The personal archive of medals, documents and photographs belonged to Colonel Vassal Charles Steer-Webster OBE (1897-1970) who led the design and construction of the famous floating Mulberry Harbours used to land troops, vehicles and supplies in the battle for Normandy.
Offered as a single lot at the Cockermouth, Cumbria, saleroom by Steer-Webster’s nephew, 87, it was estimated at £10,000-15,000 and sold for £28,000 (plus 26.4% buyer’s premium inc VAT) to the Royal Engineers Museum bidding by phone. It was the highest-selling lot at the March 18-20 Antiques and Fine Art sale.
It was as deputy director of experimental engineering that Steer-Webster played a key role in the success of the Normandy landings of June 6, 1944. His designs included the ‘chocolate mattress’ that allowed heavy artillery to be brought ashore and the Mulberry Harbours, the floating artificial harbours built on the Thames and Clyde that were used to receive and protect supply ships anchored off the French coast.
The archive included 150 black and white photographs of the Mulberry Harbour in construction, presentation models of three of its pre-fabricated sections: the Phoenix anchorage point, the Whale floating roadway and the Concrete Mat shaped, as the nickname suggests, like a bar of chocolate.
In 1944, Steer-Webster’s Mulberry A was towed into position off Omaha Beach by a fleet of tugboats and was operational for just a few important June days before it was destroyed by a storm. Mulberry B, at Gold Beach at Arromanches, was in situ for some 10 months and used to land over 2.5m troops and 500,000 vehicles.
Steer-Webster was later awarded the OBE, the Légion d’honneur and the US Legion of Merit for his work.
The Royal Engineers Museum is in Gillingham, Kent.