Orders, Decorations and Medals (25 September 2008)
William Henry Fevyer
As Bill built up his collection he acquired, almost by default, the occasional life saving award, generally bronze medals of the Royal Humane Society. Always an inquisitive researcher, it was not long before Bill established a good working relationship with Major 'Dick' Dickinson, the Secretary of the R.H.S., and Bill was able to build up a good understanding of the Society's archive and of course, research the R.H.S. medals in his collection.
It was probably at this time that Bill made the decision to begin to focus on life saving awards. He rightly considered every one of them to be awards for gallantry or bravery, and the writer remembers being told by Bill that, "it's probably more gallant to save a life than to take a life," so for the rest of his collecting days Bill became a collector of life saving awards and his non-life saving groups were sold at auction by Spink in November 1998.
Bill was a co-founder of the Life Saving Awards Research Society in 1987, a society which few of the original members expected to last much more than a couple of years due to the specialist nature of the subject. But this was one of the few occasions that Bill made a wrong prediction regarding life saving awards-LSARS is still going strongly to this day. The most likely reason for its success is that medal collectors have increasingly recognised that life saving awards were given for bravery and gallantry and that they generally are more researchable than similar military awards.
During the 1980s and 1990s Bill steadily built up his considerable collection of life saving awards which ranged from privately awarded medals, the awards given by life saving societies and other organisations, to the official medals awarded by the Crown. In 1985 an exhibition of his life saving awards was staged by Spink and many of the items displayed then appear in this catalogue. With regard to official awards, Bill's main interest was the George Medal, and he assembled a marvellous collection of 34 of these awards which he exhibited at Nimrod Dix & Co in London between 24 September and 2 October 1985, coinciding with the OMRS Convention. These medals were later sold at auction by Christie's in March 1990.
However, his main interest was always the unofficial awards for life saving, those that are given by the well known life saving societies such as the Royal Humane Society, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society, the Society for the Protection of Life from Fire and many others. Those named are still presenting awards for life saving, but there are many more life saving societies and funds, now defunct, who gave awards.
Bill's health began to fail in 2000 and his active collecting and researching gradually ceased. However, although now less mobile, he continued to show a determined interest in life saving matters, continuing to support LSARS by phone, fax and 'carrier pigeon', and was always pleased to receive life saving visitors to 'International Headquarters', his euphemism for his basement study in Exeter. Sadly, Bill's health deteriorated and he passed away on 2 july 2003.
His family opted to take no immediate decisions regarding the collection and it has remained with them for some years. As is inevitable in such circumstances, the often mentioned question, "Do you know what's happening with Bill's collection?" was asked many times, but until now the stock reply has been, "it's still with the family". But times change and the decision has been made to bring the collection to auction, so collectors of life saving awards, gallantry awards and those who would like to acquire some fascinating medal groups will now have the opportunity to do so. There can be no doubt that this is the finest collection of life saving awards ever to come on the market -a veritable Aladdin's cave. There are over 230 lots of medals ranging from stunning gallantry groups, unique awards, rarities and, at the other end of the scale, the humble R.H.S. bronze and privately awarded medal. But, as Bill rightly proclaimed, whatever the medal, there is a story of bravery and gallantry to be told.
There are gems everywhere, but perhaps the most important item is the R.N.I.P.R.S. gold medal with second award boat-a very rare award in its own right, but this one was awarded to George Palmer, Deputy Chairman of the Institute for 25 years. There are no less than four Stanhope Medals of the R.H.S., a gold medal with gold second award bar from the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society, a gold award given by the Shipwrecked Fishermen & Mariners Royal Benevolent Society and the rare gold medal awarded for the Hamstead Colliery disaster.
For those collectors liking multiple awards, the collection has many examples. The L.S. & H.S. has a number of medals where the same recipient has been responsible for multiple life saving actions, which are reflected in multiple bars to the medals -who has ever seen before a five-bar L.S. & H.S. oval medal, or a four-bar marine 3rd type medal, or indeed a three-bar fire medal? The R.N.L.I., not to be forgotten, also has second and third service bars to the medals. If multiple awards of different medals to the same recipient for the same rescue are your desire, these may also be found in the collection. The nine-medal group to Robert Brown contains no less than five life saving medals for the rescue of the crew of the Unsworth, and there are other similar groups containing four, three and numerous pairs of awards.
Famous rescues are to be found in the collection; a Warren Hastings group will appeal to military collectors, while there are no less than three groups of medals for the rescue of crew and passengers (including members of the Royal Family) of the SS Delhi. Famous life savers are here too; they tend to be lifeboat coxswains, and perhaps none was more famous in his day than coxswain Fish of the Ramsgate lifeboat. He gallantly led his men to the rescue of the crew of the Indian Chief-a rescue which took over 24 hours in terrible winter conditions. Fish received the L.S. & H.S. 3rd type marine medal in silver for this rescue, plus the S.G.M. and the R.N.L.I. medal in gold. Only the L.S. & H.S. medal is in the collection - where are the others now?
One can go on describing the fascinating medals to be found in the collection, but whatever your collecting theme-by geographical area, by medal type, by family name or attribution, policemen, firemen, railwaymen, ladies -there is something in this collection for you all. Look through the following pages, be amazed, give thanks to Bill for putting this all together and buy yourself a piece of life saving history!