A look at Canadian Military History
by Douglas Phillips
This was the last Military Collectors Show of the year. Held at the General Sikorski Hall in North Oshawa, it attracted a core of dedicated collectors who arrived early for the 8:30a.m. opening. The Show is a mixture of long time dealers, and collectors who are downsizing their collections.
The Hall was packed with many dealers displaying a wide selection of military items, from cap badges, medals, swords, uniforms, photos and much more. Walking along the tables gave you an insight into Canadian history, from before we became a country when local volunteer militia units helped to defend our shores from the War of 1812 to the Fenian Raids. There were memorabilia from WW1 conflicts such as Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele that have shaped our nation, and a wide selection of campaign and gallantry medals. With the 100th anniversary of Canadian victories, WW1 items are in demand, from medals inscribed with the owner’s name, rank, regiment and serial number that can be used to trace a person’s military service, to Next of Kin Memorial plaques (see footnotes). If you want to start a military collection or just want to find more information on your relative’s military medals, this is a good starting point.
The Show was very well attended, and dealers are always willing to share their considerable knowledge. You never know what new items are on the tables, or will walk through the door like the collector who appeared with the Vimy Ridge trench art shell found in a flea market. A one of a kind piece of Canadian history that was hard to value.
There are seven shows planned for 2018, and for more information visit www.torontomilitaryshow.com or see the ad on page 28. Thank you to Angela Koszuta, the organizer of the show, and for the hospitality and great food.
Trench art is highly collectable. It was done mostly by POWs (prisoners of war), on both sides, and used shells were turned into works of art. The practice was popular during the First World War. During the Napoleonic Wars, prisoners made ships out of bones.
The Next of Kin Memorial Plaques (see top right image) are one of the most interesting artifacts from the First World War. These were cast bronze round plaques issued to families of all Dominion men and woman that served in the military, and who died in the First World War. A competition was held in 1917 to design the plaque and over 800 entries were received from around the British Empire. Mr. Edward Carter Preston’s design won. His design features a large and powerful Britannia, with a growling lion. Two dolphins adorn the background near Britannia’s head to symbolize British naval power, and at the bottom of the design, a second lion sinks its teeth into a bird symbolizing the German nation. “He died for freedom and honour” appears around the rim of the design, (for the women who died, the pronoun was changed). The name of the fallen is cast on the face. Along with the plaque a scroll was enclosed in a special cardboard folder. A letter from King George V was sent in a separate envelope. As the 4 3/4inch diameter (121mm) plaque was made of bronze many have survived, but those with the scroll and the King’s letter are harder to find. The plaque is also known as The Dead Man’s Penny, a refence to a British copper penny.
The Hall is a memorial to General Wladyslaw Sikorski (1881-1943), 1st Prime Minister of the Polish Government in Exile during World War II. He was killed in a plane crash in 1943 off the coast of Gibraltar while visiting Polish Troops in the Middle East. His body was originally buried in England, but in 1993 his remains were exhumed and transferred to the royal crypts at Wawel Castle in Krakow, Poland.