This week I made an amazing discovery that continues to thrill as more evidence comes to light about an incredible journey that has taken an historic artefact from monumental Victorian era battles and around the world.
My Minelab metal detector gave a clear and shrill signal indicating brass. I carefully dug but hit a large tree root. Normally, I’d think it was too hard and leave it for the next guy, but this was different. A really strong signal, very deep, and protected by a very large root. For a root to be that big, the item had to have some age, so I persisted and dug around it.
I lifted up what appeared to be scrap metal, but the shape was symmetrical, so it had to be something. I could see lettering on one side so I decided to keep it and clean it up later. Sitting down after the morning exploration, I showed by detectorist buddy George what I’d found, and then suddenly the lettering revealed itself and it was clearly military. I assumed it was from the Second World War because here in Brisbane, everything is because of the huge American presence here back then.
The brass item read, “Royal Scots Fusiliers. 2592. M.Wynne.” The Royal Scots Fusiliers was one of the oldest regiments in the British Army having been raised in 1678. It was the same regiment in which Winston Churchill served in the First World War. But what was this thing that I’d found?
Back home I posted a photo of it online. Within minutes, Tim from the US responded, “Bed Plate.”
A bed plate is what’s used in the British army by soldiers to mark their bed when in barracks. It’s hung on a nail showing their regiment, serial number and name. When they go on duty, the plate is lifted off and turned around.
My discovery fitted the bill perfectly. There were two vertical slots at the top which once held the regimental insignia. The tip of the late was even slightly bent which happened when the soldier took the plate off the nail or hook.
I now needed to know who was M.Wynne and how his army bed plate found its way to an inner city Brisbane suburb. But first, something bothered me. The serial number 2592 is remarkably low, so back online I asked does anyone know if this number was not WW2 but rather WW1.
A short time later, Dan from the UK posted, “Wow… he is much earlier than WW1,” and shared the soldier’s service record.
M.Wynne was in fact William Wynne, born in Aldershot in England in 1864. He was a boy soldier who enlisted with the Royal Scots Fusiliers as a 15-year-old in 1880 and saw action in the Sudan in 1884-1885 in the failed attempt to rescue Major-General Gordon in the Siege of Khartoum.
Incidentally, Gordon was played by Charlton Heston in the epic 1966 film ‘Khartoum’.
Gordon was the rock star of the Victorian age, more famous than possibly the English royal family themselves. His death in the Siege of Khartoum in Egypt resulted in public outrage against the British prime minister Gladstone and accusations that he had unnecessarily delayed sending the rescue expedition, one of whom was our boy soldier William Wynne.
For this part in the Sudan, William earned the Egypt Medal with Nile clasp, and the Khedive’s Bronze Star.
The initial ‘M’ on the bed plate was an error which explained why I couldn’t find any records about M.Wynne myself. What often happened when a soldier joined his regiment, they were handed a regimental bed plate, a hammer, letters and numbers, and told to get to it. It was probably wishful thinking that I’d imagined that “2592 M.Wynne” was done by his own hand. However, the letters and numbers were all hammered perfectly and with the same weight as the regimental name, so it seems that they were done by the same man, and not William himself. In handwritten script, a W can be mistaken for an M, hence the error.
I can’t wait to see what else I can find out about the boy soldier William Wynne as my research continues. I also want to know how his story has travelled from Aldershot to Khartoum and now to a quiet Brisbane street. Stand by for part 2.
You’ve read the story, now watch the 2-minute short film here:
Battle of Abu Klea 1885 – by William Barns Wollen, National Army Museum, Image 8169
Royal Scots Fusiliers bed plate – my own
Khartoum film poster 1966 – tvtropes.org
Egypt medal with Nile clasp and Bronze star – camc.wordpress.com/tag/egypt-1882/