Cardiff Castle’s Firing Line Exhibition highlights The Royal Mint’s role in the First World War
05 Jun 2014
The Royal Mint Museum has delved into its archives to create a new exhibition entitled ‘Money, munitions and medals’, on display at the Firing Line Museum, situated inside Cardiff Castle. The Royal Mint has been making military campaign medals since 1815, and this exhibition will highlight the part the 1,000 year-old organisation played in the First World War, and the impact hostilities had on both staff and production.
Working life was about to change considerably for staff at The Royal Mint in 1914. Its all-male workforce of around 300 was depleted by Lord Kitchener’s call to arms, with around 10% of Mint workers called up immediately, and more to follow. The names of the 138 Royal Mint employees who served in the war, 11 of whom were sadly killed in action, are recorded forever on a magnificent oak Roll of Honour which takes pride of place in the Firing Line exhibition. In those days, life at The Royal Mint’s Tower Hill site in London could be equally precarious - the Roll of Honour also lists four Mint-workers who were killed during an air-raid on the capital on 13 June 1917, in the course of their normal working day.
Not forgotten by the colleagues who were left behind, each serving Royal Mint employee was sent a Christmas gift, and two such exhibition items – a watch case and a cigarette case – reveal a touching gesture of comradeship. Those that remained worked long hours, producing not just coins but also munitions in aid of the war effort, as The Royal Mint’s skills in precision work were called into practise making items such as gauges for small arms cartridges, and mechanically-filled machine gun cartridge belts.
The First World War had a major impact on the nation’s coinage. .. The Government’s request for the public to contribute to the war effort is clearly documented in propaganda posters which make fascinating viewing. Gold coins were said to have largely disappeared from circulation in London by June 1915, and in their place, The Royal Mint was kept busy manufacturing silver and bronze coins.
Finally, no snapshot of The Royal Mint in wartime would be complete without mentioning medals - the striking presence of original plaster models, electrodes and tooling for the Victory Medal & the British War Medal tell the story of how these prestigious pieces were made.
The ‘Money, munitions and medals’ exhibition gives an excellent overview of the challenges that The Royal Mint and its workers faced in time of war, challenges which a confident and capable Mint was clearly ready and able to meet. The exhibition opens on 18 June in the Firing Line Museum, inside Cardiff Castle, and runs for six months.