Object in Focus: Altipiani Medal

22 October 2014

Burgh House & Hampstead Museum’s current exhibition, Fellowship & Sacrifice: Hampstead and the First World War, explores how the war affected Hampstead and its residents through a selection of artefacts and paintings. Many of the exhibits are from our own collection and have not been on public display for years, with the rest having been kindly loaned by other museums and by private lenders.

For this post, I will be looking at the Altipiani Medal, which is currently on display in the exhibition and is of special significance to me because it was awarded to my great-grandfather, H. J. Pearman for fighting in the Battleof the Piave, in north-east Italy. This commemorative medal was designed by Stefano Johnson of Milanand awarded to all the British, French and Italian officers who fought in this battle, which lasted from 15th to 24th of June 1918. The Battle of the Piave was seen as an landmark moment in the war because, while there was great loss of life on both sides, the Austro-Hungarian losses were so large that they were never again able to mount a major offensive. This battle could be seen, therefore, as marking the beginning of the end of the First World War.

The obverse of the medal depicts profile portraits of Britannia, Marianne and Italia Turrita, the personifications ofGreat Britain,FranceandItaly, respectively. At the bottom, the year of the battle, ‘1918’, sits between sprigs of oak and laurel, the latter of which has been used as a symbol victory and achievement since ancient Greece.

The reverse of the medal shows shields depicting the flags of the three countries, withItalyin the centre,Great Britainon the left andFranceon the right. Crowns sit atop the British and Italian shields, while the liberty cap of the French Revolution sits in the place of a crown on the French shield. The red, white, blue and green stripes on the ribbon represent the colours of the three nations’ flags.

Fellowship & Sacrifice: Hampstead and the First World War is open until Sunday 14th December.