WWI

It Would Mean 'Everything' If WW1 Medal Was Returned, Veteran's Family Says

The family believe the Italian Bronze Medal for military valour may have been sold a couple of decades ago.

The family of a First World War veteran who risked his life to save a machine gun turret have launched an appeal to find the medal he was awarded for bravery.

Sergeant Charles Woolley, from east Staffordshire, was about 23 when he was awarded the Italian Bronze Medal for military valour after being shot in the leg and wounded on the battlefield on 24 January 1917.

Sgt Woolley's great-grandson, Joshua Whitehead, a history student at Leicester's De Monfort University, has launched an appeal to track down the family heirloom.

He told Forces News: "I am obviously very interested in these sort of things, and I think it’s a lot more interesting when it's personal, when it's your family and, I think, it's such a big thing, it’s such a great deal, I don’t think it's fair to let the medal disappear.

"It's almost a part of our history. So, I thought in this day and age with the power of social media and TV, why not launch an appeal.

"For a number of years, we believed it's been lost, quite possibly sold and now my grandfather is the only child left and he’s never actually seen this medal, so it would be good for him to get it back in the family, where it belongs," he added.

The family has two of Sgt Woolley’s medals from the First World War – the British Medal and the Victory Medal.

Sgt Charles Woolley's First World War British War Medal (left) and Victory Medal (right) (Picture: Joshua Whitehead).

Sgt Woolley served in the 3rd Unit, Nigerian Regiment. He sailed to Lagos, Nigeria, on 11 October 1916, on the ‘Mendi’, according to research by Mr Whitehead’s family.

"He was initially in the North Staffordshire Regiment and he went over to France in March 1915 and he was a truck driver over there and he was in the Battle of Loos and then he came back, he went into the London Regiment with 11th Battalion which then went over to Nigeria," said Mr Whitehead.

In the book ‘With the Nigerians in German East Africa’ by W.D Downes, M.C, it describes the moment that led to Sgt Wooley being awarded the medal.

It says: 'At Ngwembe on 24 Jan 1917, when he [Sgt Wooley] was lying on the ground badly wounded, he ordered No. 4535 L.-Cpl. Akande Ilorin to get the machine gun away and leave him on the ground... thus he allowed himself to be taken prisoner in order that his gun might be saved.'

Mr Whitehead said the Germans held his great-grandfather for 10 days and "chopped off his leg because of his injuries and eventually returned him to British lines".

"That selfless act saying ‘leave me here and take the gun’ awarded him the medal, ultimately,” he added.

It is thought, during the First World War, the Italian Bronze Medal for military valour was awarded about 60,000 times for individual acts of heroism.

The medal in question should have the name ‘C.Woolley’, along with his number, inscribed on the outer rim.

A copy of the certificate signed by Sir Winston Churchill to show Sgt Woolley was mentioned in a Despatch (Picture: Joshua Whitehead).

Sgt Woolley passed away in 1950 after a lung operation, having been gassed during the war.

Mr Whitehead said it would mean "everything" to have the medal back in the family, adding: "It’s not worth thousands of pounds, it’s the sentimental value of it.

"For me as a younger generation, it's important to understand what went on before and to recognise the actions," he continued.

"It's a physical piece of history, and it belongs in our family."

Sgt Woolley was also mentioned in a Despatch from Lieutenant General J. L. Van Deventer in which he received a certificate signed by Sir Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for War at the time, thanking him for his "gallant and distinguished services in the field".

Mr Whitehead said: "He deserves to be recognised, and I feel like the best way to do that is for the medal to be back in our family where we can appreciate it."

If anyone knows the whereabouts of the medal, they can contact Joshua Whitehead via email: [email protected].

Cover image: Sgt Charles Woolley joined the Army in 1914 (Picture: Joshua Whitehead).