Stolen Medal Returned to Royal Hospital Museum

30th January 2019

Former Chelsea Pensioner Joshua Tongue was awarded two medals at Talavera and Waterloo. After his death, they were displayed in the Royal Hospital’s museum. Then, in 1978, the museum was burgled and Private Tongue’s medals vanished, along with many others. Nothing was heard of the Waterloo veteran’s medals, until the Royal Hospital received an email from London auction house Spink & Son last December.

Military General Service Talavera ClaspThe auctioneers explained that a Military General Service (MGS) medal with a Talavera clasp had been brought to them for auction. It turned out to be one of Private Tongue’s missing medals! Both Spink & Son and the seller were happy to return it to us. Sadly, there was no trace of the Waterloo medal he’d also received.

An infamous battle 

Joshua Tongue was born in Salford, Manchester in about 1790. He joined the army in 1808, enlisting into the 23rd Light Dragoons, before taking part in the charge at Talavera, near Madrid, a year later.

On the second day of the battle of Talavera, Private Tongue’s regiment and the King’s German Legion Hussars were ordered to advance against the French infantry. But nobody had noticed the dry ditch just in front of the French position. Approaching the enemy at full gallop, some horses stalled, others tried to jump and many riders were thrown from their steeds. About half the regiment – 207 men – lost their lives. Tongue survived, and went on to serve at Waterloo.

A youthful Pensioner

After Napoleon’s defeat, Private Tongue’s regiment was disbanded and he was discharged. He was admitted to the Royal Hospital when he was just 29 years old! Records show he had an old sabre wound on his back. He lived here for the next 31 years and died in January 1850. Like many other Pensioners, no headstone marks his grave in the old burial ground.

Returned to its rightful place

On 10 January this year Jack West-Sherring of Spink & Son returned Private Tongue’s medal to Heritage Manager John Rochester, at the Royal Hospital. It now rests in its rightful place in the museum’s medal display. 

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