The Collection of Second World War and Modern Gallantry Awards formed by the late William Oakley
William Raymond Oakley (1931 - 2012)
Bill was a private person who kept very much to himself. However, to the village in which he lived all his life, Barnt Green, he was ever the helpful friendly neighbour. If he did something for anyone, it was because he wanted to and never looked for anything in return. He was known to put peoples’ bins out on bin day, take in their deliveries and perform many other similar acts of good-neighbourliness.
Thanks to his good biking friend, Ken Haddow, we are able to learn more about Bill's early days.
Bill, also known as Ray, attended The Blue Coat School in Harborne and later The King’s Norton Grammar School. He did his National Service in the REME from 1950-52 with a posting to Germany before returning to H.W. Wards, the machine tool manufacturer in Birmingham, where he had been an apprentice beforehand.
His main passion in life was cycling. He never owned a motor car and cycled the 8 or so miles to work virtually every day of his life. He thus commuted some 3,500 miles to work annually. One story that typifies Bill's character and integrity was of the time when, due to heavy snow in the early 60s, he chose instead to walk that distance to work only to find the plant had been closed for the day and he faced a very cold and long walk back.
Bill was a very active member in all aspects of The Beacon Cycling Club, which he had joined in 1948. A typical racing day for Bill meant getting up around 4:30am and riding up to 20 miles to the race HQ with loaded saddle bag and racing wheels strapped to the front of the bike for a 6am start. After the race, it was normal to then ride to a pre arranged meeting for lunch with that Sunday's club run and spend the afternoon riding with them.
As a racer, Bill reached his full potential late in life as a veteran, setting many new club records. One of them, achieved in 1975 was 404 miles in The Catford 24 Hour Race, which still stands today.
Bill had many other interests. They included fishing, where Bill would spend many a day pitting his wits against the fish at Bittell Reservoir and as a member of The Birmingham Orchid Society, for which he grew many a prize winning specimen. His other main passion was Militaria. At a time when it was not so fashionable, Bill collected, predominantly, modern era gallantry medals; but as their values grew in recent years, he could no longer afford to buy them. However, he would tease the odd trusted fellow collector with the occasional viewing of one or two of his medal nuggets. In his earlier days, during his lunch break, he would cycle to Midland Medals in Birmingham and meet other collectors. For a long time he helped his good friend Peter Taylor on his stall at the Yate and Stratford Fairs.
As a result of his ownership of the posthumous QPM, MM & Bar group to James O'Donnell, Bill developed a long and close relationship with The Irish Guards (W. Midlands) Regt. Association. It was they who accorded him their highest compliment by turning out in force and piping in Bill's coffin with an Irish Guards piper at his funeral. However, the final compliment was the amazing turnout by his village in their support and memory of Bill. And also Jo and her colleagues at Handyman’s, his local DIY shop, have helped raise funds for a teak bench, inscribed to Bill's memory, to be placed across the road from his home.
This Collection is Bill's lasting legacy and will surprise many who knew him. It is primarily, a fine and eclectic selection of gallantry medals for the modern era, many having been acquired within his Birmingham neighbourhood and never been seen on the open market before now.