Sotheby's sells Distinguished Conduct Medal group of soldier who 'charged' a tank

Medals won by Robert Dennis Gay, from Paul Fraser Collectibles' home city of Bristol, UK, have auctioned for £45,600 ($71,289) at a sale held by Sotheby's and Morton & Eden.

Gay attended local Kingswood Grammar School as a boy. Although it's perhaps safe to assume that Robert had no inkling he would one day become a war hero. What's more, his endeavours would include bravely facing-off both a German tank and enemy machine gun fire.

Robert became a paratrooper, and was dropped into the Dutch city of Arnhem as part of Operation Market Garden, on September 18, 1944. He was among the 156th Battalion of the 4th Parachute Regiment.


Robert Dennis Gay medals

Robert Dennis Gay: the brave
soldier who faced-off a tank

The battalion immediately came under attack after the drop - and, by all accounts, the German forces' onslaught was unrelenting.

It was during the second day that Regimental Sergeant-Major Gay proved his heroism. As an enemy tank approached his battalion, Gay ignored flanking fire from a machine gun and - incredible as this sounds - then charged the tank to distract its attention from Battalion HQ.

Gay was severely wounded in the leg by the tank's machine gun fire. When a senior officer, desperately looking for ammunition, found him slumped against a jeep, he shouted:

"Bloody hell, can't you get to your feet and find us the ammunition we want?"

"I'm very sorry, Sir. I've been shot through both legs," Gay replied.

The plan behind Operation Market Garden was to force an entry into Germany and over the Rhine. But today the operation is instead remembered for its horrific outcome, which included the deaths of more than 17,000 men.

The failure of Operation Market Garden also quashed hopes that World War Two would be over by Christmas 1944.

Incapacitated by his injuries from the machine gun, Gay was captured as a prisoner of war and held at Stalag XIB at Fallingbostel in Lower Saxony, north-western Germany. There, he devoted himself to making sure his fellow prisoners remained both healthy and in high spirits.

After his release from Stalag XIB, Gray rejoined his unit as a Grenadier Guard and got married. His army career would later take him to Norway and Palestine.

Clearly a man of outstanding character and bravery, Robert Dennis Gay was later promoted to Captain and eventually awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM).

Sotheby's and Morton & Eden's December 1 auction offered eight of RSM Gay's medals. Various pieces of documentation were also sold, including Gay's report from Kingswood Grammar School, correspondence to his mother while in Stalag XIB, and various photographs.

The medals commemorate various eras of Gay's service in Italy, Germany, France and Palestine.


Robert Dennis Gay medals
Regimental Sergeant-Major Gay's medals sold for £45,600 in London

Expected to sell for £20,000-30,000, the medals far exceeded this pre-sale estimate and in the end brought £45,600.

They were sold to a private collector, who was undoubtedly attracted to the remarkable story behind this historic medal group.

After his army career in the Parachute Regiment ended in 1949, Robert Dennis Gay later enjoyed a highly successful new career in power cable engineering for the British Insulated Callender's Construction Company (BICC).

Sotheby's and Morton & Eden's sale was a reminder that Gay's previous life, as the brave Regimental Sergeant-Major who faced-off a German tank to save his battalion, remains unforgotten by collectors of medals and militaria.


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