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Missing Medals Make Surprise Return To York’s Army Museum

The stolen medals had belonged to Sergeant Major James Edwin White, whose family donated them to the museum in 1980.

Sergeant Major James Edwin White's medals are now home.

A set of stolen medals have survived being auction off and safely returned to the Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment of Yorkshire Museum.

They belonged to Sergeant Major James Edwin White, whose family donated them to the museum in 1980.

The set comprised of medals from the Boer War period, Queen’s and King’s South Africa Medals with 5 bars awarded from when James White was a Private.

There were also medals from the First World War, the British War Medal, Allied Victory Medals and a Distinguished Conduct Medal awarded for bravery in the field in 1917.

However, his relatives were surprised to spot his medals up for auction last year.

"Suddenly in front of me, filling the whole screen, was a picture of my granddad's medals," Sergeant Major White's granddaughter, Pauline, told Forces News. 

"I was so shocked. I was absolutely shaking because they're supposed to be in the museum, aren't they? All safe and sound."

"I shall never forget it. I literally shook... and then I wanted to cry... And then I was angry."

Sergeant Major James Edwin White in uniform.
Sergeant Major James Edwin White in uniform (Picture: York Army Museum).

They reported their discovery to the museum curator, Wing Commander Alan Bartlett, who investigated.

The medals had been logged into the museum’s newly computerised database back in 2006 but had mysteriously been entered as ‘missing’.

It transpired the medals were stolen sometime between 1980 and 2006, possibly as part of a theft that occurred when the collection was housed at Fulford Barracks in the early 1980s.

Wing Commander Bartlett then reported them as ‘missing, believed stolen’ to the North Yorkshire Police. 

Missing Medals ergeant Major James Edwin White 051118 CREDIT BFBS
Sergeant Major James Edwin White in old age (Picture: York Army Museum).

PC Ian Richardson traced the path of the medals through a sequence of fairs and auctions to their new owner in Essex, who had purchased the medals legally and unknowingly for his collection.

It took another six months to establish direct contact with the new owner, only to find that his own grandfather had also served with the regiment.

"We asked him to talk to us about the possibility of buying them back, about him donating them back," Wing Commander Alan Bartlett told Forces News.

"He sat on that for six months and considered his future, because he'd bought them legally.

"Eventually, he decided to contact us and the interesting point was that his grandfather and his great uncle both served in one of our Regiments, the East Yorkshire Regiment."

He decided to donate the medals back to the museum – taking them full circle in a tale of regimental family pride.