On the 11th November 2002, VC Research received an e-mail from Heather Crew-Gee, (née Sinnott), of Winnipeg, Canada, with an enquiry about her Great-great Grandfather, Lance-Corporal John Sinnott VC. She had been surfing the Web for information regarding her ancestor.
Heather was directed, by the web, to the site of the Central Library and Arts Centre, Rotherham. This is the home of the York and Lancaster Regimental Museum. To her surprise she saw that they claimed to be the custodians of Lance-Corporal Sinnott's Medal. Surprised because she thought that she had had the original hanging in pride of place, in her lounge for years.
She wanted to know, quite naturally, how the museum could have a medal that clearly belonged to the family of the achiever.
As it turned out, the original medal was stolen from the family home, in Wandsworth, London, during World War One. It was retrieved, by Heather's father, at an auction in Battersea, for what she believed to be around £2,000. A princely sum at that time.
The medal has been in her lounge, in a frame, for as long as she can remember, which is around 50 years or more. She has never removed it from its frame, because she believes that the ribbon is rather fragile. She now wanted to know if she was the owner of a worthless piece of metal.
Heather also wanted to know if there was any way she could get the real medal, should hers not be genuine, back to the Sinnott family.
I replied to her the same day, telling her that I would look into it to the best of my ability. I then informed her that the real medal would have his name, and the date of the deed, for which the medal was awarded, on the reverse.
I then contacted the York and Lancaster Regiment Museum at Rotherham and spoke to the archivist, Mr Carl Noble, who told me that he believed that they held the authentic Medal. I was asked to ring him back the following week, when he would confirm this and also tell me how the museum got hold of the medal. Mr Noble asked me if it was possible that the medal had been donated by another member of the family.
I informed Heather of the situation to date and asked, at that time, if the medal, in her possession, had been authenticated, she confirmed that her father had done this at the time of the auction. I asked if it was possible that another member of the family had donated it to the museum. She replied that, as far as she knew, there was no member of family who could have done this. She also confirmed that his name and date of deed was on the reverse of the Victoria Cross in her possession.
There was even more confusion, when I rang Carl Noble the following week, and he also confirmed that the medal was inscribed on the reverse with the name and date of deed. It had been bought by the Museum in 1960, after authentication by an expert.
This gives rise to several questions. Was it possible that a replacement Victoria Cross was made after the theft? If so, who was the medal given to, if not the family? Who owned it, after the theft, and which medal was auctioned?
I wrote to the Army Medals Office, at Droitwich, Worcestershire, asking them if it was possible that two Victoria Crosses had been issued in the name of Lance-Corporal Sinnott?
My letter was then forwarded to the Ministry of Defence.
A letter arrived from Mrs. O. E. Brownjohn, MBE., of the MOD, who explained that she couldn't help me as all the records had been transferred to the Public Record Office at Kew.
As it was impossible for me, at the time, to visit the Public Records Office, it being at Richmond in Surrey, I wrote to the manufacturers of the Victoria Cross, "Hancocks," of Burlington Arcade, London.
A gentleman of Hancocks, very kindly telephoned and informed me that a replica Victoria Cross had been made for Sinnott. This was all the information he could give me. So it is possible that one of these two Victoria Crosses is the replica. Which one?
I could only inform Heather to have her medal again authenticated by an expert. Should the Medal, held by the museum be genuine, perhaps she could have it returned by going to law.
I do know that other Medals have been stolen, for instance, Gunner James Collis, whose Cross was stolen from the War Office, after it was forfieted for his commiting bigamy. Collis' Cross later turned up at auction. It is still, I believe, in private ownership.