Peninsula War Medals from the Collection of the late A.L.T. Mullen
Anthony Mullen (1916 - 2005)
Anthony Lyster Thornton Mullen, Tony to his friends, was born in Sale, Cheshire, on 27 August 1916. He grew up in a happy household. attended Sale Preparatory School and then won a scholarship to Altrincham Grammar School. Although he admitted to not enjoy his schooling much, he excelled at rugby, football and cricket, suffering broken noses and thumbs in pursuit of these sports.
At the time of Tony's birth his father had been downgraded from active service and was in the south of England with the Royal Flying Corps. He had three uncles serving on the Western Front with the Liverpool Irish and Cheshire regiments, taking part in one of the most contentious campaigns of the First World War, the Somme offensive. Tony grew up listening to stories about his ancestors, four generations who had soldiered with the preferred family regiment, the 1st Foot, now known as The Royal Scots. Soldiering that encompassed over 100 years of active service in Canada, the West Indies, Spain, Portugal, South Africa, India, France and Germany.
With this background, it was hardly surprising that my Father developed an interest in matters military. He had started using his pocket money, together with earnings from a Saturday job at a local market garden, to explore the pawnbrokers' and second-hand bookshops which littered the old Shambles in Manchester, in search of regimental histories and discarded campaign medals. The medals and the personal histories of the men who had earned them became a consuming hobby. an outlet for his pursuit of knowledge of that which enthralled him. I guess that to Dad the perfect life would have been regimental soldiering in the far flung corners of Empire, but his Father carefully guided him away from any ideas of becoming a regular soldier.
Leaving school in 1932, my grandfather wanted Dad to follow his footsteps into insurance, but Dad decided he'd had it with sitting behind a desk. So my grandfather purchased a half-share in the market garden where Dad had worked. It was a successful partnership and he enjoyed those pre-War years playing rugby for Ashton on Mersey, growing all manner of vegetables, flowers and shrubs (horticulture being something at which he excelled), touring on his Panther motorcycle and indulging his medal collection. He told me once that on entering a pawnbroker's shop to enquire if the proprietor had any campaign medals for sale the man brought out a bucket filled to the brim with what Dad felt were the discarded lives of men with a story that needed to be told and above all protected. A Waterloo medal could be purchased for five shillings (25 pence) or less while the then recent first War medals were a matter of pennies.
On 30 September 1938 Dad strolled along to the Drill Hall in Hale and enlisted for four years with the colours in the Territorial Army section D reserve. He had in fact joined a sabre squadron of the Cheshire Yeomanry, a cavalry regiment, quite out of keeping with the infantry foot sloggers preferred by the rest of his family. He loved it. Weekends were spent learning to ride, galloping around the Devisdale in Altrincham, going on camp and carrying out manoeuvres where he learnt amongst other things that the presence of cavalry on the battlefield lent tone to what would otherwise be an unseemly brawl and also that smoking on the battlefield was forbidden! Mayhem and murder were acceptable but smoking definitely wasn't. He told me that as the weeks and months passed from 1938 into 1939 he was convinced that war with Germany was inevitable, so he decided to sell his share in the market garden in preparation for call-up and to avoid being caught in a reserved occupation. When it came, call-up was quick; he was called to arms, or 'embodiment' as it was referred to, on 1 September 1939. The regiment moved to Whitwell in Nottinghamshire, then boarded French rolling stock for shipment to France as part of the 1st Cavalry Division. This was it, off to war with a sword, a horse and a fairly ancient rifle. Dad saw active service in North Africa, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Belgium, Holland and France. The regiment was mechanised in, I believe, 1942, following which he had to endure the heart rending business of abandoning his beloved horse Waterford. An incident he often recalled and one that never failed to reduce me to tears. I don't think he ever got over it.
Dad returned to Europe about a year before the end of hostilities and look part in the advances through Holland and Belgium. Following the Armistice and newly married, he settled down to a less dangerous occupation and dedicate himself to bringing up his family and to medal collecting. My brother John and I marvelled at the breadth and scope of his knowledge on all matters relating to military decorations and the men to whom they had been awarded. His interest in the history of the Military General Service medal, its family associations and of course the men who had served in the Peninsula War, many of whom went straight on to defeat Napoleon outright at Waterloo, led him to compile his 726-page magnum opus, The Military General Service Roll 1793-1814, published in 1990 and rightly regarded as a work of great importance to students of the series. In creating it he was helped by many fellow collectors, including Major Jim Balmer, Oliver Cresswell, John Darwent and Donald Hall.
At home and in company Dad was a gentleman with a host of amusing anecdotes and stories guaranteed to reduce us to helpless laughter. He liked a pint, he followed Manchester United all his life and supported the England football team whoever and whenever they played, but enigmatically it was the Irish rugby team which got his support when they played England. Being half-Irish (his Father was a proud Irishman he always had one foot, if not planted in the Emerald Isle then resting somewhere in that green and pleasant land. Indeed, when selected to play in the inter-services rugby internationals he chose to turn out in the green shirt of Ireland, not the white shirt of England. When in later years I quizzed him on this contradiction he said that he always supported the underdog and whereas any British team could select from hundreds. Ireland needed all the help it could get. Another rather fascinating, yet strangely annoying feature of his was that for all practical purposes he was right handed, including using a pen or wielding a paintbrush, but left handed when playing cricket and golf. I think he was naturally ambidextrous.
My Father was deeply touched by all the friendships he made in the world of medal collecting over ears. He is greatly missed by by his family but his medals live on, to be cherished by a new generation of collectors I know he would have appreciated that.