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Mark Smith – Featured interview Medal News

How did you get started?

On Friday afternoons I used to be taken from school to see one of my two Grandma’s, my Father’s Mother.  She lived in a very Victorian house which had a parlour, dark cold and spotlessly clean; in the sideboard was a wooden box in which were my Father’s medals from World War Two, he was a Wireless Operator Air Gunner with 240 Squadron R.A.F. with Coastal Command and then in the Far East with the Special Duties Flight of 240, where he and his crew delivered Force 136 S.O.E. and O.S.S. agents in to the Japanese-held islands.  My bedtime stories, when small, were taken directly from his RAF Log Book and he would tell me the story of one “Op” from briefing to the target and back, I never got much sleep but the stories were fascinating.  One Friday afternoon in June 1969 on my visit to Nan, my Grandma gave me the box with the medals in; I went home made a display, got a book from the Library and was totally hooked on medals and the stories.  More family medals, cap badges, steel helmets, bayonets and trench art started to turn up as Aunts and Uncles at last found a home for all this military junk they had brought home from various wars; World War Two, World War One and the Boer War were well covered stretching back to my Great Great Great Grandfather, Private Henry Dickerson, who joined the Rifle Brigade in 1854.

What is your favourite medal?

For pure aesthetic look, design and feel the first Arctic Medal, the shape, the star suspension and the pure white ribbon are a joy to behold.  The stories behind the medals are absolutely fascinating, as Franklin and his men wandered through the ice and then the rescue missions to find them, real “Boys Own” adventure stories, but pieces of history you can hold and own.

What is your Top Tip for collectors?

Handle as many medals as you can, go to shops talk to your friends, attend the OMRS Convention, join an OMRS Branch, go to museums and ask to see the medals and handle them to get the naming styles and fonts engraved, (forgive the pun) in your memory. Consulting now for Baldwin’s for just over two years, I have crossed from collector to dealer, a completely different world, fascinating but very different, and the one startling fact that stands out is how many medals are wrong, re-named, broken, reconstituted and alas just fakes.  Know your medals; know what they should look like and feel like.

Do you collect and if so what?

From those early days I was given a poster of all the British Medals from 1815 onwards up to about 1965, my first collection was one of each medal and clasp.  I have now about 500 medals and clasps but I am still looking for the elusive few, Defence of Kelat-I-Ghilzie, South Vietnam, the Newfoundland Volunteer War Service Medal and a few more!

I collect RAF Log Books and have about 70, two for the Battle of Britain, a Dambuster, many to Lancaster crews and of course my most treasured Log Book, my Dad’s.

I started back in 1986 a Great War Casualty collection, a medal or group or Plaque or scroll to a man (or woman) killed during the War; the concept was to collect medals to a man killed on every single day of World War One.  I have about 750 days completed.  I also tried something similar with World War two casualties and found that, although this could not be done by day, it was possible by campaign.  I have about 350 casualty groups from the sinking of H.M.S. Royal Oak, an ARP Warden in the Blitz to Dunkirk, D-Day, the Battle of Britain, Imphal, Benghazi, and Monte Casino etc.

If you could retire to an exotic location where would it be?

Well not exotic but over the many years of travelling to the Battlefields of Northern France it would have to be the Somme, a haunting place that never ever ceases to amaze me.

When not working how do you relax/unwind?

I have managed to turn my life-long hobby into a job.  I was lucky enough to be chosen to be part of the Militaria team on the BBC Antiques Roadshow, and I have taken people to the Battlefields for over 35 years.  I lecture in medals and military history, my days are very full with work but doing something I love.  I have two dogs who I like to take on long walks, I enjoy shooting during the season and I have returned to another boy-hood love, making model aircraft – military ones of course!


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