The Douglas-Morris Collection of Naval Medals

The Douglas-Morris Collection of Naval Medals

Captain Kenneth John Douglas-Morris, R.N. D.L. (1919 - 1993)

All who came into contact with Kenneth John Douglas-Morris, known affectionately to Naval Medal collectors from all corners of the globe as 'The Captain' or 'Dougie', never failed to be impressed by his encyclopaedic knowledge of Naval Medals. His enthusiasm for the hobby was legendary, and his unfailing willingness to share with others the results of his extensive research was admired by all who came to know him.

Born in Speen, Berkshire, on 11 April 1919, he was educated at Uppingham School. In 1937 he entered the Royal Navy as an Engineer Cadet aboard the Training Ship HMS EREBUS. On joining the Royal Naval Engineering College at Keyham in 1938 he was promoted to Midshipman (E) and in 1939, whilst studying at the College, to Sub Lieutenant (E). Passing out of Keyham as an Acting Lieutenant (E) in 1942 he was appointed to the Battleship HMS REVENGE, and promoted to Lieutenant (E) in April 1942. He joined the Battleship HMS RODNEY in 1943 and served in her until appointed to the Cruiser HMS DIADEM in 1945 as an acting Lieutenant Commander (E) at the age of 26 years. Whilst serving in these three Capital ships he saw action in the North Atlantic, Arctic (Russian Convoys), Mediterranean, North Africa (including Malta Convoys), Normandy Landings, English Channel, and the Coast of Norway. His war service was recognised by the award of the 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star, (F&G Clasp), Africa Star, Italy Star and War Medal.

Loaned to the Royal New Zealand Navy during 1946-1949, he was promoted to Lieutenant Commander (E) in May 1949. Appointed to the shore establishment HMS COCHRANE at Rosyth in 1950, he served next as Senior Engineer Officer aboard the Destroyer HMS GRENVILLE. He was promoted at the comparatively young age of 34 years to Commander (E) in June 1953, and appointed to HMS COSSACK as Squadron Engineer Officer 8th Destroyer Squadron serving in Korean Waters. He received the Queen's and the United Nations Korea Medals. In the late 1950's and early 1960's he held several Staff appointments in various Admiralty Departments including those of the Engineer-in-Chief, the Director of Tactical & Staff Duties, the Director of Administrative Planning & Ship Department, and the Director General of Dockyards & Maintenance. In 1959 and 1960 he was Senior Engineer Officer on the Staff of Flag Officer Sea Training at HMS Osprey, Portland. From 1965 to 1967 he commanded HMS CALEDONIA, the Artificer's Training Establishment. His last appointment before retiring in 1972 was at the Ministry of Defence with the Director General of Personnel Services & Training (Naval), as Senior Naval Member of the Tri-Service Job Evaluation Judging Panel. He was appointed ADC to the Queen in 1971 and a Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London in 1977.

Prior to becoming a Medal collector in 1965 he had an avid interest in English milled gold coinage 1700-1900. In 1974 he decided to concentrate on his Naval Medal collecting and sold his coin collection. In the Sotheby catalogue his collection was described as 'the most comprehensive of its kind to appear at public auction in the last fifty years'. The Collection, which contained many rare patterns and proofs sold for a record £570,000. The sale catalogue is now a collector's item and is frequently used as a reference source in major coin sales. 
During the 28 years in which he collected Medals he put together what is unquestionably the finest Collection of British Naval Medals in the world. Other collections may be able to boast finer or rarer individual pieces-although his had plenty of those-but the Douglas-Morris Naval Medal Collection has a breadth and above all, a depth that is completely unequalled. The briefest of glances into 'Naval Medals' Volumes I & II will reveal a succession of remarkable "runs" of medals to each ship present at different actions-of which the complete Trafalgar series is but one of the more glamorous examples. This achievement obviously owed much to his wealth, but it was at least as much the result of careful planning and of painstaking studies of medal sale catalogues, and also of an instinctive flair for choosing the right pieces and relating them to each other.

With few exceptions every Medal in his Collection was meticulously researched at the Public Record Office and other archives, and he delighted in tracking down the personal details of the men who had received them-"Putting flesh on a hunk of metal", as he always called it. The knowledge that he gained during the course of his research into the social history of the Royal Navy made him an expert in this little-studied field. As a result, his books are as valuable for their insights into Naval history as for their numismatic material. Not for him the characteristic scholar's miserliness, he was always remarkably generous with his knowledge and shared it freely with anyone who went to him for help; both in his long and detailed replies to letters from fellow-researchers and in his informative articles which were published in numerous medal publications.

In addition to his Naval Medal Collection he also held at different times impressive Collections of Painted China Pot Lids, King's Messenger Badges, Miniature Medals, Jubilee and Coronation Medals, and Medals to Nurses. He also managed to assemble one of the world's foremost Collections of Staffordshire Pottery Naval Figurines. His quest for all things Naval led to the creation of impressive Collections of Naval Books, Manuscripts and Naval Photograph Albums.

Having discovered that the existing Medal Rolls for the Naval General Service Medal fell well short of his requirements, since many were incomplete and some were missing, he set himself the daunting task of constructing a new N.G.S Medal Roll. Nearly twenty years of painstaking research resulted in the publication in 1984 of 'The Naval General Service Medal 1793-1840 Medal Roll' which is recognised as the definitive work on the subject. His desire to catalogue his Medal Collection and to share with others his hard won knowledge led to the publication in 1987 of Volume I of 'Naval Medals 1793-1856'. Ongoing research resulted in the publication in 1991 of 'Naval Long Service Medals' and, in 1994, shortly after his death, Volume II of 'Naval Medals 1857-1880' was published. It had been intended to publish Volume III of 'Naval Medals 1881-1990'. Unfortunately, as a significant part of the Collection is now being offered for sale, this will no longer be possible.

It is hoped that the cataloguing of the Collection will go some way towards this end. It is intended that many of the research articles and medal rolls covering subjects such as Naval Armoured Trains in the Egypt, the South Africa and the China Campaigns, the Canadian Boatmen on the Nile, awards of the Egypt Medal to Masters of Transports, and Medals issued to the Royal Indian Marine, that would have appeared in Volume III, will now be published in forthcoming editions of the Journals of the Orders and Medals Research Society and the Naval Historical Collectors & Research Association.

The Captain was a generous benefactor, as well as a Trustee and Chairman of the Finance Committee of the Royal Naval Museum. His loans of Medals and Naval Memorabilia enabled the Museum to mount many popular Exhibitions including 'The Men of Trafalgar and Their Medals' and 'Jack of All Trades'. He enjoyed working closely with the Museum's Curatorial Staff and possessed a highly imaginative and creative vision that resulted in many of his Medals being incorporated into different displays. He had a great love of people and a rather impish sense of humour.

He loved lurking incognito in the Royal Naval Museum Galleries -especially the one that bears his name -listening to the visitors' comments and then engaging them in conversation, before finally revealing his identity. He was genuinely fascinated by people and this interest influenced everything that he did, always questioning and probing, often impatient and irascible with those less quick than he, employing a rich vocabulary of 'navalese' to sharpen their wits; but never, ever, boring.

It was always the Captain's intention that on his death the major part of his Naval Medal Collection should form the nucleus of the National Collection at the Royal Naval Museum at Portsmouth. His wishes have been carried out; his entire Collection of over 400 Naval Medals issued between 1793 and 1840, including his outstanding collection of Naval General Service Medals, are now housed at the Museum. In addition, his renowned Collections of Staffordshire Pottery Naval Figurines, Naval Books, Manuscripts and Photographic Albums, and Naval Memorabilia are now also held at the Museum. Currently on loan to the Museum are Medals to over 200 recipients who fought in the wars, campaigns and actions in which the Royal Navy was involved during the period 1840-1990. The residual Naval Medal Collection, containing Medals to some 1,400 recipients, is to be offered for sale in two parts by auction; the first part offered here, and the second part on 12 February 1997.

Whilst the Captain had a great passion for Medal collecting his greatest love in life was his family; he was devoted to his wife and four children, and in the course of time he became a proud and doting grandfather. In the last two years of his life he bore with great fortitude the severest effects of thrombosis. Despite these tribulations his sense of humour never left him, and in his specially adapted car he continued to regularly visit both the Royal Naval Museum at Portsmouth, and the Public Record Office at Kew. If, whilst in his wheelchair, his path was obstructed in the corridors of the PRO, he would call out, causing much amusement to the Staff, "make way for a legless Naval Officer".

A long-standing member of the Orders and Medals Research Society, he was a Committee Member for many years, an enthusiastic supporter of the Annual Convention, and a frequent contributor to the Society Journal. To Society Members seeking help on Naval matters be gave generously of his time and advice. He was a recipient of the Society's Gold Badge awarded for Meritorious Service.

A founder Member and a major benefactor of the aval Historical Collectors & Research Association, his Articles abound in the early issues of the Association's Journal and up to the time of his death it was rare to find an edition without a contribution or reference by K.D-M.

With the Captain's passing, the medal fraternity has lost one of its greatest benefactors and champions of the hobby. He was a strong advocate of the precept that Medal collectors are temporary custodians of the Medals they are privileged to hold and that one day his Medals would pass into other collections. His great hope was that ongoing research by the new custodians into records, not available during his lifetime for public scrutiny, would uncover additional information on the services of sailors and marines of yester-year, and that they would ensure that it was recorded for posterity.

Much of his extraordinary knowledge on Naval Medals is reflected in the pages of this catalogue. Let them stand, not only as a record of a unique collection, but also as a fitting memorial to a very generous and gifted man.