Commercial hubs such as auction houses provide immediate access to family history and war service. Auction houses are centres which display products of the past and services rendered.

The memorabilia displayed include medallions (medals) with colourful ribbons. You might see sashes with rosettes or metal badges with engraved insignias. Sometimes, citations and testamurs are displayed with the metal work.

Usually, the memorabilia are placed on velvet textiles or on glass slides in wooden cabinets. Further, there are signs detailing who was awarded the medal(s) and for what reason. In addition, sometimes the metal work and sashes are displayed as ‘For Sale’.

Service recognized

It is an honour to receive recognition of one’s Service to the Crown or to a nation or in a field of endeavour. The medal or sash should be worn with pride. It is a family keep-sake.

Sometimes, on the back of the Service medal, the Service number of the person who was awarded the medal is engraved. The medallion is a badge of honour to be displayed with respect by the person who was awarded it.

A descendant of the relative who was awarded the medal is permitted to wear the medal under certain circumstances. For example, it might be worn at military parades and services alumni events to respect the relative’s service.

Display of medals

Property buyers for motion picture houses (the movie sets), theatre set designers and associated props managers look for memorabilia. They search for war medals, and sashes with rosettes, to use in fictional representations of the truth (bio-pics). These professional buyers offer contracts to hire militaria for use with film or theatre productions.

There are some people who sell family war medals to commercial hubs. Perhaps they probably shouldn’t. Sometimes it is done as a way for family members to ‘cash-in’ on their relative’s war legacy.

By that I mean, that selling family medallions and accompanying paperwork might encourage others, who purchase the items, to undertake forms of deceit and deception.

That is to say, it could lead to giving a false impression of war service or field service. I would not want someone misusing access to my Service number or decorations.

Misuse of access

It could be said that looking for suitable ‘old things’ to add to a family collection can be a part of family history making. It could also be a creative way to future proofing your grand-children’s inheritance.

However, bear this next thought in mind. By providing a sense of family history which is not accurate, you could deceive your relatives and, possibly, other people. Do you want to be confronted by that? That is to say, it is a form of fraud to do so.

Consider misuse of access and where and how the items might be used. Further, consider how purchase of the items could encourage others to lay a false claim to something to which they are not entitled.

A matter of conscience

It is generally agreed that selling family war medals and sashes is a matter of conscience. To this end, the following suggestions are made.

Firstly, contact your relevant government authority or armed forces representative. Check the current policy of war medals and sashes and the use of these items. The medals are tangible evidence of recognition by a government authority of service rendered by a particular person or group.

Secondly, remember the auction houses sell memorabilia and are in the business of trading goods. If the item doesn’t sell, auction houses can be commissioned to dispose of them. Furthermore, the items can be on sale at antiques fairs and collectable stalls. Will you be content to see the memorabilia For Sale?

Thirdly, do you take part in fraud and deceptive practices? That is to say, sometimes memorabilia are worn at military events. Further, occasionally, they are paraded at armed service reunions and alumni events.

Fourthly, some people wear medals they did not earn meritoriously. The medals are used to assist false claims and deception. Are you happy with that idea?

Points to consider

Here are some thoughts to share with your family members to aid a discussion with them about the memorabilia:

Firstly, if you did not render that service, do you have the right to sell or dispose of the medals or sashes?

Secondly, to sell or dispose of the medals or sashes, should you first need to consult with the relevant government authority or armed services authority?

Thirdly, how would you feel/what would you think if you saw someone wearing your relative’s medals or sashes?

Finally, would you think it right if that person tried to impersonate your relative?

Check first...

The poet, satirist and writer Alexander Pope (1688-1744) wrote about being too hasty. The phrase which he used is “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”* The phrase is sometimes referred to as “Angels fear where fools rush in.”

That is to say, people of wisdom (angels) avoid somethings. They sense the hazards or risks attached. Whereas foolish people tend to be hasty. They say things or act quickly to their cost.

It is always better to check first. Then decide what to do or say next.

Make sure you have the right to dispose of tangible militaria which you might not have earned. To team play, consulting all family members who might have a claim on the items might be a sound idea.

Or perhaps donate the medals and sashes to a war museum? Importantly, remember that medals and militaria are not boomerangs which will return at will. Once sold by the family, militaria are gone forever.


*Proverb 217, ‘Fools rush in where angels fear to tread’, English Proverbs Explained, Ronald Ridout and Clifford Witting, (1967, 1969), Pan Reference, Reading, Great Britain, pp. 69 and 188. This book quotes Alexander Pope in his book Essay on Criticism (1711).

Text copyright: Fiona Rothchilds 2021 and Ronald Ridout and Clifford Witting 1969 as cited.
Photographic image of militaria at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, ACT, Australia.
Photographic image copyright: Fiona Rothchilds 2021.
Text uploaded 26 April 2021.