Baldwin's & The Great War - Harry Dagnell's Story

Telling a Soldier’s Story Through Original First World War Documents – Harry Dagnell & the Great War

On our 170th year, we thought we would delve a bit deeper into the history of Baldwin’s. As well as our blog post exploring our home of Walworth Road, a look in our archives found documents relating to Harry Dagnell’s experience of war. Harry joined Baldwin’s just after the end of the First World War, just as the business was scaling down from shops all over to London back to its original site on Walworth Road. Harry eventually became the manager of the shop, and later purchased the company and enlisted his son, Harry Dagnell Junior, to help him. Together, they purchased the current site of 171 Walworth Road with the aim of expanding into health food, as well as maintaining a strong focus on natural remedies.

Today, Harry’s grandson Stephen is the owner of the business and continues to keep up the family tradition of purveying natural products from agar agar to yellow dock root!

In honour of this legacy, we thought it was fitting to highlight Harry’s war story as told through the remaining documents found within the Baldwin’s archives.

Harry Frederick Dagnell signed his attestation document and enlisted within the British army on the 16th April 1917. He was 17 years and 9 months old when he signed the document, and had previous experience as a clerk. He wasn’t married, and had never served within the forces before.

During the war, Harry served for the 5th London Regiment and by the end of his service was awarded two war medals – the British War Medal 1914-1919 and the Victory Medal, which are listed above on his transfer to reserve certificate.

The British War Medal 1914-1919 (pictured on the left) was presented to men who had taken part in service between 5th August 1914 and 11th November 1918. Soldiers were required to have either entered an active theatre of war, or left the United Kingdom for service overseas between those dates as well as completing 28 days mobilised service. Out of the 8.7million men who served in the British Army during the First World War, 6.5million were issued with this medal – including Harry.

On the right is the Victory medal. This was awarded to anyone who had been mobilised in service and had entered a theatre of war between 5th August 1914 and 11th November 1918. Around 5.7million of these medals were issued.

A soldier could receive a total of three medals following their service, and there were three main medals including the Victory and British War Medals. The remaining medal was the 1914-1915 Star, given exclusively to those who served in those years. If Harry had enlisted in 1914, he would have been 14 at the time – which explains why he missed out on the last of the medal trio.

Together, the three medals were known as Pip (1914-1915 Star), Squeak (British War Medal) and Wilfred (Victory Medal) based on a popular cartoon series in the Daily Mail at the time. Harry was therefore the proud recipient of both Squeak and Wilfred!

According to his transfer to reserves certificate, Harry luckily remained in the health category A1 – soldiers were rated by letter with A being the fittest category, and 1 showing the highest level of health within that category. By the time he was transferred on the 12th November 1919, he ranked as a Guardsman.

Following the war, Harry joined the Coldstream Guards, a Foot Guard unit, in October 1919 according to both a stamp on his Certificate of Demobilization and his membership card shown above when he became part of the former members’ association.

The Coldstream Guards were originally founded in Coldstream, Scotland in 1650 and when Harry joined they had been one of the first British regiments to reach France after the declaration of war. Harry became part of the Guards just under a year after the war was declared over, and then became a member of the Old Coldstreamers’ Association in 1926, subscribing to the London branch of the association with other ex-guards. To this day, the Coldstream Guards are the oldest serving British Army regiment and still in service with two units. One is part of a ceremonial Battalion that takes part in both royal and state tasks in the UK, and the other has been deployed in service to Afghanistan, Iraq and Northern Ireland.

Within the documents from the Baldwin’s archives we also found a cut-out from a newspaper which showed a war map planned by the Senior British officer Earl Haig, which was printed with his signature at the bottom and the message ‘In memory of the Great War’. Another sentimental cut out is the print of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s poem ‘The Guards Came Through’, which specifically mentions the Coldstream guards, Harry’s reserve unit.

‘Our throats they were parched and hot,
But Lord, if you’d heard the cheer,
Irish and Welsh and Scot,
Coldstream and Grenadier…
But I’ll tell them in Blighty wherever I be,
How the Guards came through.’

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