Century-old war medals find their way back to Ossett family

When the partner of an Ossett historian snapped up a clutch of century-old war medals from an online auction site, they had little idea that their history lay very close to home - just a matter of streets away in fact.

Friday, 18th June 2021, 1:17 pm

Anne-Marie Fawcett, who runs the history Facebook page, Ossett Through The Ages, says her partner Simon successfully bought the three medals advertised on eBay back in September 2019 with a winning bid of just a few pounds.

He bought them simply because they bear the name Fawcett, and having been posted from York there was little to pinpoint their origin or significance.

They were put in a drawer, Anne-Marie admits, and forgotten about, until recently.

Anne-Marie and her partner Simon hand over the medals to Olive Tasker.
Anne-Marie and her partner Simon hand over the medals to Olive Tasker.

She said: “I had planned to come back to them, and I just came across them again a few weeks ago when I was looking for my summer clothes!”

She started with the name and service number and took a guess at his age, which threw up his details on an ancestry site to which she subscribes to, then simply followed the trail.

Anne-Marie admits she screamed out loud when she made the connection to Ossett, that they belonged to Henry Rowland Fawcett, whose family ran the plumbing shop on The Green.

“I was absolutely over the moon, just delighted, when I realised the connection,” she added.

The medals were posted from York.

And using Ossett Through The Ages, she was able to trace Mr Fawcett’s granddaughter, Olive Tasker, who lives in the area and is in her 70s.

“I remembered we had members on our group who had a connection but I couldn’t remember who, then I found some comments left on the group from Olive.

“The group search facility is temperamental so I’d given us a 50/50 chance of finding what we were looking for, it’s very frustrating, but it worked this time.

“I didn’t know her personally but managed to get in touch with the help of some of our friends.

The inscription of Fawcett on the medals.

“She was quite stunned but was delighted when we told her.

“She asked if we should keep them but we said they were for her.

“This is why we do what we do, making connections is what we do best, and this one was pretty special.

“Working together, we connect and reconnect our members with friends and family and have even introduced our members to family they didn’t know they had.

The plumbing business in Ossett.

“We stretch around the world and the connections we make never cease to amaze me.

“Olive hasn’t got anything like this, and she wants to pass them on to her family.”

Fittingly, Anne-Marie recently met Olive in front of the war memorial in Ossett so she could reunite the medals with rightful family.

They included the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and a ten year long service medal from the National Fire Brigades Association.

Anne-Marie said: “Considering their age, they are in a good condition, although the ribbons are not so good.

“We only paid a few pounds, which was really good because you can pay hundreds.

Henry Fawcett (pictured far right)

“We regularly look for World War One memorabilia but we don’t know how the seller came to have these.”

Employing the help of David Whitworn, a World War One historian, Anne-Marie Fawcett was able to glean that Private Henry Fawcett was part of group of soldiers who were transferred from the Durham Light Infantry to the Labour Corps during the war.

The Labour Corps cooked, cleaned, carried and cared for the soldiers on the front line and behind the lines.

They built roads and railways, carried the wounded and buried the dead.

The British War Medal was awarded to those who had served during the conflict.

The Victory Medal was also issued to those who served between 1914 and 1918.

Henry Rowland Fawcett was born on July 2, 1884 and initially lived on Kirkland Street in Hunslet, Leeds.

He was the eldest child with three sisters and a brother.

By the time his youngest sister was born in 1897, the Fawcett family had arrived in Ossett where Henry began work as a plasterer’s apprentice.

His father was a master plumber whose workshop was 3 The Green, next to the railway bridge. The family lived next door.

On April 20, 1908, when he was 23, Henry married 22-year-old Florence Peace who, prior to her marriage, lived at Low Mill where her father Robert worked as a labourer.

The 1911 census suggests Henry, a painter and decorator, and his wife Florence, set up home on Healey Road.

He served as a private in the Durham Light Infantry during World War One, but sadly his military records did not survive.

Millions of soldiers’ details were stored in London but a fire, caused by a bombing raid on the capital during World War Two, meant many were lost. It is known that he was discharged in 1919, a year after the fighting stopped in the Great War.

Other records, however, show that in 1939 he lived on Fawcett’s Yard, indicating the name originated from his family name. Henry also worked as a part-time fireman in Ossett. His father had the plumbers shop at the time.

Henry died in July 1964 just weeks after his 80th birthday and he was buried at Holy Trinity churchyard on July 22.