Hellman’s three First World Ward medals are a rare combination – the
British War Medal, Mercantile Marine War and an unusual North American
medal, the bronze award of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and
The BLFE award is un-named but all three are mounted
on what is clearly a contemporary fitting. Despite his name, Hellman was
born in 1860 at Hampstead and his British medals were issued to him in
1922 through the Mercantile Marine Office at Victoria Docks, London
He appears to have been one of 11,751 members of the
union to receive the BLFE medal from an organisation that, although based
in Cleveland, Ohio, covered footplatemen throughout the whole of North
Research on the tribute medal started with an
approach to the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers’ Union in London.
Their research officer suggested writing to the International Transport
Workers’ Federation, also based in London – and that was where the
research began to take off.
The ITWF contacted their North American affiliate,
the Seafarers’ International Union, who in turn approached the Industrial
and Labour Relations Library at Cornell University in New York. It was
they who turned up key facts about the tribute medal.
In 1921 the BLFE agreed that an ‘emblem’ should be
awarded to each of its members who had participated in the war. Many of
them no doubt served in the American and Canadian expeditionary forces, as
well as at sea.
The medals were minted in Newark, New Jersey. On the
reverse they carry the words: ‘Presented by the Grand Lodge to members in
grateful recognition of a duty well and cheerfully performed.’ Beneath
this are the Stars and Stripes and the Canadian Dominion flag of the time.
The obverse depicts a female figure, presumably
Victory, placing a crown of laurels on the head of a naked warrior. To the
left in the background there is a steam locomotive, the dates 1914-19 to
the right and the words ‘World War’ appear in the exergue.
The maroon ribbon, with its central stripe of gold,
carries a five-pointed bronze star which was part of the orginal
specification for the award. Relatives of members who were killed in the
war received a similar medal suspended, without a ribbon, from a bar with
the words ‘Our Country’.
In 1922 the Brotherhood’s general secretary
complained that he was struggling to track down the names of all the next
of kin. His provisional report, however, listed the following members who
had died, toether with their lodge number and the name of the family
member to whom the medal had been sent:
ASTON, Roland T
AVERILL, Ray R
DAVIES, William G
FURLONG, Frank J
HALLIDAY, Robert J
HARRIMAN, Lynn H
HAWKINS, William T
JOHNSON, Peter G
McMASTER, Lynn H
MELTON, Clifton L
POWELL, Nealy H
ROBINSON, F L
VAN SPRECHEN, Emil
WALSH, Thomas A
As a member of the BFLE, the name by which it had
been known since 1906, Hellman had to be ‘white born, of good moral
character, not less than 18 years of age, and able to read and write the
English language’. In 1969 the BFLE merged with other unions and became
the United Transportation Union. Their archives department was keen to
help with the research but, without knowing Hellman’s lodge number, the
task of tracking down his award was virtually impossible.
Coincidentally, a seafarer named August Hellman
served in 1914-18 and his Mercantile Marine War Medal came on to the
market in 1996 – with his named Sea Gallantry Medal. This was awarded for
volunteering to help man a lifeboat launched from the ss Dalton in
bad weather on 12 January 1922. They succeeded in rescuing the crew and
passengers (ten men, two women and three children) from the ss Tidal
which was in difficulties off the Corton Lightship, near Lowestoft. The
rescuing lifeboat had gone only some 300 yards on the return journey when
the Tidal foundered.
This Hellman had been born in Finland in 1878,
although he was living in South Shields when his British War Medal and and
Mercantile Marine War Medal were issued in 1921.
This is an updated version of articles that
appeared in the NHCRA Review in Spring 1995 and Medal News
in November 2000.