In a fortnight's time Dix Noonan Webb are holding one of their major medals auctions under the heading Groups and Single Decorations for Gallantry.
As you'd expect, it offers some striking highlights, and none more so than the unique Falklands War 'Army Bomb Disposal' D.S.C. group of four awarded to Warrant Officer II (later Captain (QM)) J. H. Phillips.
|John Phillips is interviewed about his experience|
Phillips was decorated for his exceptional gallantry alongside Staff Sergeant James Prescott in rendering safe an unexploded bomb aboard H.M.S. Argonaut on 22 May 1982 and in attempting to defuse a bomb aboard H.M.S. Antelope the following day.
In the first instance, Phillips worked in what were described as 'extraordinarily cramped conditions' and in very unfamiliar surroundings to successfully render safe the bomb which was later removed from the ship.
"This action" (explains his citation), "enabled the damage to the boiler room to be repaired, so that HMS Argonaut regained propulsion and was able to manoeuvre defensively in further air attacks".
Unfortunately on the Antelope they did not succeed, (the bomb was probably past the point at which it could be controlled) and the resulting explosion killed Prescott and seriously wounded Phillips, who lost an arm.
"Jim [Prescott] was standing right next to me. We had a momentary glance at each other as if to say, 'Oops,' then I was flying through the air... I thought I was dead.
"I was going down this very dark tunnel, with this whooshing sound, and there was a silhouette of my father at the end waiting for me. Behind him were green fields. I thought, 'If this is death it's not bad'. There was a feeling of peace and serenity. But then I hit the bulk-head which brought me back to reality"
The photograph of the exploding ship remains one of the enduring images of the conflict.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the whole story is that despite the loss of his left arm Phillips was back defusing bombs the following year.
The Distinguished Service Cross, with Royal Mint case of issue; General Service (with one clasp for Northern Ireland); South Atlantic and Regular Army medals are still in impressive condition and expected to sell for £80,000-100,000 (up to $157,000) in Dix Noonan Webb's auction on December 15 in London.
Collectibles such as medals associated with heroic actions will always be treasured by collectors. For example, we're currently proud to own a list of recipients of the Victoria Cross which has been signed by VC winner Rambahadur Limbu.