This wonderful little brooch, a little bigger than a 10p coin, dates from the First World War. It's a sweetheart brooch of the Machine Gun Corps, which was set up in October 1915 to ensure the more effective use of machine guns on the Western front and was disbanded in 1922. The corps' level of casualties was so high it was nicknamed the suicide club.
The badges aren't particularly rare or valuable - this one has the corps badge mounted on mother of pearl and is slightly chipped. It cost me a very reasonable £8.
Historian Penny Streeter has written about these brooches, which reached the peak of their popularity during the First World War. She says: 'These little brooches are miniature replicas of the badges of military regiments, naval units, the Royal Flying Corps and the RAF, generally known as sweetheart brooches because they were often given as romantic keepsakes by members of the armed forces to their wives and girlfriends before they left for the front.'
I found this brooch last week at an antiques stall in Cromford near Derby, and the location is as important to me as its charm and historical resonance. I have written a biography of a Derby woman, Freda Bedi, who made her life in India, where she was an active nationalist and leftist and later a Tibetan Buddhist nun. Her father, Frank Houlston, was in the Machine Gun Corps and died in northern France in April 1918. In this photograph, he is wearing the corps emblem on his cap.
There is not the slightest evidence that the brooch I bought was given by Frank Houlston to his wife - but nor is that out of the question.
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