WWI Distinguished Service Medal and Bar comes to auction

Percival Ross was a seasoned sailor by the time WW1 broke out, having served on several ships and already being awarded the L.S. & G.C. Medal.

A much more significant medal was awarded to him as a result of his part in the exploits of 'H.M. Special Service Smack' I'll Try on February 1917.

Alongside a similar vessel, Boy Alfred, the I'll Try was feigning a fishing expedition when warned by the first of an approaching pair of U-boats that they should abandon their ship as it was about to be sunk.

The crew distracted the U-boat long enough for Boy Alfred to take a shot from its concealed 12-pound gun, sinking it. The companion submarine dived, and then chased the I'll Try round as it performed a series of evasive manoeuvres.

In a cunning and desperate move, the skipper, Tom Crisp, sailed due east feigning retreat. When the U-boat fired a torpedo and surfaced, the I'll Try turned as sharply as the ship was capable of, avoiding the shot by just a couple of feet.

The turn also gave one chance to return fire from the ship's side on the U-boat, which was deadly accurate, causing it to sink. Ross was awarded the DSM as a result of his part in the manoeuvres.

Distinguished Service Medal and Bar of Percival Ross
DSM and Bar of Percival Ross with his other medals

In July 1917, an incident occurred in the North Sea which was later to draw an emotional speech from Prime Minister David Lloyd George in Parliament, and dominated the press for over a week.

The I'll Try, renamed the Nelson as cover, was in a similar formation out in the North Sea when a better informed U-boat attacked the vessel. The submarine's firepower was able to pick off the ship at a distance it could not return fire.

Skipper Tom Crisp had his lower half severed by one shot. Nevertheless, he continued to command the crew for a brief time, and they arranged the destruction of secret documents aboard and for a message to be sent back to land reporting the attack whilst the ship sank.

The message, sent by carrier pigeon as the ship had no radio, was dictated by Crisp including news of his own death: "Nelson being attacked by submarine. Skipper killed. Jim Howe Bank. Send assistance at once.".

Crisp was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, whilst Crisp's son, Tom Crisp Jr, was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal and Ross had a Bar added to his own.

Ross's medals are now up for auction at Dix Noonan Webb, as part of their live sale on March 31 in London with an estimate of £8,000-10,000. Don't miss our recent interview with David Erskine-Hill, medal expert at Dix Noonan Webb.



Image: Dix Noonan Webb

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