Object of the Month - July 2023

31 July, 2023

Commemorative boxing medal 

Our July Object of Month is an item that has recently come into our collection and piqued the interest of our Curator Philip Magrath. 

Sport was of paramount importance to the British Army in the late Victorian and early Edwardian periods. It was regarded as being fundamental in preparing men for combat by improving fitness, increasing morale, and generating collective comradeship. In particular equestrianism, rugby, and boxing were all seen as building manhood and leadership. But the latter was regarded as preferential for soldier training because of its requirement for fitness, strength, courage, and persistence. Boxing is one sport that the Royal Artillery has historically excelled at.  

Amongst the celebrated Gunner sluggers of their day were: ‘Gunner’ James Moir - Royal Marine Artillery but considering himself a Gunner - British Heavyweight Champion 1906-1909; ‘The Bombardier’ Duncan McCleod, Royal Field Artillery - renowned for his punching power and ‘Bombardier’ Billy Wells, Royal Field Artillery, British Heavyweight Champion 1911-1919, and first heavyweight winner of the coveted Lonsdale Belt put up by Hugh Lowther, 5th Earl of Lonsdale. This belt is owned by the Royal Artillery Institute and is on display in the Officers' Mess in Larkhill.  

A commemorative boxing medal won by Gunner R. Wellington at Light-Middleweight has just come into the collection, sadly there were no further details with it. Still in its original NAAFI presentation box, the medal’s obverse side shows the Royal Artillery identifier surrounded by olive leaves as well as the inscription GNR R. Wellington. The reverse carries around its periphery ROYAL ARTILLERY DEPOT NOVICES BOXING with the inscription WINNER LT MIDDLE WT 2ND BTTY. Additionally, it features a small NA&AFI stamp of The Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes which was established in 1920 by the Government to run the recreational facilities required by the armed forces. Critically, in the sense that it provides a further clue identifying the winner, is the silver hallmark of the Birmingham Assay Office dated 1928.  

According to the Attestation Ledgers within the Royal Artillery Museum archives, three individuals could represent our pugilist. Richard Henry Wellington, born in Bristol c.1893 joined the Royal Artillery in 1923 making him c.30 years of age in 1928. Raymond John Wellington, born in 1905 joined the Royal Artillery in April 1928 and re-enlisted in 1933. Reginald Wellington with no recorded birth date joined the Royal Artillery in August 1928. My feeling is that the last two are less likely to have been our man than the first, but clearly further research is needed.  

Such artefacts, together with the high number of commemorative shields that have survived, are extremely important records of Gunner sporting prowess and every effort must be made to preserve them for posterity. In my role as Curator of Artillery to the Royal Artillery Museum I feel privileged to be playing a role in doing this as well as sharing the stories behind them. 

Philip Magrath, Curator of Artillery