The John Chidzey Collection
John Chidzey, AIMTA (1925 - 2011)
Born in Eastleigh on 22nd October 1925 John Chidzey spent almost all his life in Winchester where, on leaving School, he won a scholarship to the highly regarded local School of Art. In November 1941 he joined 1105 (Winchester) Squadron of the newly formed Air Training Corps (ATC), became the bass drummer in the band and rapidly rose to the rank of FSgt. In May 1942 at the age of 16 he volunteered for service as a Police Messenger and served as such till July 1945 when on being stood down he received a letter of commendation from the Chief Constable.
During his time in the ATC he studied for and passed the aircrew selection tests for Pilot, Navigator, Bomb Aimer (PNB), subsequently enlisting in the RAFVR in October 1943 regimental number 3033807 from the block allocated to former ATC Cadets. Despite a dwindling requirement for aircrew, and encouragement to transfer to the Army, John remained determined to serve with the RAF and to his great credit was one of relatively few men retained on deferred service as potential aircrew until the end of the War. On 27 September 1945, with no further prospect of serving as aircrew, John enlisted in the RAF Equipment Branch in which capacity he served in with 111 Maintenance Unit at Tura, Egypt, and later conveniently close to home at Longparish with 202 Maintenance Unit.
Post war he qualified as a Chartered Public Service Accountant, serving most of his subsequent working life in that capacity with Winchester Rural District Council. But John was a man of many parts with a lively, enquiring mind and a passion for nature, the countryside (especially West Dorset) and photography. For a short time in the 1950’s he held an RAFVR(T) commission and returned to work with the ATC; later he qualified as a private pilot and regularly flew from Popham and Middle Wallop; he was a keen angler; loved his prize winning garden and was an avid genealogist.
Despite his many interests it was the collection and study of British medals and the men behind them which was to remain with him and give him so much pleasure over the years. His interest in history extended to all three services but Royal Navy Engineers, Army Padres and the Queen’s South Africa medal held a special fascination and are richly represented in his collection which I know he would now want future generations of collectors to enjoy.
John applied the same meticulous approach and keen eye for detail to his medal collecting and research that he did to his professional life as an accountant. His early purchases were made in the junk shops around Portsmouth and Southampton and he unearthed many rarities. In 1965 he wrote to Captain Taprell Dorling DSO RN pointing out that he had an example of the Metropolitan Police Ambulance Service 1911 Coronation Medal (engraved Dr JW Caton - Lot 675) which was omitted from the 1960 edition of his seminal work, Ribbons and Medals. In his note of acknowledgment Taprell Dorling suggested John join the OMRS which he did soon afterwards becoming member number 575.
John’s passion for the unusual, the interesting and for a good story gained momentum over the years. Buying the un-named unattributed MBE (hallmarked 1946) DSC (dated 1941) group resulted in intense detective work which led to him identifying the recipient by process of elimination as Cdr NK Cambell FAA (Lot 1692) and to purchase of the medals to his elder brother Admiral DRF Cambell CB DSC (Lot 1679).
A Southampton junk shop in 1969 produced the Boer War DCM trio to Sgt J Mundy of 2Bn Wiltshire Regiment (Lot 1714) and it gave John immense satisfaction when within a month or so he was able to add the medals to Lt Col Walter Brown of the Wiltshires (Lot 1331) who had been rescued by Mundy in the act for which he received the DCM. Brown was subsequently killed at Thiepval on 5th July 1916 and is buried in Blighty Valley.
On another occasion the gardener at the Council Offices where John worked gave him the Kabul to Kandahar Star to Tpr F Gilmour 9th Lancers (Lot 1264) which had been dug up in a garden in Winchester. The gardener had owned the medal for many years having been given it himself simply because he shared the name of the recipient. Some years later Gilmour’s two bar Afghan medal surfaced with a London dealer and John was thrilled to be able to reunite the pair.
John‘s capacity for learning never dimmed; he did not parade his knowledge nor did he seek praise but I am eternally grateful that he was always willing to share his expertise with me as he did with many others through a lively correspondence and articles in the OMRS Journal, Medal News, Soldier magazine and his involvement with the local Somborne & District Local History Society and the Winchester and District Militaria Society.
Only a few months ago I enjoyed listening to his deep insights into the transatlantic convoys which struggled to bring supplies to Britain during the Second World War. But he was equally entertaining and informative when outlining the controversial career of Field Marshal Sir John French whose biography he had just read. He was hugely dedicated and tenacious in his research and his knowledge of land, sea and air campaigns, and in the men who took part in them, was encyclopaedic.
The John Chidzey collection, including not one but two outstanding Conspicuous Gallantry Medal groups and many other fabulous medals, will stand testament to a dear friend who was not only a passionate medal collector but also a determined, meticulous researcher who fully appreciated and valued the stories he was able to unlock of the “man behind the medal.”