medals; his collection so vast it could be the envy of other collectors. But no, he doesn’t collect them to sell them; he collects them for the stories behind each one of them.

For him, these military decorations awarded to the brave men during the the Great War are worth more than every pound or pence paid for them.

He keeps collecting medals which were awarded to WWI soldiers but over time, for some reasons, the military decorations got separated from their owners’ loved ones. They are living story books for Coulson – story books that had fired up his imagination since he was a teenager.

“I’ve been collecting ‘militaria’ since I was 15 years old,” he said.

He added that his first war collection was comprised of uniforms but then has later evolved into an assortment of Great War medals.

he also spends considerable time searching for the stories behind the medals that belong in his collection. Coulson, a Police detention officer, really makes it a point to know the lives of the soldiers who were given these particular medals.

“For some of them, there is just no paperwork, but where there are records, they bring the medals alive,” he said.

some of the medal owners, in his research, just died for unknown reasons. One of the stories that baffled him is about  Robert Coltman who worked with the Royal Field Artillery. he was the recipient of a Military medal in 1917. However, he suddenly died on February 15, 1919. For what reason? Nobody knows.

 “Did he die of wounds, or perhaps in the influenza epidemic that followed the war?” Alex mused.

And that is just one of the many questions poised by these medals. Based on them, no wonder Alex is hooked.

Another medal in Alex’s collection that spurs poignant memories is a 1914-1915 Star awarded to one Robert Bell who served at the Second Battle of Ypres in the Northumberland Fusiliers. However, Bell was killed at a tender age of 22 just 11 days after arriving in the Front. on the other hand, Bell’s brother, Thomas, got hit while serving with the DLI in France.

But Alex Coulson’s collection is more than just a band of interesting trinkets.

He first visited the battlefields in Flanders 25 years ago. Now, it had become part of his annual travel itinerary along with two friends. He also has made friends  with some natives from Ypres, the Belgian town that was almost wiped out from the map as WWI raged and which now gives honor to fallen soldiers of the First World War every evening at the Menin Gate.

he also has the habit of visiting war cemeteries – not just in totality but individual graves of soldiers, especially the ones who once owned the medals that are now part of his collection. he is even planning on going back to Ypres for the WWI centenary which is set to happen next year.

His love for this historical war may have stemmed from the fact that his great grandfather had served under it.

William Penman was a shipyard tank cleaner until he served in the Durham light Infantry (DLI) and was stationed in the Western Front. While there, he was badly wounded, was sent home and served as a recruitment sergeant back at home.

Unfortunately, his great-grandpa’s medals are not among Coulson’s WWI Medal Collection.

“Not having his medals kills me. Especially since I do not know where they went,” he revealed.

– Article based from The Shields Gazette





Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE