Military General Service Medal, with bars for Talavera, Busaco, Fuentes d'Onor, Ciudad Rodrigo, Salamanca, Vittoria, St Sebastian, Nivelle & Nive, awarded to Heinrich Muhlert, 1848
Obverse, a bust of Queen Victoria facing left
Reverse, Queen Victoria on dais placing a wreath on the head of the kneeling Duke of Wellington
Military General Service Medal, 1848 (Peninsular War)
It had been unusual, before the reign of Queen Victoria, for medals to be issued recognising service in campaigns (except perhaps those organised by the East India Company). This left, for example, veterans of the Napoleonic Wars with nothing to display for their service, and therefore three medals were instituted in 1847-1848 for campaigns of the previous fifty years, in the East India Company's forces, in the Royal Navy or in the Army, the last of which was the Military General Service Medal, instituted in 1847 and first struck in 1848.
The intentions of the medal committee are hard to divine, as the medal was struck carrying the dates `1793-1814' in the reverse, but the earliest campaign considered was that in Egypt from 1798 to 1801. Earlier battles may have been deleted from consideration due to the shortage of surviving veterans of engagements of the previous century. This was one of the paradoxes shared by all three of the General Service Medals, another being that the monarch whose portrait they bore, Queen Victoria, was not him for whom the recipients had fought.
The MGSM, given the period that it covered, was mainly awarded for campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars, which on land had mostly been fought in the Iberian Peninsula. For this reason the medal is often called the `Peninsular Medal' even though it also covered campaigns in Egypt, Java and America.
The Peninsular War arose from Emperor Napoleon I of France combining with Spain to occupy ports on the western coast of Portugal, in order to break the British naval blockade of France in 1807, which he followed in 1808 by a military takeover of Spain. Spanish resistance forces administered several defeats to occupying French forces, however, and this and a concomitant Portuguese uprising persuaded Britain to commit land forces against Napoleon for the first time in some years, under Sir Arthur Wellesley, the later Duke of Wellington (who is seen on the reverse of the MGSM).
Campaigning began in 1808 and was heroic but inconsistent, with victories in the field to both sides. On the British side these included a costly victory at Talavera in 1809, further marred by Spanish failure to guard the British wounded, who were therefore captured by the French, and the subsequent refusal of the Spanish to provide provisions for the British as agreed, forcing a British retreat. Wellesley thereafter fought without Spanish support wherever possible, defeating the French reinforcement force of Maréchal Masséna at Buçaco in September 1810 and driving it out of Spain entirely after vicious house-to-house fighting at the Battle of Fuentes d'Oñoro in May 1811.
Other battles for which bars were awarded to the MGSM included the capture of the fortified town of Ciudad Rodrigo in January 1812, by which time, largely due to widespread Spanish guerilla attacks tying down their forces, the French were unable to match their opponents in the field; a pitched battle at Salamanca between the French forces of Maréchal Marmont and the combined Allied forces of Britain, Spain and Portugal under Wellesley which the French lost; a similar defeat of King Joseph Bonaparte himself and the capture of his Treasury at Vittoria in May 1813; and the sack of the French-held St Sebastian in the pursuit of the forces defeated at Vittoria, an operation in which the Navy also participated. By this time, battle had reached the Pyrenees, where Maréchal Soult, commanding the French forces, defeated the British in two pitched battles which nonetheless failed to prevent his forces being driven back in detail by Wellesley's determined and fast-moving mountain campaigning. The pursuit of the French forces continued on into France itself, with further battles at Nivelle and Nives before Napoleon I abdicated.
This medal was awarded to Heinrich Muhlert, of the 2nd Line Battalion, King's German Legion, a force of Hanoverian ex-soldiers formed in the aftermath of the dissolution of Hanover's armed forces by Napoleon in 1803. In a career of soldiery hard to match, at least by 1848 when he could obtain the medal for it, Muhlert had fought at all the battles mentioned in this entry save only the Battle of the Pyrenees itself. Lester Watson purchased his somewhat overloaded MGSM at some point before 1928.