The VC in the mud mystery


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27 January 2017
Victoria-Cross1-04278.jpg The medal found in the mud of the Thames
Has the mystery of the Victoria Cross found on the Thames foreshore finally been solved?

The Victoria Cross found by metal detector enthusiast Tobias Neto in the mud of the Thames foreshore has been the subject of keen debate as to who it was awarded to and why it ended up in the river.

Recent reports claim the mystery has been solved and that it was one of 16 awarded to British forces at the Battle of Inkerman, during the Crimean War, on 5 November, 1854. Only two of those VC medals are unaccounted for, with the rest in museums and private collections. The two that are missing belonged to Private John Byrne, from County Kilkenny, Ireland and John McDermond, who was registered as a Chelsea pensioner in July 1862. Tobias, of Putney in south London, is convinced that the medal belonged to Byrne, and that he threw it into the river in a fit of despair when suffering from post-traumatic stress. After Byrne wounded a colleague during an argument, he subsequently turned the gun on himself, at the Crown Inn in Newport, Wales, rather than surrender to the police.

The VC could be worth £50,000 if it’s genuine, but that’s the problem. Tobias is still searching for bar that is awarded if a soldier performs two actions that would merit a VC, and, if found, would confirm the awardee and double the value to around £100,000. However, only three bars have ever been issued and none were during the Crimean War. Most lists suggest that 16 VCs were awarded for the Battle of Inkerman, however Hancocks, which makes all the VCs, lists the date 5 November 1854 23 times.

Private John Byrne was indeed decorated, and performed VC-winning actions at both Inkerman and Sevastopol. That should mean that he would get the bar for his VC, but Hancocks only lists 5 November next to his name. Byrne himself also said that he lost all his property in a fire in Cork. As well as this, there is no evidence that Byrne was in London to throw the medal away. Queen Victoria presented the Crimean VCs in Hyde Park in 1857, but both Byrne and McDermond were absent. Byrne was actually serving in Corfu when he received his.

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There is also the question of whether this is a genuine VC, or not, as replacement, and simply fake, versions abound. The problem is that the VC is made from recast gunmetal so is actually poor-quality and difficult to work with. That means great variations occur and it is difficult to engrave with consistency so analysis of the metal from the one found in the Thames wouldn’t be conclusive.

So, despite claims to the contrary, this 163 year mystery continues until the real medals are found or some provenance for the Thames VC is uncovered.