by F.K. Mitchell, JCD, MB, ChB, DPH, FRSH, FSANS
Dr F.K. (Frank) Mitchell was born in Pretoria in 1918. He was educated at the Diocesan College, Rondebosch (Bishops) and at the University of Cape Town, where he graduated in 1941 with the degrees MB ChB. Thereafter he enlisted in the South African Medical Corps, and subsequently served for two and a half years with 6 South African Armoured Division in Egypt and Italy as Regimental Medical Officer, Prince Alfred’s Guard. He attained the rank of Captain and was Mentioned in Despatches. After the war he continued to serve in the Active Citizen Force (ACF) with 3 Field Ambulance, and was awarded the John Chard Decoration (JCD). Before his retirement Dr Mitchell was Medical Officer of Health for Cape Town. He is the Hononary Curator of the Museum's medal and numismatics collection and is a recognized authority on medals and decorations awarded to South Africans during the past century and a half. He has served as President of the South African Numismatic Society for six separate terms.
Many of my collector friends around the world have asked me to tell them what my medal collecting interests are, what the theme of my collection is, and what its extent is. This brief guide is intended for these, my friends, many of whom have helped me at some time or another to add an elusive or interesting piece. I would like to open this article by stating that this collection could not have become what it is without their help, and I am truly grateful to them all.
My primary objective, since I initiated my collection in 1947, has been to try to built a complete South African collection of awards spanning the period 1853 to 1953. In other words, I have tried to acquire a medal, preferably to a South African recipient, of every type and every variety and with every bar, ever awarded to a South African, up to and including the Korean War of 1950-1953. I have included Rhodesia and South West Africa in my terms of reference. Furthermore, I have included any medal of direct South African interest, even when no South African citizen may have earned it; e.g. the Transport Medal, the Queens Mediterranean Medal, the dated Queen’s South African Medal to Lord Strathcona’s Horse; and what I term the ‘military commemoratives’ such as those given by various boroughs, cities and towns of the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia to their nationals returning from the Second South African War of 1899-1902 My field includes:—- Orders; Decorations; campaign medals earned by South Africans with all possible bars and bar combinations; long service and good conduct medals (to the Services, and also to the South African Police, South African Prison Department, South African Railways Police and Fire Brigades, Coronation and other official commemorative medals; privately issued medals such as the Royal Humane Society’s awards and those of St John’s, the Red Cross, Noodhulpliga, etc; and unofficial military commemorative medals. I have not ‘hunted’ for shooting medals, but where they have ‘come along’, so to speak, I have kept them, I have tried to cover every campaign in which South Africans have served abroad, and also every campaign in South Africa. In this latter connection, a noteworthy item in my collection is a Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) awarded to a member of the Connaught Rangers for service in the First South African War of Independence 1880-1881.
The inclusion of this item illustrates the point that where no campaign medal was awarded for a specific campaign - as in the First South African War of Independence - I have included decorations relating to that campaign, even if they were not gained by South African nationals.
My second, and subsidiary objective, has been to try to acquire a campaign medal of each type ever awarded to any South African unit, named to every South African unit which qualified for it.
Because I served throughout the Italian Campaign of 1944-1945 as Regimental Medical Officer with Prince Alfred’s Guard, 6 South African Arrnoured Division, I have tried to acquire every medal to a member of that Regiment which has ever been offered to me. The starting point of this particular facet of my collection is a South Africa Medal with bar 18774878, to Pte. Lee, Prince Alfred’s Volunteer Guard, who was present at the Battle of Umzintzani on 2 December 1877 - my Regiment’s First Battle Honour.
I have always preferred groups to single medals, and have always looked especially for groups to interesting or historically important South Africans. Groups, of course, frequently accord with my first and second objectives. I place great emphasis upon ‘the man behind the medal’ and wherever possible try to get the maximum information about the recipients of medals in my collection; in the form of photographs, letters, diaries, citations, and other documnients if they are available or can be traced.
I have compiled a comparatively extensive reference library appertaining to the various aspects of my collection; including books on medals and decorations, regimental histories of South units, books relating to South African military history, etc.
I am always on the look-out for anything resembling a medal roll, or a list of South Africans qualifying for a particular medal, I like to know of the existence of medals named to South African units; even if these medals are scarce or unrecorded, or even beyond my reach in a museum or someone else’s collection, In this context, I am endeavouning to compile complete ‘order of battle’ lists for such campaign medals as South Africa 1877-1879, the Cape General Service Medal, the Queen’s South African Medal, the Natal Rebellion Medal of 1906, the British South African Company Medal, etc. As examples, I quote the Clanwilliam Convoy Guard, Clarke’s Light Horse, and Standerton Mounted Police, all of whom qualified for the Queen’s South Africa Medal.
My collection at present consists of approximately 2 000 medals, including more than 300 pairs or groups, and representing more than 550 South African units. The most extensively represented award is the Queen’s South Africa Medal, of which there are some 350 in the collection. Other awards well represented are: the British War Medal 1914-1920, of which there are approximately 170; the South African Medal 1877-1879, of which there are approximately 150; the Cape General Service Medal, of which there are approximately 110; the Allied Victory Medal (South African bi-lingual issue) of which there are approximately 100; the British South Africa Company Medal, of which there are approximately 50; the Natal Rebellion Medal of 1906, of which there are approximately 50; and the King’s South Africa Medal, of which there are approximately 50, I have a prized, although very small, collection of specifically Colonial awards) the Distinguished Conduct Medal, Long Service and Good Conduct Medal and Meritorious Service Medal awarded by Natal and the Cape of Good Hope governments) as well as an extensive collection of the various regular and volunteer long service and good conduct medals which have been awarded to South Africans over the past 75 years. Particularly rare awards that are represented include: the Sir Harry Smith Medal for Gallantry; the Johannesburg Vrywilliger Corps Medal with bar for the Jameson raid; the Cape Copper Company Medal for O’okiep in both bronze and silver; the Kimberley Star in gold; the George Medal; the Woltemade Medal; and the South West Africa Medal awarded for service in the Herero rebellion of 1907, with bar Kalahari 1907. There are some 25 illustrations of the unofficial military commemorative medals awarded by various cities, towns and boroughs in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
The collection is not as strong as I would like it to be in decorations granted by other countries to South Africans. However, in this context my pride and joy is the group a-warded to Capt Andrew Weatherby Beauchamp-Proctor, the South African ace of 84 Squadron, RFC. This group consists of the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Order, Military Cross and Bar, Distinguished Flying Cross, British War Medal 1914-1920, Victory Medal (with Oak Leaf Cluster for Mentioned in Despatches). I have been researching Beauchamp-Proctor’s life for some 10 years, and hope one day to publish my researches in a book.
I am not prompt at answering letters, but I am always happy to exchange information with collecting colleagues, and I welcome correspondence from those who share my love for this, the prince of all collecting hobbies.
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