2651 AR NEDI Aldridges Medals 1

First World War Australian Imperial Force trio awarded to Lance Corporal/Lt Elmer Laing, £2400 at Aldridges of Bath.

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A poignant lot emerged towards the end of the Collectors Sale held at Aldridges of Bath reinforces the message with medals that there is a “personal story behind each one”, as the auctioneer pointed out.

Offered on June 25 was a First World War Australian Imperial Force (AIF) trio, which included the 1914-15 Star, British War and Victory Medals awarded to Lance Corporal/Lt Elmer Winfred Drake Laing, with a letter from the Commonwealth of Australia dated April 9, 1921, posthumously awarding the 1914-15 Star.

2651 AR NEDI Aldridges Medals 2

With the medals sold for £2400 by Aldridges of Bath, a letter from the Commonwealth of Australia dated April 9, 1921, posthumously awarding the 1914-15 Star to Lt Laing.

Consigned by a private local client, the set had an estimate of £60-80 as you would expect for such a common combination of medals.

However, as auctioneer Ivan Street told ATG, much pre-sale interest emerged, specifically from Australia. On the day, the trio of medals hammered down to a private UK buyer for £2400 (plus 20% buyer’s premium).

As ever with a result like this, it is worth delving into the story of Laing to work out why such a common group of medals would create such demand. It reveals Anzac interest, the fact that sadly Lt Laing was killed in action in 1918 and he was the recipient of the Military Cross (though not included with this lot) – all factors that would boost interest.

In total, 2403 Australians received the MC (instituted in 1914) in the First World War.

Elmer Winfred Drake Laing

Laing was born in New South Wales in 1892, but was educated in England and then Marburg, Germany. He returned to Australia in 1911 when he was 18. He became a fruit grower, an orchardist, but joined up on September 14, 1914, barely a month after the outbreak of war.

Unlike Britain, where conscription was introduced, all serving Australian soldiers in the First World War volunteered of their own accord into the AIF.

He served with the 12th Battalion Australian Infantry, the first battalion to go ashore at Anzac Cove on April 25, 1915. The battalion remained on Gallipoli until the evacuation in December. It was then deployed to France, fighting at Pozieres where Laing was awarded a Military Cross.

The citation said: "Lieut Laing was in command of his platoon in the attack at Pozieres which he led with conspicuous bravery and coolness. On the night of 24th July 1916 he commanded a patrol sent out to the N.E. corner of Pozieres to cover a party of Engineers digging a strong post and when they were driven back by machine gun fire he assisted to bring back a wounded man and by his coolness and courageousness fully got his patrol back to our line."

Despite being wounded in action, the young Laing survived the horrors of Gallipoli to carry on fighting for King and Country.

In autumn 1917 the battalion was engaged at Third Ypres and in the spring of 1918 attempting to halt the German offensive in the same region.

On May 4 the 12th Battalion relieved the 4th in the line "east & south east of Strazeele". Laing was killed on the 8th, the war diary recorded: "Heavy barrage of 4.2's & 7.7's on the two left companies & support company at 3 am during which Lieut E.W.D.Laing M.C. was killed."

In Memoriam

By the end of the war the AIF had gained a reputation as being a well-trained and highly effective military force, playing a significant role in the final Allied victory.

However, this reputation came at a heavy cost with a casualty rate among the highest of any belligerent for the war.

Carved in stone, the epitaphs on the graves of the First World War fallen captured the nation’s pain over 100 years ago. Families were not allowed to choose their own headstones; they had to accept the uniform headstone chosen by the War Graves Commission for all the war dead. This meant that choosing an inscription was not just the last contact families had with their dead but the only contact they had with them. This gave them huge significance. The families of those killed in the First World War had a mere 66 characters to compose an inscription, an epitaph, for their relation’s headstone.

Elmer Laing's father, William Drake Laing, chose his inscription carefully, simply stating the cause for which his Australian son had fought and died, followed by the facts –




8TH MAY 1918 AGE 25