Friday, 30 September 2016

WWI - The Horror of the Trenches

“You are doing the only thing that is right” Eva Isaacs 12 August 1914

After the outbreak of War in August 1914, Britain began to raise a huge volunteer citizen’s army lead by Lord Kitchener, which has been discussed in a previous London Mint Office blog: ‘Lord Kitchener: The Recruitment of Britain’s New Army’. Unlike most people, Lord Kitchener believed this would be a long war and Britain could no longer just rely on its small, professional army.

It’s said that many men joined Lord Kitchener’s new army out of a sense of duty or patriotism and even saw it as a chance to leave dull lives for new adventures. Due to this, in just eight short weeks, over three quarters of a million men in Britain had joined up.

“Digging, digging, digging. Always bloody well digging” Soldiers Song 1915

By late 1914, it was clear that the war had become deadlocked on the Western Front, neither side was achieving victory. Soldiers began to dig trenches which would protect them from fire; they soon became vast trench networks that snaked from the English Channel to Switzerland. It was soon discovered that trenches were easy to defend but difficult to attack; it became a deadly game of hide and seek against an almost invisible enemy.

The Germans had taken higher ground which resulted in a better observation point to repel any attack and the British and French soldiers had to attack across no man’s land - a strip of terrain, laced with barbed wire between the two sides. It’s been noted that there had been trench warfare before, but never on this scale.

These trenches were no luxury , as the months passed and the death toll raised, with many men buried in shallow graves, life in the trenches became a man’s hell - a man’s hell were he had to sleep!

The busier sectors of the trenches that were under constant shellfire by the enemy brought death to many soldiers, whether on active duty, resting in the trench or lying in a dugout. Many were buried as a consequence of such large shell-bursts.

As the war continued and the death toll rose, rats in their millions started infesting the trenches. Gorging themselves on human remains, they could grow to be the size of a cat. Men, exasperated and afraid of these rats tried many methods to rid themselves of the creatures, however, the rat problem remained for the duration of the war. Rats were not the only source of infection and nuisance. Among the rats, lice was a never ending problem causing the men to itch uncontrollably. The lice caused a painful disease called ‘Trench Fever’ resulting in severe pain followed by a high fever. Recovery away from the trenches took up to twelve weeks.

As the war stretched on, trench foot became a major medical condition; this was a fungal infection of the feet caused by the cold, wet and unsanitary trench conditions. Trench foot needed to be handled quickly or it could turn gangrenous and result in amputation.

It is difficult to measure the true number of people killed during the First World War however it has been estimated from 8.5 to 12.0 million.

Discover out our World War I Remembrance Coins HERE

By Helen Thomas

Friday, 12 August 2016


With most of the nation’s medal winning attention being focused on the Olympics at the moment, The London Mint Office are delighted to have found out that we have won our own ‘gong’ - a Bronze Stevie® Award in the 13th Annual International Business Awards.

This is the culmination of a huge year-long campaign which ran during 2014-2015 as part of the commemorations for the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.  You may remember that a fantastic selection of commemorative medals and coins were issued to mark the anniversary, many of which were produced by Worcestershire Medal Service, medallist of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The proceeds from the sale rose over £200,000 in much-need charitable funds for Waterloo 200, the government-backed organisation that was tasked with building awareness of this major historic milestone through educational programmes and events.

The official Waterloo 200 product range included the Pistrucci medal, a legendary medal in numismatic circles’ which was created for the first time, despite having been designed by renowned engraver, Bernadetto Pistrucci, almost 200 years ago.  Ambassadors representing the Allied Forces at The Battle attended a VIP event at Apsley House in London, home to the Duke of Wellington, where they were each presented with the Pistrucci medal on behalf of their countries.

500,000 free bronze Waterloo Campaign Medals were also released to the UK public, giving people the chance to own their own piece of history – the Waterloo Campaign Medal holds much historical significance as it was the first time in British history that a medal was issued by the British Government to all soldiers present in a battle, regardless of rank. Prior to this, medals presented to participants in battle maintained a sense of the army hierarchy in the metal used – gold for generals and senior officers, silver-gilt for field officers and general staff, silver for captains and subalterns, bronze for native commissioned and European non-commissioned officers, and tin for privates.

In addition, The London Mint Office created our own piece of history by creating and installing the Waterloo Memorial at Waterloo Station in central London on behalf of Waterloo 200. It was the first UK war memorial to honour all of the Allied forces who fought at the Battle of Waterloo. As a fitting centrepiece, the Memorial featured a giant replica of the reverse of the Waterloo Campaign medal, depicting Nike, the Greek Goddess of Victory and cast in solid bronze to a diameter of 65cm. 

We are enormously proud that our campaign has now received such prestigious international recognition as it was a major undertaking, with success coming from the tremendous support of our partners and incredibly hard work of all our staff.  This is especially true when we understand that there were more than 3,800 entries to the Awards from more than 40 nations and territories.

However, even more exciting than the Award was the incredible support we had from our customers who collected the Waterloo commemorative products. Without you, the campaign would not have been possible – so a particularly big thank you goes out to all our loyal collectors who bought our Waterloo 200 commemorative products.

And if you missed out last year, it’s not too late – there are still some medals and coins available HERE

Monday, 25 July 2016

Lest we Forget!

Remembering the Battle of the Somme 100 years on

The First World War was the first truly global conflict – the battle raged not just in the trenches of the Western Front but in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Huge armies deployed new weapons to devastating effect. Over nine million soldiers and an unknown number of civilians lost their lives. Empires crumbled, revolution engulfed Russia, and America rose to become a dominant world power.

To coincide with the release of  the Battle of the Somme centenary coin set this week I travelled to France to learn more about the Battle of the Somme and to see for myself some of the 100th anniversary commemorations.

Driving from The channel tunnel at Calais I headed south into the Picardy region. Within an hour I was within touching distance of some of the most prolific battlefields of the entire First World War.

As I continued south nothing could have prepared me for the amount of cemeteries scattered across the French countryside. Every other kilometer by the road side sat a Military war grave with no fewer than 300 hundred white gravestones in each. Upon passing every memorial site the pure scale of the Great War soon resonated on a deeper level than I had ever felt. Each became no longer a headstone but a life, a brother, father and a son lost from families across the globe.

Pictured Above: Stopping to take a picture of the French countryside in the Picardy region.

The first memorial I stopped at was called Warlencourt memorial. Warlencourt is situated in Pas De Calais and was the scene of very fierce fighting in 1916. The cemetery contains 3505 soldiers of which 1823 are unidentified. Walking through the beautifully maintained rows you can’t help but get the overwhelmingly sobering feeling that 9 million was no longer just a number. Some grave stones included name and regiment of the soldier while others had only ‘known unto god’, this was the inscription given to solders that died and were not able to be identified. It’s then that you think of the family and friends of that soldier. To die in a field in France fighting an enemy for reasons that they maybe didn't fully understand and for the family to have no knowledge of the grave, it’s humbling to think what sacrifice was made.

Pictured Above: A view from inside the cemetery at Warlencourt, home to 3505 commonwealth soldiers.

Just a matter of yards down the road from De Warlencourt cemetery is a pre historic burial mound called Butte De Warlencourt. The mound was a vital advantage and position of great strength for the Germans. It was finally taken by the British on 25th August 1918 on the final allied offensive without opposition. Atop the mound today sits a memorial stone and gives a chance to see the rolling countryside where the fighting would have taken place 100 years ago.

Pictured Above: The view from the top of the Butte De Warlencourt, the highest point in the immediate area.

On the 1st July the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge laid a poppy wreath at the Thiepval memorial in the 100th anniversary commemorations. Thiepval memorial is one of the most well known and most visited WW1 memorials in France. Walking up to the monument the great scale is overpowering, as you walk up the stairs wall after wall of names are carved into the stone. Thiepval has a list of 72,246 commonwealth soldiers that lost their lives in the battle.

Pictured Above: A panoramic shot of the Thiepval memorial and gravestones of the cemetery

The final site visit for the day was the Lochnagar crater. The crater is home to the incredible story of the Royal engineers who silently dug for 8 months before, on 1st July, two charges of 24,000lb and 30,000lb were detonated a matter of meters from the German front line. Debris from the explosion rose some 4,000ft into the air.

Pictured Above: A photograph from 1st July 1916 of the detonation projecting the earth 4000ft into the air.

Stood on the edge of the crater you can sense the immense power that the explosion created. Days, weeks and months men spent digging tunnels under the enemy trench with the hope of gaining a matter of only hundreds of meters at a time.

Pictured above: The crater at Lochnagar in July 2016

Early the following day I travelled to Delville Wood. It is the only memorial dedicated to the participation of the South African Forces on the 1914-1918 Western Front. 229,000 officers and men served with the South African Forces in the Great War. Their casualties who died in action or who died of wounds numbered approximately 10,000.

Just days before my visit President of South Africa Jacob Zuma was also at Delville Wood to unveil the brand new museum dedicated to black and white South African soldiers that died during the Great War.  After the humbling experience of walking through the corridor of names you reach the brand new museum. Inside were stories of Black soldiers who died in the battle and displays of their original enlistment papers. Some of the enlistment papers stated the soldiers were paid just £3 a month.

Pictured Above: The corridor of names leading to the new museum at Delville Wood memorial

The final stop on the list was the Cambrai memorial in Doignies which commemorates more than 7,000 servicemen of the United Kingdom and South Africa who died in the Battle of Cambrai in November and December 1917 and whose graves are not known.

Pictured Above: The Cambrai memorial in Doignies

For the final journey back to Calais to board the euro tunnel I decided to drive through the countryside. Winding through the French landscape it really gave me a feeling of what these soldiers would have seen 100 years ago. They too would have felt the rolling hills and the horizon in the distance knowing that out there a soldier fighting with the same belief for his country was waiting.

Pictured Above: An unknown grave at the Thiepval Memorial

Pictured Above: Flowers sit at the grave of an unnamed soldier. ‘Known unto God’

It is estimated that over 9 million soldiers died in World War One. 587,989 were buried in named graves, 526,816 were buried but not identifiable and the rest were not buried at all.

In the pursuit of my freedom their lives were laid down. I am forever grateful.

By George Wright 

Friday, 15 July 2016

Battle of the Atlantic: Too Young a Hero

This year The London Mint Office is proud to partner with The Merchant Navy Association. The Merchant Navy Association is a charitable and volunteer run organisation, founded by two war veterans who served in the 'Fourth Service' during both wars. Their aim is to share the historical knowledge and gain recognition of the ‘forgotten’ fourth service. 

 The huge contribution made by the Merchant Navy and it's seafarers has been so often overlooked and undervalued. Yet, one organisation – Lloyd’s of London, the famous insurance company and publisher of Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, was quick to recognise the sacrifice made by those seamen. 

In December 1940 they created the Lloyd’s War Medal for Bravery at Sea and over the course of the war, 541 awards were made. Among the recipients was Donald O. Clarke, a young man from Chester-le-Street. Clarke joined the Merchant Navy aged 16 in 1939. He was a 19 year old apprentice when he joined the San Emiliano at Swansea and headed for Curacao on 29 April 1942. Having reached Curacao safely, the San Emiliano was heading back from Trinidad across the Atlantic to Capetown with a cargo of over 11,000 tons of aviation fuel, when disaster struck. 

In the early hours of 9 August 1942, the San Emiliano was ripped in two by a torpedo. Burning gasoline engulfed the ship so quickly that only twelve of the forty-eight men aboard were able to escape into the sea. Donald Clarke was one of them. He had been trapped below deck and badly burnt but managed to scramble, along with seven other men, into the only boat to get free of the ship. The survivors pulled four more men from the sea, but they were too badly injured to survive. 

The award citation for Clarke that appeared in the London Gazette on 20 July 1943, picks up the story of his extraordinary courage and fortitude when the lifeboat began to drift back towards the inferno:

… it was clear to all on board that it would require a tremendous effort to pull it out of danger. Most of the occupants, however, were so badly burned that they were unable to help, but Apprentice Clarke took an oar and pulled heartily for two hours without a word of complaint. It was not until after the boat was clear that it was realized how badly he had been injured. His hands had to be cut away from the oar as his burnt flesh had stuck to it. He had pulled as well as anyone, although he was rowing with the bones of his hands. Later when lying at the bottom of the boat his thoughts were still with his shipmates and he sang to keep up their spirits …. By his supreme effort, undertaken without thought of self and in spite of terrible agony, Apprentice Clarke ensured the safety of his comrades in the boat. His great heroism and selfless devotion were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Merchant Navy.

Clarke didn’t survive his ordeal and died the next day. But, by his actions, seven men survived to be picked up and taken to safety by the American ship the General Thomas Jessup.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Portraits of H.M Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her birthday twice each year - once on the anniversary of the day she was born, and on an "official" birthday in June, which is a tradition started by George II in 1748.

Over the last ninety years, the British public have witnessed, celebrated and taken part in some of the most significant events in the Queen's life. Since her coronation in 1953, the image of the Queen has adorned British coinage through a series of beautifully designed portraits.

On 9 September 2015, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning monarch in British history surpassing the record set by her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, who ruled for 63 years and 216 days. It really is an astounding record of a monarch who has given stability and permanency to a country that has changed dramatically in the 60 years since the Queen ascended to the throne.

Loved and respected by many nations and peoples across the world, her sense of duty and service has been paramount and continues to be so even though the Queen is at an age where most have been long retired.

During her reign, there have been four historical portraits of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II which have appeared on British coinage. Each of these designs, together with the exquisite new effigy of the Queen created in honour of her ninetieth birthday. Let’s take a glance at the coins that have accompanied the Queen during those years.

1953 – 1967: Mary Gillick
The first coins of Queen Elizabeth’s reign bore Mary Gillick’s portrait design; this beautiful coin recalls the grace and splendor of the young Queen. Representing the symbolic feeling of youth and optimism in the country during the 1950s which many describe as the dawn of a new Elizabeth age.

The uncrowned portrait of the Queen is still used on Maundy Money which is distributed each year by Her Majesty, on Maundy Thursday.

1968 – 1984: Arnold Machin 

With the upcoming decimilisation in 1971, it was decided the country needed not just new coins but also a new portrait of the Queen. Arnold Machin - a well-respected Royal Academician was given the task of creating the new effigy. His design, featured Her Majesty wearing the Girls of Great Briton and Ireland tiara, was first seen on the new decimal 5p and 10p coins issued in 1968 and was used until 1984.

1985 – 1997: Raphael Maklouf
As the Queen approached her sixtieth birthday, her effigy on the coinage was changed once more by sculptor Raphael Maklouf, his portrait was aimed to 'create a regal and ageless symbol'. His “couped” portrait depicts Queen Elizabeth II wearing the royal diadem favoured by her on the way to and from the State Opening of Parliament.

1998 – 2016: Ian Rank-Broadley FRBS

In 1998 the Queen's effigy was updated by designer Ian Rank-Broadley, his effigy shows a mature Queen, 'a 70 year old woman with poise and bearing'. With the introduction of new, smaller 5p, 10p and 50p coins in 1990s, Rank-Broadley was also aware of the need to make the Queen's head as large as possible so his portrait remains crisp and visible even on coins as tiny as the 5p.

2016: The Official 90th Birthday Portrait by Raphael Maklouf

Raphael Maklouf has once again captured the essence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II with a stunning portrait sculpted in honour of her landmark ninetieth birthday. Drawing inspiration from his earlier portrait, Maklouf has created a new portrait of Her Majesty in which she once more wears the Royal Diamond Diadem and earring that reminiscent of Maklouf's earlier portrait. With extraordinary skill, he has also managed to depict the quiet happiness that has marked the latter part of Her Majesty's record breaking reign and shows a Queen, deservedly content after nine decades gloriously accomplished.

If you are interested in collecting the 'Queen Elizabeth II 90th Birthday Commemorative Coin Set' in honour of Her Majesty The Queen, please check it out on our website HERE.

For more information covering our Queen Elizabeth range, please contact our specialist team, FREE on 0800 634 0300.

Please continue to read our weekly blog to find out more information on upcoming events and products from The London Mint Office.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Spitfire 80th Anniversary

It had speed, power, an impressive rate of climb and could pack a punch.

This year marks the 80th Anniversary of the Supermarine Spitfire's maiden flight in 1936. The Spitfire, a marvel in aviation history served as one of the longest running and most relied upon aircraft during WWII.

The Supermarine Spitfire is one of the most iconic and beloved in Royal Air Force aviation history. Its legendary status keeps it deeply ingrained in the hearts and minds of British people.

The Spitfire was and still is a pure thoroughbred. Its breeding line is owed to that of the Supermarine racing seaplanes of the 1920s and 30s culminating in Supermarine retaining the Schneider Trophy in 1931 after its third straight win with the S.6B. Success was breeding success and Supermarine’s brilliant designer, R J Mitchell immediately set to work designing a fighter taking impetus from those racing thoroughbreds. Yet there would be frustrations and setbacks before the world’s most famous fighter aircraft was born. On the afternoon of 5 March 1936, Spitfire K5054, piloted by Captain J ‘Mutt’ Summers, took off from the airfield at Eastleigh for its maiden test flight. Eight minutes later, Summers landed the Spitfire a true and everlasting legend was born.

Beautiful to look at and graceful in flight, the Spitfire was, and still is a head turner. There can be few aircraft that sends shivers down one's spine like the sight and sound of a Spitfire; but it was also a killer and was designed to outpace the very best of what the enemy could throw at the RAF.

Supermarine Spitfire 80th Anniversary Commemorative

In honour of the Spitfires 80th Anniversary the Spitfire commemorative depicts a Supermarine Spitfire poised for takeoff. This official RAF Association issued commemorative recognises not just the fighter aspect of the aircraft but the historic roots of the Spitfire with its time as a trophy winning seaplane in the Schneider trophy. Enclosed with the medal sits a genuine piece of Spitfire sourced direct from the Biggin Hill Heritage hangar from the Spirit of Kent Spitfire.

If your interested in learning more about the Supermarine Spitfire please  call our dedicated customer care agents free on 0800 6340300, or find it on our website HERE. (

Friday, 17 June 2016

The Pirate Emperor and The London Mint

For two hundred years, Roman Emperors came and went.  Britain was largely sidelined, until the Crisis of the Third Century.  This period saw barbarian raids, plague and civil war ravage the empire.  Britain was attacked by Saxons, France by German tribes…  The people of the western provinces of Rome just did not trust their emperor to protect them.

Imitation coins dating to the Crisis of the Third Century – crude coins like these were produced in Britain illegally, due to a lack of suitable coins reaching the island.

Carausius was a naval commander.  He was popular with the army in Britain and proved very efficient at dealing with Saxon raiders who were fleeing back to the continent with Romano-British silver.  There was only one problem – he was accused of keeping the silver for himself.  A warrant was sent, by the Emperor Maximian, for his arrest and in response, Carausius fled to Britain and was proclaimed emperor!

Carausius’ greatest achievement, besides protecting the people of Britain from barbarians, was the creation of Britain’s very first official mint – the Mint of Londinium.  Based in London, the mint produced coins bearing Carausius’ image, to be distributed to the people.  This was the first time that Roman coins were struck on British soil.
Base silver radiate of Carausius, struck at London.  Carausius’ portrait appears very different than all other emperors of this period – he wanted to make a statement.

Carausius ruled his own private British Empire for seven years.  He was killed by his finance minister, Allectus, in AD 293.  Allectus ruled for a further three years, until an invasion by the Western Roman junior emperor Constantius in AD 296 saw Britain incorporated into the Roman Empire once again.  Remarkably, the London Mint did not close, and continued to strike coins of legitimate Roman Emperors.

Silver-coated nummus of Crispus, son of Constantine.  Coins such as these, dated to around AD 325, were some of the last Roman coins ever produced in London

If you are interested in discussing the fascinating world of ancient coins with our specialised team of agents, please call them FREE on 0800 6340300 where you can find more information on our wide array of products which could be the start of your new collection. 

By Dominic Chorney