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Great War Medals Reunited

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A Thetford family’s search to reunite a group of WW1 medals has ended thanks to the power of social media. Rosemary Snowdon has now been sent her Great Uncle Joseph’s replacement medals thanks to some detective work by a Facebook group 104 years after he died. The four Muteham brothers, George, Bertie, Arthur and Joseph grew up in Minstergate with their parents, George and Alice. All four worked for Burrells before the outbreak of war in 1914. By that time, George had married Edith and was living in Pike Lane. Rosemary’s Grandfather Arthur was the only brother to survive, recalled home to look after his younger siblings after his parents died of Spanish Flu.

The medals belonging to Arthur and George have been in the care of the family for many years,
displayed with pride as a reminder of the great sacrifice the family made during the Great War. For many years the family continued to try to reunite the medals of the four brothers. In 2015 a local historian, Darren Norton spotted Bertie’s medals on Ebay via a seller in Cambridge and contacted Rosemary. A nail-biting auction bid followed, with the family elated to have Bertie’s medals back. The resulting publicity led to Bertie’s death memorial plaque, also known as a Death Penny, turning up in Norwich. Paperwork accompanying Bertie’s medals revealed they had been originally sold in a Mildenhall shop, leading to the family to believe Joseph’s had suffered a similar fate. “My grandad never spoke about the war,” Rosemary explained “my grandmother, Kate Muteham and my mother, Dolly Knights searched and searched for the medals for many years unsuccessfully.

Over the years family members and cousins were asked if they had come across them with no luck. They assumed the medals had been thrown away from the family home when Alice and George died.” Dolly was delighted that Bertie’s medals had been returned to the family but was more determined than ever to reunite Joseph’s medals with his brothers. Dolly enlisted Rosemary to continue the search. No matter how hard Rosemary tried she just couldn’t find any records of the medals. Rosemary then joined a Facebook group Reuniting Family medals, working with a military historian called Alan Chapman. Then, with Joseph’s details and rank, Alan was able to discover what had happened to the medals.

By a cruel twist of fate, a spelling mistake had led to the medals being returned to the War Office and destroyed. Joseph’s name had been written as Joseph Mutchum, not Muteham. When they arrived at the family home it was empty. With no trace of a family the medals and death memorial plaque were returned to the MOD and destroyed, a fairly common occurrence at the time. Alan advised Rosemary to apply to the War Office for a set of replacements as Joseph’s next of kin. “It’s absolutely wonderful to be able to reunite the whole family and to be able to pass the medals down through my family,” Rosemary said. “My mother would have been so pleased. It was such a large loss for a family to lose in a short time. In Thetford a whole generation never had family, grew old or enjoyed their lives. They made the ultimate sacrifice.” 

Bertie died aged 22 in August 1917, George died aged 34 in December 1918 and Joseph, having returned to Thetford injured before returning to the front line, died in March 1919 aged 28.

Three of the brothers are listed on the Thetford War Memorial. George, Joseph and Arthur are
all buried in Thetford Cemetery. Bertie has no known grave and is remembered on the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium. Arthur, having been in the Veterinary Corps, working with horses, worked for the Council and brought up his younger siblings before marrying Kate and having his own family. He became an active member of the Salvation Army and was well known as the town’s honeypot man. 


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