Bravery spanning the centuries... Four Victoria Crosses star in medals auction

Next week, Spink is holding a sale in London of Orders, Decorations, Campaign Medals & Militaria which looks set to be the sale of the year for medal collectors and investors everywhere with a remarkable assembly of Victoria Crosses.

Any auction which includes one of these awards is always a notable event, and Spink has sold a few this year already. But in this case a full four sets headed by VCs are going under the hammer.

Considering the relatively small number which have been awarded, and the fact that many of them are out of the market (a record number of Victoria Crosses have gone on display at the Imperial War Museum this month) this is fairly extraordinary. Naturally, all are strong options for those looking for an investment.

The award was created at the close of the Crimean War, to honour some of the exceptional bravery seen there. Two of the awards date to soon after the medals creation, (though neither is as early as the first VC awarded in the army, which is available elsewhere) whilst the others are linked to the Great War:

Firstly, there is an Indian Mutiny 1857 Heroic Defence Of The Delhi Magazine VC Group of Four awarded to Major-General George Alexander Renny with the Cross awarded for "Displaying Great Coolness and Contempt of Death" which ensured the retention of the magazine complex by single-handedly throwing burning shells at rebel forces.

Renny was later mentioned in dispatches 10 years later for his action in command of a battery of the Royal Horse Artillery using elephants in place of horses. His medals are to sell with an estimate of £100,000-120,000.

His contemporary Major-General Robert Montresor Rogers earned his decoration in the Second China War during the attack on the North Taku fort where he swam the ditches and was the first to enter the fort, where he was severely wounded.

Rogers Victoria Cross and Companion of the Bath group
Rogers's Victoria Cross and Companion of the Bath group

Rogers' medals also include the coveted Order of the Bath, awarded in 1886, which the officers under his command had recommended for him following his command in the Zulu War. The set is expected to sell for £130,000-150,000.

Both the World War I VCs are related to actions in which the soldier concerned rushed machine guns at great personal risk:

The Great War September 1918 posthumous VC and Military Medal pair awarded to Lance Sergeant Thomas Neely. His citation is for,

"...most conspicuous bravery during operations at Flesquieres on 27th September, 1918. His company was held up during the advance by heavy machine-gun fire from a flank.

"Corporal Neely, realising the seriousness of the situation, at once, under point blank fire, dashed out with two men and rushed the positions, disposing of the garrisons and capturing three machine guns."

The medals come with a Great War bronze memorial plaque and some related documents and are listed at £100,000-140,000.

Bells's Footballers VC group including plaque
Bells's Footballers VC group including plaque

Finally, there is the 1916 'Footballing VC' awarded to Second Lieutenant Donald Simpson Bell for his actions at the Somme, though like Neely he was killed a matter of days later in a similar charge. His citation notes his

"...most conspicuous bravery. During an attack a very heavy enfilade fire was opened on the attacking company by a hostile machine gun. Second Lieutenant Bell immediately, and on his own initiative, crept up a communication trench and then, followed by Corporal Colwill and Private Batey, rushed across the open under very heavy fire and attacked the machine gun, shooting the firer with his revolver, and destroying gun and personnel with bombs.

"This very brave act saved many lives and ensured the success of the attack."

Bell had been a professional footballer in his pre-war career and the medal set, estimated at £140,000-160,000 is accompanied by documents relating to this. The sale takes place in London on November 25.


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