A reward for 15 years of voluntary service

My maternal grandfather Horace John Smyth died in 1962 when I was only two years old. I cannot remember my grandfather, but I have heard many stories of him from my mother and my aunt and uncle. My grandfather had a blacksmith’s workshop, with a metal lathe, attached to the family’s George Street home, in which he made and repaired farming and household equipment. He was also a fireman and it is this occupation that provides the background for this biography.


The Grenfell Fire Brigade on the brigade fire truck

In 1947 Horrie, as he was always known, was presented with a long service medal for voluntary service in the NSW Fire Brigade. Since the early days of the colony firefighting had always been a voluntary service, however, in 1884 a professional organisation, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, was formed. In 1910 the organisation became known as the NSW Fire Brigade. In regional areas, such as Grenfell, NSW, the fire service remained voluntary, however, members were officially recognised as voluntary employees of the NSW Fire Brigade. Horace joined the fire brigade on March 1, 1928, and in 1929 the Grenfell fire station was officially opened.  As the Captain of the Grenfell brigade, Horace was responsible for the station phone, which was positioned in the family’s living room. When the phone rang so too did the fire bell, loud enough to be heard for several blocks.

            Home, George Street, Grenfell NSW                                                                                          Home, George Street, Grenfell NSW  

For 71 years his long service medal has remained resting in the original presentation box. The solid black case measures 12.7 cm long by 6.8 cm wide and 1.5 cm high. The box is hinged down one length and there is a small button press clip which opens the lid. The hinge is completely hidden underneath the black leather covering, meaning that the wooden box was made and then covered with leather. The inside lid of the box is lined with a cream silk material on which the words AMOR LTD SYDNEY have been printed. The opposite half of the box is lined with dark blue velvet and the medal sits neatly into an impression in the lining. Despite its age, the box is in very good condition, the fabric linings are not discoloured and other than a few small scuff marks on the underside, the box shows no sign of wear and tear.


Amor Ltd was established in NSW in 1888 and for over century Amor-Sanders, as they later became, were Sydney’s main medal makers. They also engraved the solid steel dies used to make medals through a stamping process. The Museum of Applied Arts and Science Sydney has a collection of Amor dies.



Most of the dies shown are negative or reverse intaglio dies, which are used in a stamping machine to imprint the design, in relief, on pre-cut silver blank pieces. The steel coining press was used at Amor Ltd for making medals such as this long service medal.

The sterling silver circular medal is 38 centimetres in diameter and is 4 mm thick. The rim of the medal is slightly raised, and an engraving is visible on the lower rim in the image left. The engraving reads H. J. SMYTH – 1943.

Sterling silver is an alloy of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. Pure silver is a relatively soft metal and would be unsuitable for medal making. The addition of a small amount of copper makes the metal both harder and stronger. Silver mines still exist in Broken Hill, NSW, however, there are many historic silver mines scattered throughout the state. Thus, the silver from which this medal was made is likely to be an Australian resource. Current silver prices mean that the silver component of this medal is valued at about $33.

The 45-gram engraved medal was received by Captain Horace Smyth on Thursday, August 14, 1947, and was presented to him by the President of the Board of Fire Commissioners, the Honourable T. J. Smith, in recognition of 15 years of service to the Fire Brigade. The four-year delay in presentation of the medal could be attributed to the war as well as to difficulties associated with travelling long distances, especially into rural communities, where roads were often unmade and sometimes impassable due to floods or heavy rains.

The obverse side of the medal is embellished with the words FOR LONG SERVICE in the centre of the medal. These words are encircled, almost completely by a laurel wreath which is itself surrounded by the words FIRE BRIGADES NSW VOLUNTEER.

At the top of the medal is a decorative suspension piece, comprising leaves on each side and surrounding a central piece to which a ring is attached. This ring is connected via a j-ring to the lower of two suspension bars. These sterling silver suspension bars are separated by a square of 2-ply red grosgrain riband. Grosgrain has visible ridges running horizontally through the fabric and this piece is likely made from silk. The fabric is looped through a slot in both suspension bars and then both ends are sewn together adjacent to the top bar.                        

Each suspension bar also has a leaf pattern on the obverse side. On the reverse side of the top bar is an imprint showing STG SIL indicating the composition of the medal as sterling silver. A pin, to enable the medal to be worn on the lapel of a jacket, is attached to the top suspension bar. The pin is probably nickel, most likely a nickel alloy as it is not magnetic

The reverse side of the medal bears an image of the 1884 fireman’s helmet above two crossed axes. The 5 stars of the Southern Cross constellation are situated immediately above the helmet, with three of the stars located to the right of the helmet while Alpha crux is located to the left of the helmet and Beta crux is located immediately above the centre of the helmet.  There is a laurel wreath encircling about two-thirds of the outer edge of the medal and at each end of the wreath is a waratah, the floral emblem of NSW. The medal is in excellent condition, apart from a small amount of natural patina, common in silver objects. The patina adds to the natural appeal of the object.                                                                                                                                              

Medals like this have sold on medal-collectors sites for about $340, however, the value of this medal is priceless as it represents a life of voluntary community service by my grandfather who was recognised by his fellow firefighters as a good citizen and a good cobber. High praise indeed.


Horace Smyth and Kathleen Flinn, July 1st 1931.            Horace at home in Yagoon, NSW