The British War Medal 1914-20 is not exactly rare: 6,500,000 were issued in silver and 110,000 in bronze. If not included in a larger group with other honours, normally you would be lucky to get £20 for a silver and £100 for a bronze (the latter issued largely to Chinese, Indian and Maltese personnel in labour battalions).
But a fantastic back story can make the difference. At the Lockdales Coins & Collectables auction on March 18-19 in Martlesham, Ipswich, Lt Col Douglas’s BWM on its own soared to a hammer price of £560 (or £670 including premium) against a £240-260 estimate. Consigned from a Kent private collection, it was bought by a UK medal dealer.
True all rounder
Where do we start with Douglas, of the 2nd Bn Bedfordshire Regt? First things first. He was born in 1882 in north London.
“He was a great sportsman,” the Lockdales catalogue notes. You’re telling me.
Captain of the cricket team, he also played football and hockey and was a gymnast. In boxing, he won featherweight (1899) and middleweight (1901) titles at Aldershot. Douglas was world amateur middleweight boxing champion in 1908 and middleweight Olympic champion the same year at the London Games. It maybe helped that his father Douglas’ father was the match referee, handing his son the hard-earned medal (he was also the president of the Amateur Boxing Association).
Boxing conquered, on to cricket. He was captain of the Essex County Cricket XI 1911-28 (life member 1929). He captained the MCC team which brought back the Ashes from Australia 1911-12 as well as being captain in South Africa, 1913-14. Douglas was Wisden Cricketer of the Year 1915.
His later MCC captaincy from 1920-21 was not so happy. As a family website, douglashistory.co.uk, says: “Douglas's side lost the series 5-0, an unparalleled humiliation for England against Australia until matched by Andrew Flintoff's side in 2006–7.”
And there's more
As if that all-round performance wasn’t enough, he played football, representing the two great amateur side of Corinthians and Casuals, and won two Amateur Football Alliance caps for England.
Such a remarkable character deserves a good send-off. Befitting this larger-than-life man, he untimely demise came on December 19, 1930, when he was drowned in the Kattegat (between Denmark and Sweden).
Again, douglashistory.co.uk notes: “He and his father were returning from a business trip to Finland when the boat on which they were travelling, Oberon, collided with another steamer, Arcturus, in thick fog, just off the Danish coast.
"The captains of the two ships were brothers who, minutes earlier, had wired Christmas greetings to each other, unaware of the boats’ fatal proximity. The Douglases were among 42 people who lost their lives in the disaster; it was reported that Johnny Douglas died trying to save his father.”