(Pitt Meadows Museum) British Lusitania souvenir medal with circular.

Looking Back: medal or medallion?

Propaganda item produced by the Lusitania Souvenir Medal Company for British Naval Intelligence.

On occasion, we receive, at Pitt Meadows Museum, an object we retain, not so much for its value in documenting area history, but more for its unique and curious value.

One such object came in this past summer and will eventually be on exhibit with other artifacts related to military history.

The object – a medallion (that was referred to at the time as a medal) originally struck just after the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915.

RELATED: The real story behind Maple Ridge and Mission’s famous train robber.

The medal, cast in bronze, is a propaganda item produced by the Lusitania Souvenir Medal Company for British Naval Intelligence in the weeks following the sinking and in direct response to an almost identical medal – also a propaganda tool – privately struck in Germany after the attack.

Karl Goetz, the artist who engraved the German medal, was well known for his satirical work that was done to provoke and ridicule, and his Lusitania medal was no exception.

Directed at the British, it included the inscription “no contraband goods,” implying there were war supplies or arms on the ship that justified the torpedoing of a passenger liner, and the reverse side showed passengers buying tickets from “death” even though there was a clear threat from U-boats in the North Atlantic at that time, thus implying they should have known what was coming.

It is clear Goetz believed the Germans were faultless as they had warned the passengers, including the Americans onboard through newspaper advertisements about U-boats, and the Allied forces and Cunard line negligent in their duty by not heeding the warnings.

In the first minting, the German medal appeared with a date of May 5, two days before the actual torpedoing, and it was this inaccuracy, likely Goetz’s mistake, the British took aim at when they replicated the medal and sold it along with a circular that rebuked the blatant German militarism that targeted civilians and then produced a medal with a date that clearly indicated what Naval Intelligence wanted the British public to believe was a pre-planned attack.

The British replica medal came in a box with the circular that included minting information – “the Lusitania Souvenir Medal Committee … All profits accruing to this committee will be handed to St. Dunstan’s Blinded Soldiers and Sailors Hostel.”

And, in order that the public not be fooled by the keen likeness to its German counterpart, a header as follows: “Please do not destroy this. When you have read it carefully through kindly pass it on to a friend”.

The circular goes on to remind the reader of the callousness of the attack and finishes with the following comment on Goetz’s engraving of the sinking ship: “This picture seeks apparently to propound the theory that if a murderer warns his victim of his intention, the guilt of the crime will rest with the victim, not the murderer.”

As many as 300,000 British copies were produced and distributed as “medals,” implying blame for the German medal/medallion rested with their government rather than a private venture.

This tactic appears to have worked, as by January 1917, the Bavarian War Office had forbidden any further minting of the original medal and instructed existing medals be confiscated whenever possible.

Their British counterparts did not suffer the same fate, thus we now have this curiosity in our collection.

Leslie Norman is curator of Pitt

Meadows Museum.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Larry Walker’s Hall plaque to feature Rockies cap, not Expos

Walker made his big league debut with the Expos in August 1989

West Coast Express locomotive has been fixed

The little train that could back on schedule through Maple Ridge

Meadowridge students unleash their robotic talents

FIRST LEGO League competition took place at Meadowridge School

Borrow $8 billion for Fraser Valley rail link, Abbotsford mayor urges province

Henry Braun urges province to borrow billions to connect Abbotsford & Chilliwack to Metro Vancouver

Four things ‘not’ to do if you run into Prince Harry and Meghan in B.C.

Here is a list of some things you definitely should NOT do, according to the BBC

B.C. RCMP spent roughly $750K on massive manhunt for Port Alberni men

Manitoba RCMP helped with 17-day search through the province’s northern terrain

Much-raided Langley animal rescue society loses registered charitable status

Revoked following an audit by Canada Revenue Agency, records show

Future space homes could be made of mushrooms

NASA explores use of fungi to build structures in space

Youth hit with gun butt during fight at Lower Mainland mall

RCMP are investigating the fight between two groups of youths

Weather warning: 80 mm of rain expected overnight in Metro Vancouver

Environment Canada is urging caution when driving

Man killed by police in Lytton called 911, asking to be shot: RCMP

Howard Schantz, also known as Barry Schantz was killed following a standoff at his Lytton home

Canadian public health agencies ramping up preparations in response to new virus

Health officials have said there are no confirmed cases of the emerging coronavirus in Canada

Most Read