Baltic Medal, unnamed, Royal Marines Meritorious Service Medal, VR issue, 1st Class Staff Sergeant John Downer, Royal Marine Artillery. An extremely rare Victorian period issue of this medal.
With copy research into his service.
During the Victorian Period, only 98 of these medals were issued to deserving men from the Royal Marines.
Meritorious Service Medal officially impressed: “1st CL: STAFF SERGT: JNO: DOWNER, R.M.A.”
Baltic medal is unnamed as issued.
John Downer was born during 1820 in Cranbrook Kent, he enlisted for service on 6th April 1841 at the age of 21.
Private and Gunner: 8th April 1841 – 2nd November 1853
Corporal: 3rd November 1853 – 5th December 1854
Sergeant: 6th December 1854 – 28th April 1863.
His Ship service:
HMS Formidable: 4th September 1841 – 21st October 1845. Service in the Mediterranean Sea.
HMS Crocodile: 21st December 1846 – 25th August 1847.
HMS Terrible and HMS Wasp: 29th March 1849 – 17th October 1852. Service in the Mediterranean Sea.
HMS Duke of Wellington: 29th May 1855 – 27th September 1855. Service on Mortar Boats during the Baltic War.
Discharged from service on 17th April 1863 after a long 21 years 268 days. With 8 years and 73 days at sea.
After many years as an experienced Gunner at Sea, he later became a Sergeant 1st Class Rifle Instructor
Remarks of service:
“Certificates from HM Ship Formidable and Crocodile both say “Very good”, further testimonials of the highest character from Major General ***, Colonel Tate and ****. Lt Colonel Wiliams, Brevet Major **** (Head Rifle Instructor), Lt Colonel Schombery and Captain ****.
Received the good conduct medal with gratuity of £10 on 3rd February 1863.
Served in the Russian War and Bombardment of Sveaborg on which occasion he was mentioned favourably in May in Major *** report and for which he received the Baltic Medal.”
He is additionally entitled to the Wide Suspender Naval Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, awarded in 1863, but it is possible it had to be returned to be “upgraded” to the Royal Marines Meritorious Service Medal.
With his official retirement he swiftly took up the role of Sergeant Instructor with the Local Tenterden (3rd Cinque Ports) Rifle Volunteer Corps, and repeatedly impressed everyone with his considerable skill in transforming the battalion into the finest of the area.
Announcement of the award in Portsmouth Evening News 12th March 1889:
“NAVAL AND MILITARY NEWS
The meritorious service medal and annuity have been awarded to John Downer, late first-class Staff Sergeant (Instructor) of the Royal Marine Artillery.”
Soon afterward joining the Rifle Volunteers, Western Gazette 7th June 1864:
“TENTERDEN – THE RIFLE CORPS – The annual meeting of the 3rd Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteer Corps, took place on Tuesday last, in the Town-Hall, Capt T. Pattenson in the chair. There were also present, S. Beale, B. Hatch, J.A. Briggs, and W.G. Mace, Esqrs and many others.
The secretary read the report, which stated that since the appointment of Sergeant Instructor John Downer, as Musketry and Drill Instructor, the improvement in the ball practice of last season was plainly visible.
The formation of the new range in Ashbourne valley had caused a heavy drain on the funds, but an excelent practice ground had been obtained, upwards of 900 yards in extent, perfectly safe, and easy of access.”
Kentish Gazette 17th January 1865:
“TENTERDEN – THIRD CINQUE PORTS RIFLE VOLUNTEERS.
This corps paraded on Tuesday evening, the 10th inst, at 7pm for the purpose of a march out. The whole time was devoted to practising advance and rear guards, after which the company was assembled in the Court Hall for the object of distributing prizes for Drill.
Captain Saunders then addressed the company, and reminded them that at the commencement of the year the Adjutant of the Battalion had offered a prize of £5 to that Sergeant-Instructor whose company should be selected as the Best Drilled and most efficient in the battalion.
He stated that on the evening before, at a meeting of Officers at Cranbrook, convened for the purpose of deciding various Battalion prizes and other business, the Adjutant, by the desire of the Colonel and other officers present gave his decision that the Tenterden, or 3rd Cinque Ports, was in his opinion the best drilled and most efficient company, and consequently the £5 was awarded to their Sergeant-Instructor John Downer.
Captain Saunders then said he had the greatest pleasure in handing the £5 to Sergeant Downer, and he congratulated him and the whole company on the proud position they had attained, and encouraged the men to stick well to their work in order to maintain their standing, as other companies were closely treading on their heels.
We, as friends and supporters of our volunteers, cannot help feeling most gratified by the Adjutant’s decision, as nothing has happened of more importance since the time when the Secretary of State was pleased to express his satisfaction through Lieutenant-Col Luard with the efficiency of our company.”
An interesting letter about Marksmen Badges written by him appears in the Volunteer Service Gazette and Military Dispatch, 11th November 1865:
TO THE EDITOR OF THE VOLUNTEER SERVICE GAZETTE
Sir, I find in your paper of last week’s issue a letter from correspondent in reference to mine, whch appeared in your paper of the 30th of September last, upon the subject of Marksmen’s Badges.
The author of the letter says that War-office circular No 17, dated 20th May 1865, “has not the remotest reference to the musketry practice; “ which is quite true, and which was also my reason for deferring to it.
With regard to War-office Circular No 16, dated 10th February 1865, he shows that I did not correctly quote it, this is also quite true. I only referred to the subject of it, that parties interested might read for themselves. He has given a correct quotation of a portion of it – viz, “that the musketry practice of a Volunteers should, until further orders, be carried on at targets of the size and form, and with the mode of scoring prescribed in the ‘Regulations for Conducting the Musketry Instruction of the Army,’ dated Adjutant-General’s Office, Horse Guards, 1st December 1864.”
It is just this new mode of scoring which requires men shooting in the first class to score 20 points, at least, to be styles Marksmen, instead of 7, as old. Again it is by this new mode of scoring, as given on Page 87 of the Musketry Instruction, which makes “that soldier who, having scored 20 points with the Enfield, or 32 with the Whitworth rifle, in shooting in the first class scores the greatest number of points in the first and second classes together,” the best shot of the company.
This being the case, the only question is, whether the rifle and three stars are intended to be awarded to the best shot. Of course, the old style of establishing the best shot, and awarding to him the rifle and 3 stars, was as shown in article 241 of “The Volunteer Regulations” – “When the range available extends to 900 yards, the Volunteer who scores the greatest number of points above 7 in the first class may wear a rifle embroidered horizontally, with 3 stars.”
I understand this mode of scoring to establish the best shot, and, to be obsolete; but your correspondent seems to infer that it is not, yet, in quoting it, he has substituted 20 points for 7.
He objects to the instruction given in the article on page 87 of the “Musketry Instruction” as being applicable to the rifle and 3 stars, on the ground that it refers to cross muskets. That which refers to cross-muskets refers also to the rifle with either two or three stars, as far as the mere class shooting is concerned.
The rifle and stars, I believe, are granted as a substitute for the cross-muskets, when the volunteers omit the judging distance practice and the working up to the required standard of efficiency in Musketry, but are otherwise subject to the same rules as regards shooting as those qualified and competing for cross-muskets.
In writing the above, I have supposed a range of 800 yards to be available. – I am Sir, your obedient Servant,
John Downer, Sergeant-Instructor, Tenterden, 7th November 1865.”