AT the end of the First World War, many towns and villages minted commemorative medals to give to their heroes as they returned home from the frontline.

Many places had had committees during the war that collected money to send Christmas treats and comforts to their local lads serving in the trenches. In peacetime, these committees used their leftover money to strike the homecoming medals.

We weren’t aware that the people of Darlington had produced such a medal until recently when we were approached by a descendant of Petty Officer David Jones who asked about a medal that had been presented to him.

The Northern Echo: David Jones' Darlington WW1 tribute medalDavid Jones' Darlington WW1 tribute medal

The front of the medal shows Darlington’s coat-of-arms and says: “The Great War. In recognition.”

The reverse bears David Jones’ name and says the medal was presented to him by the Empire Day Darlington Citizens’ Committee.

Robin Finnegan, jeweller of Post House Wynd who deals in medals, has also never come across such a medal. “These ‘tribute’ medals were produced by lots of towns and associations and this one is particularly nice. It would originally have been on a pocket watch chain, but has been converted to wear as a brooch.

“It is a gold medal which is rarer than a silver one as gold medals were generally awarded to recipients of gallantry awards.”

He’s right. David Jones was born in 1873 in Middlesbrough, where his father had settled after coming over from Wales. At a young age, David joined the Royal Navy in the days when it still had sailing ships – he was a rigger.

When his term finished, he came to Darlington, worked as a postman and joined the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. When war broke out, even though he had turned 40, he was called up, and served on the armed trawlers in the North Sea.

The Northern Echo: David Jones' Darlington WW1 tribute medalDavid Jones' Darlington WW1 tribute medal

In 1915, he was assigned to HMT Miura, which rescued a couple of sailors when their trawlers were torpedoed, and then on August 23, 1915, it was torpedoed itself by U2, a U-boat captained by Kapitan Leutnant Werner “Fips” Furbringer, who sank 101 British vessels during the war.

Eleven of Miura’s crew died, but four were rescued – David is believed to have been one of those.

For his work on the Miura, David was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal – and his family have a picture of him in his naval uniform wearing both his DSM and the gold tribute medal presented by the Empire Day Darlington Citizens’ Committee.

Empire Day was set up in 1902 after the death of Queen Victoria. It was held on her birthday, May 24, and was designed to enthuse children with the wonders of being a member of the great, global British Empire.

It soon caught on. In Darlington, a committee was set up to arrange red, white and blue festivities in South Park. On May 24, 1913, they held an extravaganza: 8,000 schoolchildren parading around watched by 30,000 townspeople, culminating in the unfurling of a Union flag which had been sent over by the town of Darlington in North South Wales. After four hours of patriotism, the children were treated to a display of Japanese Daylight Fireworks.

Empire Day became an official annual event in 1916, and the Darlington committee celebrated it every year. However, there is no report of the committee organising a mass event in 1919 – few places did in the aftermath of the war, so perhaps the Darlington committee had wound itself up and spent its last money honouring the town’s war heroes with tribute medals.

DO you have a First World War Darlington tribute medal from an ancestor? Or, indeed, a tribute medal from any of our towns or villages? We’d love to hear about it: please email

And what about Empire Day? It continued to be celebrated in schools into the 1950s. Indeed, some children of the Fifties may remember ditties:

We have come to school this morning

‘Tis the 24th of May and we join in celebrating

What is called our Empire Day.

We are only little children,

But our part we gladly take,

We all want to do our duty

For our King and country’s sake

In 1958, it was renamed British Commonwealth Day, and in 1966 it was shifted to June 10, which is Queen Elizabeth’s birthday. In 1977, it went to the second Monday in March. Some Commonwealth countries still commemorate it with flag-raising ceremonies, but in Britain, it is largely unnoticed.