Last week, Dix Noonan Webb completed their Groups and Single Decorations for Gallantry auction. Two of the greatest highlights were medal sets from the Falklands War, both relating to the Argentine bombing of the HMS Argonaut in the Battle of Bomb Alley:
Firstly there was the Distinguished Conduct Medal set belonging to Chief Marine Engineering Mechanic Townsend.
After HMS Argonaut had been hit by two 1,000lb bombs, both of which failed to explode, Townsend stayed aboard the badly damaged ship taking charge of an Action Damage Control Team after most of the ships company had been removed for their own safety.
Following the attack, he passed over and worked within five feet of one of the unexploded bombs and then hung over the side of the ship during continuing air attacks whilst patching up the hole which the bomb left.
"I don't think of myself as a hero." Townsend later commented, "All I wanted was to get on with my job. The ship was my home as well as that of 250 others. I was paid to do it so I thought I had better get on with it. And 8,000 miles is a long way to swim home."
Listed at £50,000-£60,000 Townsend's medals actually achieved £65,000.
The second set was a Distinguished Service Cross group which we discussed in the run-up to the auction. It belonged to Warrant Officer John Phillips who successfully defused one of the bombs on the Argonaut with partner James Prescott.
However, they were given an unsolvable problem on the HMS Antelope the following day. The bomb was too far gone, and it exploded, killing Prescott and robbing Phillips of an arm - although even this didn't prevent him from returning to work defusing bombs the following year.
|John Phillips is interviewed about his experience|
A photograph of the ship exploding remains one of the enduring images of the war. Phillips explained his experience from the time: "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."
Phillips's medal set beat its £80,000-100,000 listing to bring £120,000.
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.