The former Conservative Party treasurer is well known for collecting VCs to be displayed in the Imperial War Museum gallery named after him. He paid a mid-estimate £200,000 (plus 20% buyer’s commission) on July 22 to secure the only VC awarded during the Perak War in what is now Malaysia in 1875.
Lord Ashcroft’s unrivalled collection of VCs and George Crosses (the equivalent of the VC awarded for actions not in the face of the enemy, such as bomb disposal) is ever-growing and he is particularly interested in honours that are the very best of their type or unique.
The Perak VC was won by General George Channer as a 32-year-old captain. He stormed a stockade during this little-known colonial campaign. Channer had been attached to a regiment of Gurkhas for the 1875-76 conflict, which followed a rebellion in Perak. The Gurkhas were part of the force sent to restore British authority.
The medals were market-fresh and were being sold by a direct descendant.
It is not the highest VC result at DNW, but in terms of their recent VC sales it is well up there. Watson (North West Frontier 1897) fetched £260,000 hammer in December 2014. Next comes Channer and then Garvin (Indian Mutiny) in September 2014 for £190,000 hammer.
The highest price for a ‘unique’ VC at auction – i.e. the only one awarded for a campaign – is believed to be £340,000 for the only one presented for the British campaign in Tibet, 1904, another little-known conflict. It sold at London saleroom Morton & Eden (20% buyer’s premium) in July 2014.
Dix Noonan Webb, who last July sold the SOE George Cross group awarded to Violette Szabo for an auction record £260,000 (Lord Ashcroft was the buyer), offered another extraordinary Second World War GC estimated at £120,000-150,000 on July 22.
It was awarded posthumously to John Alexander Fraser (1896-1943), a Somme veteran who became civilian defence secretary and assistant attorney-general in Hong Kong. When the Japanese invaded he organised escape plans and a clandestine wireless service at Stanley Civilian Internment Camp.
Brutally beaten and tortured over a prolonged period, on October 20, 1943 – having failed to break Fraser’s remarkable spirit – the Japanese took him and 32 others to a beach and beheaded them all.
The Fraser GC was bought by an anonymous phone bidder for £190,000 hammer. It is the second-highest price for a GC after the Szabo honour. It was sold by Fraser’s grandchildren.
At DNW on February 24 this year Lord Ashcroft bought the GC awarded to Wing Commander Leonard Harrison RAF for £120,000. Until this Fraser GC, it was the second-highest auction price for a GC.
Lord Ashcroft began building his collection in 1986 when he bought his first VC at an auction held by Sotheby’s in London: that awarded to Acting Leading Seaman James Magennis, paying £29,000 plus buyer’s premium and VAT. Magennis was the only man from Northern Ireland to be awarded a VC for Second World War service.
In an Antiques Trade Gazette interview in November last year, Lord Ashcroft said: “Initially, I intended the purchase to be a one-off. But, after taking possession of the medal, I felt a surge of pride at being so close to the rewards of one man’s gallantry – and so I resolved to build a collection.”