Mystery bidder says Afghanistan medal will stay in rightful place - Berkshire
The silver Afghanistan 1878-1880 medal belonged to Private William Belcher, the fifth of eight children of Shaw cowman, James Belcher and wife, Esther, went under the hammer at an auction at Spink in Bloomsbury, London, in April having been expected to sell for between £100 and £140.
It was bought for £320 by historian John O’Loughlin, aged 45, from Caversham, who has come forward the week before the 132nd anniversary of the Battle of Maiwand, considered to be the most catastrophic engagement the 66th Regiment Foot – later the Berkshire Regiment - was ever to take part in, which Private Belcher survived.
“I wouldn't normally part with £400 for a medal, but I had an idea of its true value, and it would have been a great shame if it had been purchased by someone abroad, or got lost in someone’s' huge collection somewhere, never to have its story told,” he said.
“William Belcher must have been as hard as nails to get through that disaster, and as a son of Newbury its a good feeling to have kept his medal in Berkshire.
“Although army records say he was born in 1851, William Belcher was actually born in Shaw in the third quarter of 1853, and was only fifteen or sixteen when he enlisted in the 2nd Battalion, Berkshire Regiment.”
He served in India and Afghanistan from February 1870 to January 1881 and took part in the second Anglo-Afghan War between 1878 and 1880, for which he received the medal.
The Battle of Maiwand began on July 27, 1880, and of the 473 men of the 66th Regiment, 268 men were listed as killed, whilst a further 20 wounded.
“What is more telling, particularly with regards to William Belcher, are the casualty figures given for the subsequent retreat to Kandahar. A further 42 men were listed as either killed, died, or missing, with another three men wounded. William would have endured something of a living hell in his effort to get safely back to Kandahar,” Mr O’Loughlin said.
“The rearguard of the retreat was harassed by the victorious Afghans for the first few of the estimated 45 miles, which the soldiers had to walk in the blistering heat. And this, after having fought in the dusty plains for hours on end with little or no water many collapsed and died from thirst, refusing to march any further.
“Others were shot, as they passed villages on their long march; the Afghans were a lethal shot with their jezail (a type of hand-made flintlock musket).
“Others were kidnapped and murdered whilst searching for water near the villages. William Belcher was one of the lucky ones.”
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