Sharp-eyed collectors find in junk boxes forgotten pages of history
in memorabilia and regalia of long-vanished organizations that once
influenced the nation. The British War Relief Society, with its
engagingly named Bundles for Britain program, lives on through its
emblems with red, white and blue enamels or paint.
Varieties of membership pins and small award insignia were created
by manufacturing jewelers Accessocraft and Monet bearing the Bundles
for Britain shield with its golden lion rampant above the medieval
French motto from the British Royal Arms, DIEU ET MON DROIT, “God and
Some later gold-plated .925 silver badges exist with the wings of
the Royal Air Force.
World War II began in Europe in September 1939, but the United
States did not enter until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec.
7, 1941. Dissatisfied with the World War I settlements, many Americans
were strongly isolationist in sentiment, and a number of well-placed
congressmen worked to keep the nation out of war.
Organizations such as the America First Committee demanded
continued neutrality from the government, opposing any incremental
steps toward war as occurred during the administration of Woodrow
Wilson in World War I.
Britain’s civilian population suffered severely after the German
armies swept across France and forced the evacuation of British forces
from Dunkirk in early 1940. Merchant marine and naval losses to German
U-boat attacks choked off food imports and arrival of needed fuel,
Bundles for Britain began as a knitting circle in New York City
founded by Natalie Wales Latham during 1940. She conceived it as a
humanitarian organization that would supply nonmilitary aid such as
clothing, medicines and financial donations to the British population.
With headquarters on Fifth Avenue, Bundles for Britain grew in 16
months into a national organization of 975 branches and a million contributors.
Rapidly expanding its efforts, it added heavier contributions,
including ambulances, surgical instruments, field kitchens, cots and
blankets, all together valued at $1.5 million, and $1 million dollars
Bundles for Britain continued through 1945 and merged with CARE
(Committee for American Relief Everywhere).
It left behind a legacy of lapel emblems, the one illustrated
measuring 30 millimeters by 18.5 millimeters. An Award of Merit,
without the French motto but presenting a flourish of red, white and
blue, measures 30 millimeters by 28 millimeters.
DAVID T. ALEXANDER is author of American Art Medals, 1909-1995 and
a fellow of the American Numismatic Society. He is a numismatist and
researcher for Harlan J. Berk Ltd.