Naval General Service Medal, with bar for Navarino, awarded to AB Edward Birch 1848
Obverse, a bust of Queen Victoria
Reverse, Britannia with a trident seated sideways on a seahorse
Naval General Service Medal, 1848 (Greek War of Independence)
Just as in 1848 the extensive land campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars and the other conflicts of the pre-Victorian era were recognised by the issue of the Miltary General Service Medal, those serving in the Navy at the time were recognised with the Naval General Service Medal. As with the Army equivalent and the East India Company's related award, many of the battles for which the medal was awarded had been fought so long ago that few if any claimants survived.
In addition, bars were awarded for many actions whose significance and size were, despite the heroism displayed by those involved, relatively minor. The result was that many of the bars were issued in tiny numbers, with some combinations all but unique, and the medals command a very high price among collectors because of this rarity and individuality. This in turn, along with the manufacture in most cases of more bars than were eventually issued, has led to the `improvement' of many common awards where recipients' names are shared with those present at `rarer' battles. The medal also shares with the Military General Service and Army of India Medals the oddity that Queen Victoria, whose portrait they bear, was not the ruler under whom the battles for which it was awarded were fought.
Almost the last battle fought between fleets of sailing ships, and the penultimate engagement for which the NGSM was awarded, was the Battle of Navarino on 20 October 1827. Somewhat alarmingly, this engagement of more than 150 ships began accidentally, during an intervention in the Greek War of Independence, in which Greek patriots had been engaged since 1821 to shake off the rule of the Ottoman Empire. There was great sympathy for the Greek cause among the (Classically-educated) ruling classes of Britain and France, which led to a number of volunteers from these countries joining the Greek rebels, not least the poet Lord Byron. Greek raiding of commercial shipping had also led to a build-up of French, British and Russian naval forces in the eastern Mediterranean. Nonetheless, since 1825 the Ottoman army of Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt had been making considerable gains against the Greek forces (not least because of mutiny by Greek sailors in 1825 for lack of pay). The three European powers decided in the Treaty of London (6 June 1827) to secure autonomy for Greece under threat of force, and thus it was that an Allied fleet of 10 ships of the line, 10 frigates and 7 smaller vessels was to be found at Navarino Bay on the west of Greece, to enter into negotiations with the Ottoman, Egyptian and Austrian fleet that had been gathered there in defiance of Allied warnings.
Negotiations did not go well and the situation became hostile. On 20 October the Allied fleets began to move to an attack position, and a message was sent to a Turkish vessel in respect of a fireship which appeared to be being lit. The Turks fired on the message boat, the British frigate whence it had come returned fire and pitched battle rapidly followed: of the 103 vessels in the Ottoman fleet only 29 remained by the time tallies were made, and these included a reinforcing squadron which had arrived too late to assist. No Allied ships were lost, although several were heavily damaged. As, unlike many of the battles for which the NGSM was awarded, the battle was (comparatively) recent, the recipients were correspondingly numerous: 1137 bars were issued for participation in the engagement.
This example was awarded to Able Bodied Seaman Edward Birch, who served in HMS Talbot. The presence of such a man aboard the vessel at this time is verified, and the Medals Roll confirms the award of the piece to him. Lester Watson purchased the medal from the dealer Lowe at some point before 1928.