From Napoleon to WWII: Bonhams sells the 19th century pistols of a famed soldier

A very rare pair of French silver-mounted flintlock pistols by Napoleon's gunmaker, Boutet, once in the collection of Field Marshall Sir Frances Festing, will be offered in Bonhams Fine Antique Arms and Armour sale later this month. The pair is estimated to fetch between £50,000 and £75,000.

The pistols, of presentation quality were made by Nicolas-Noël Boutet, (1761-1833), Directeur Artiste, Manufacture A Versailles. He is considered to be one of the greatest recorded gunmakers.

From 1793 to 1818 he was artistic director of the Manfacture Nationale de Versailles where he was responsible for the production of some of the finest luxury and presentation arms ever made. The pistols were exhibited in the Tower of London, 1986-1996 and The Royal Armouries, Leeds, 1996-2010.

David Williams, Director of Antique Arms and Armour Department at Bonhams, comments: "This pair of duelling pistols are very fine examples of their kind, made by one of the foremost gunsmiths of the 18th Century.

"Their ownership by one of Britain's most distinguished soldiers adds much to their interest and value."

Flintlock pistols
Frances Festing's flintlock pistols

The pistol's owner was known as a soldier who led from the front. 'Frankie Festing' distinguished himself during WWII campaigns in the Indian Ocean and Burma. His post war career was just as successful.

'Frankie' Festing (1902-1976) was educated at Winchester College before being commissioned into the 3rd Battalion the Rifle Brigade in 1921. In 1940 he became Commanding Officer of 2nd Battalion East Lancashire Regiment and then in 1942 Commander of 29th Independent Infantry Brigade Group which was the landing force of Force 121 for Operation Ironclad, the seizure of Vichy French ports and airfields in the Indian Ocean, notably Madagascar.

In November 1942 he took command of 36th Indian Division, which included 29th Infantry Brigade, and at the beginning of 1944 led it in the final stages of the Arakan offensive of the Burma Campaign. In mid-1944 the division moved to Northern Burma as part of the US led Northern Combat Area Command before rejoining 14th Army.

Festing had a reputation as a front line soldier and on 29 October 1944 he personally led the advance platoon of the 36th British Division into Mawlu.

One quote about this event states: "To the growing Festing legend was added another dramatic chapter this week-end when Major-General Francis Wogan Festing personally led the advance platoon of the 36th British Division into Mawlu.

"The leader of the platoon was killed, leaving the unit in charge of a sergeant. Festing, who is generally at the front, took over, and, probably the highest ranking officer ever to command a platoon, led it into Mawlu."

He was Commander of British Forces in Hong Kong between 1945 and 1946, and again from June to September in 1949. He became General Officer Commanding British Troops in Egypt in 1952, General Officer Commanding Eastern Command in 1945 and Commander-in-Chief Far East Land Forces in 1956. From 1958 to 1961 he was Chief of the Imperial General staff.

Gerard Morgan-Grenville who was aide-de-camp to Festing said that his former CO taught him to act independently and to be deeply sceptical of position and rank. The auction takes place in London on Wednesday, 24th November.


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