Eight medals awarded to a Hampshire war hero, who spent part of his childhood as an “inmate” at a grim Victorian workhouse, sold for nearly £2,000 at an auction, more than double the sum they had been expected to fetch.
The medals were awarded to Company Sergeant-Major Francis James Joyce, affectionately known as Paddy, who fought in the Boer War and the First World War before settling in Winchester.
In the 1891 Census,when he was 13 years old, Mr Joyce was listed as an “inmate” at the Caistor Union Workhouse in Lincolnshire.
In the Victorian era, workhouses were where poor people, who had no job or home, lived.
They earned their keep by doing jobs in the workhouse.
Orphaned or abandoned children, the physically and mentally sick, the disabled, the elderly and unmarried mothers also often ended up in workhouses.
Paddy Joyce, from Belfast, overcame this difficult start and in November 1897, when he was 20 years old, he joined the army by enlisting in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.
He fought in “numerous” battles in the Boer War in South Africa and in one of these battles, at Bakenlaagte on October 30, 1901, he was wounded when he took a bullet in his left arm.
He was lucky to have survived as 17 of his 20-strong detachment were killed or wounded.
Mr Joyce, a former apprentice farrier, later recalled: “As Sergeant Ashfield gave the order to dismount and the guns were unlimbering, our No.3 called out, ‘Oh Joyce I’m hit.’
“I lifted him up and got him off to the camp. Then we formed a half-moon in front of the guns.Poor Ashfield was killed and very soon too the guns were beaten down by an overpowering fire... I took cover behind an ant-heap but it did not stop the bullet through my left arm, just a sharp twinge, that’s all, not enough to stop me firing.
“They were now within 50 yards. I had visions of them rushing us and felt for my sword-bayonet. I had left it behind: the only time I had ever left any kit behind. However, the loss of my sword saved my life. For I know that with it I would have stood up to attack.
“When the rush came, I met an old fellow clean in the stomach and fell to the ground, with a prayer for God’s mercy...”
Attached to the ribbon of Paddy Joyce’s Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902 medal are six clasps, one for each of the major battles in which he fought during the Boer War.
They are for: Talana, Defence of Ladysmith, Orange Free State, Laing’s Nek, Cape Colony and Belfast, in the Mpumalanga Province of South Africa between August 21 and 27,1900.
After surviving the horrors of the Boer War, Mr Joyce served in Malta, Greece, Egypt and India. And then in 1915, during the First World War, he was saw action in France.
He spent more than 20 years – a third of his life – in the Army before returning to England and settling at Winchester, where he died at his home in St John’s Road at the age of 59.
His eight medals sold at Spink in London for £1,920, more than double the £700-£900 they had been expected to fetch.
The medals were: his Meritorious Service Medal, his Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902 Medal (with six clasps), his King’s South Africa 1901-1902 Medal, his British War & Victory medals, his 1914-1915 Star, his Delhi Durbar Medal and his Army Long Service and Good Conduct medals. His Meritorious Service Medal, with its distinctive crimson and white-edged ribbon, was awarded for “meritorious service by those members who are of irreproachable character with at least 20 years of service and already hold the Long Service and Good Conduct medals.”