Family of first Kiwi killed in WWI disappointed after medal sold on Trade Me

Kate Nicol-Williams
Source: 1News

The family of Private William Ham, the first Kiwi to die in combat in World War One, says it’s time for culturally significant medals to have protection from private sale.

Mr Ham’s British War Medal was sold last night on Trade Me for $7000 to an anonymous buyer, who is happy the medal is staying in New Zealand and invites the family to see it, a spokesperson for Trade Me said.

The spokesperson said the medal was the most expensive sold by itself in the last 12 months.

“It is a shame that it hasn’t been able to be secured for, you know, for everybody to be a part of it, not just a collector or the family,” William Ham’s great-niece Catherine Grant said.

The 22-year-old soldier from Ngatimoti died in Egypt in 1915 during the Ottoman raid on the Suez Canal.

Ms Grant said where his medals went has been a mystery.

The family wanted the medal to be displayed publicly given its significance in New Zealand’s history, and Nelson Provincial Museum and the National Army Museum agreed, but the final auction price was too high.

“It’s not that he was just known to our family and it was a private matter - he is out there in the public domain so it was important that we sort of felt we had some say in the matter,” she said.

Ms Grant wants the Government to hold a discussion with museums, the New Zealand Defence Force, dealers and families on what medals deserve protection from private sale due to cultural significance.

“Is there something we could be doing better to protect medals of significance and how do we identify medals of significance?

“It’s time we had that wider discussion…The culture and the climate have changed and people are more aware,” she said.

Ms Grant said it would be good to put greater protections in place for important medals so other families don’t have to go through the “unfortunate” experience hers has.

Jacinda Ardern, the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage and a spokesperson from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage were not available to be interviewed today, but a spokesperson for Ms Ardern said there are no plans to change the law.

A spokesperson for the ministry said given the cultural significance of William Ham’s medal, it can’t be exported from the country without permission from the ministry.

"The ministry is not itself a collecting institution and is not funded to directly purchase cultural objects such as this," a spokesperson said in a statement.

Shane Abercrombie, an Auckland military memorabilia dealer, said collectors have an important role to play in preserving medals.

“In many cases these medals were not wanted by the veterans themselves, and families.

“As they carried on they were melted down for metals and sold for loaves of bread and whether or not the families were interested in them or not, they were passed down and collectors have got a hold of them and that's what preserves the history of these medals,” he said.