This silver ‘British War Medal’ was found in July 2020 by one of our archaeologists while they were monitoring groundworks associated with an extension to a 17th century Grade II listed building in Besford, Worcestershire. The medal was found with a range of other objects, including broken pottery, animal bones, an iron sickle and a metal tin-opener.
The medal dates from 1918–1920 and is one of over 6.5 million such medals awarded to British Army soldiers who had served overseas in a theatre of war between 1914 and 1918. It is the second example of this type found by our archaeologists in the last five years – the first was found in Tidworth, Wiltshire, and was featured on our website previously.
The medal survives in reasonably good condition together with its ribbon clasp, but unsurprisingly the ribbon itself is missing. The design of the medal’s reverse, by William McMillan, is loaded with patriotic and religious symbolism. It shows the naked Saint George on horseback, trampling a Prussian eagle shield and skull and cross-bones – the latter a reference both to victory in the war and over death. In the background are ocean waves, perhaps a reference to British sea power and to acknowledge the role of the navy, and behind St George is the risen sun of Victory.
Given the numbers awarded, it is perhaps not surprising that such medals are entering the archaeological record. They represent an unusually direct and personal link to our recent past, recording not only an event of great historical and social significance, but also the name of an individual participant. An inscription to the edge of ‘our’ medal records the name and other details of the recipient: ‘7,1365 PTE G H. WRAGG. L’POOL R.’. Being a very recent find, only limited research has been possible so far, but we have been able to determine the full name of this individual as George Harrold Wragg, a private of the King’s Liverpool Regiment (Service no. 71365). This information appears on medal record cards preserved at Kew, which also records that Private Wragg served in the Army Labour Corps (Service no. 47223).
At this stage not much more is known of the individual named. There is no obvious familial connection to the immediate area; the surname Wragg does not appear in the 1911 census for the Besford parish and no references to the name can be found in post-war records relating to this location. The name Wragg appears to have its origins in the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire area and is still common in the cities of Sheffield, Mansfield and Nottingham. Several George H Wraggs of appropriate age to see military service in WW1 are recorded in the 1911 census records from the Sheffield area. Many more listed only as George Wragg appear in the 1911 census records, including multiple persons from Birmingham. Is it possible that our George Wragg, perhaps originally from the Birmingham area, lived for a brief time in the Besford area in the post-war years? It is of course possible that there is no direct connection to its findspot and the medal was at some stage sold or given away.
The only surviving record of private Wragg’s military service is his medal card, although most other records were destroyed as the result of bombing in WW2. Private Wragg’s medal card indicates that he was not in receipt of the 1914-15 star, which suggests that his war service began in 1916 at the earliest. He may have been too young to enlist before this date or was possibly a married man, and as such not subject to conscription until after June 1916. Conscripted men were not given the choice of which regiment or unit they joined, so Private Wragg’s service in the Liverpool Regiment need not indicate a connection with that city. The King’s Liverpool Regiment numbered 49 Battalions (of approximately 1000 men) in WW1. They took part in some of the bloodiest fighting, including at the Somme, Passchendaele and Cambrai, suffering around 15,000 casualties.
Service in the Labour Corps might suggest Private Wragg was himself wounded. This unit was formed in 1917 from those rated below the A1 fitness required for the frontline infantry and included many of the returned wounded. By the end of the war the Labour Corps numbered approximately 400,000 men, equivalent to around 10% of the army. The corps provided logistical support for the fighting troops – unloading and distributing supplies/ammunition, trench (and grave) digging and labour for road/rail building. Service in the Labour Corps was regarded at the time as secondary, with those who died being commemorated under their original regiment and, as here, with service left unrecorded on the British War Medal.
It is hoped that additional research will help identify Private Wragg and uncover details about his later life. If a descendant can be traced it may be possible to have the medal returned to Private Wragg’s family. If you have information about the Wragg family, particularly those with a Birmingham/Worcestershire connection, and think they may be able to provide further information about Private George Harrold Wragg, we would be very happy to hear from you!