Medals at Woolley & Wallis

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More news about the upcoming 20 November Woolley & Wallis auction.

A large private consignment of foreign and British medals will feature as part of a very strong medal section. It was assembled by a collector who’s interests encompassed a number of often intersecting themes, such as the wars of Spain in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Peninsula War, the so-called Great Game that was played out in Northern India and Afghanistan in the age of the British Empire, and the Chinese Boxer Rebellion of 1900. Each of these areas was pursued methodically and in detail, and the result is a truly impressive array of orders and decorations, many of which are rare and very prestigious, and a large proportion of which may be described as scarce. The discerning eye of the collector is also revealed by the fact that the great majority of the medals are in good condition, with most grading in the ‘good very fine’ to ‘extremely fine’ range.

The period of the Napoleonic Wars is well represented by British Naval General Service and Military General Service Medals, foremost among which is the superb 10-clasp MGS to Private Thomas Dolphin, Artillery Drivers, which is remarkable not only for the number of clasps that it bears, but for the fact that is a unique combination. The culmination of these campaigns is marked by medals for the battle of Waterloo – not only the familiar British issue, but also those produced by various of the continental states who participated.

A major focal point of these wars for the British was the Iberian peninsula. The collection offers a selection of campaign awards made by the Spanish and Portuguese themselves, some for familiar battles such as Vitoria and San Sebastian, but many rewarding service in exclusively local aspects of the struggle such as the defence of Madrid in 1808 and of Astorga in 1810. These distinctions are mainly in the form of enamelled crosses, striking for the variety and opulence of their designs, and they provide a fascinating window onto the war from the Iberian perspective.

Associated theatres included India, where the British fought to maintain their position, sometimes in the face of French assisted opposition; and Egypt, where a French occupying force was first stranded by the Royal Navy, and later ejected by the Army. The collection also reflects these events, with medals for Mysore, Seringapatam, the Battle of the Nile, and Egypt 1801, to name but a few. Particularly notable are examples of the gold medal conferred on British officers by the Sultan of Turkey for removing the French threat to his vassal state.

Sadly the defeat of Napoleon did not bring lasting peace to Spain. The collection guides us through the turmoil of the 19th and 20th centuries, including the Carlist Wars, fought over successional and constitutional questions, and in which the British also intervened on the side of the more progressive faction against the reactionary Carlists; and the notorious Civil War of 1936-39; via detours into the colonial conflicts that marked the demise of the once mighty Spanish Empire.

In another age, and on the fringes of another empire, we find the forces of the British East India Company attempting to re-install their favoured candidate – Shah Shujah Durrani - as ruler of Afghanistan. This ill-starred venture saw hard fought successes undone in a disastrous retreat, before a final military victory was nevertheless followed by withdrawal. A variety of campaign medals were awarded in the aftermath and are represented in the collection, including the very scarce medal for the defence of Kelat-I Ghilzie, and the splendid enamelled and pearl-set badge of the Order of the Dooranee Empire, instituted by Shah Shujah to reward the officers of the army that had restored him to power.

Other items of British interest include medals for the Crimean War and for the 2nd Anglo-Chinese War of 1858-60. Collectors will also be tempted by a number of Russian awards for their 19th century conflicts against the Turks, Persians and others.

The international scope of the collection is again demonstrated in the assembly of awards for the conflict in Peking, 1900, commonly referred to as the Boxer Rebellion. The collection includes examples of the medals conferred by Britain, France, America, Japan, Russia, Italy and Germany. The star of this section is without doubt the Defence of Legations group to a civilian, Arthur D. Brent, of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank.

In addition to this collection, which totals over 240 lots, there are also a number of very important single consignments:

On the market for the first time will be the rare and impressive WWII Distinguished Service Order group of medals to Temporary Acting Captain William Cunningham, brother to the highly decorated John ‘Cat’s Eyes’ Cunningham, RAF. Awarded in spite of the recipient’s junior commission (which would normally attract a Military Cross) it was one of only 38 DSOs conferred upon the Royal Marines during World War II, and one of a total of four worn by the Cunningham brothers.

Cunningham’s DSO was awarded for action in Sicily, and the Mediterranean was also the theatre in which Chief Engine Room Artificer William Henry Waldron, Royal Navy, won the Distinguished Service Medal during the Battle of Cape Matapan in March 1941. His citation lauds his Herculean exertions in the engine room of HMS Gloucester.

The seemingly commonplace medals to Alan Mackenzie Rogers belie the fascinating career that lies behind them. His presence at the Battle of Jutland in 1916 would be enough to provoke interest, but it is his work behind enemy lines in WWII, with Section-D of the Special Intelligence Service (a for-runner to the much vaunted SOE) and his capture by the Germans in Yugoslavia in 1941 that make this group a very significant rarity. Interned by the Gestapo in a concentration camp near Graz, and considered by the British to be in considerable danger, his cover as a consular clerk nevertheless held, and he was eventually liberated.  

All these, and many other medals, together with a good selection of coins, weapons and militaria, will be included in the catalogue, which is due to be published on the 25 October.

 

 

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