A group of orders, decorations and medals sold at Lewes, East Sussex, saleroom Wallis & Wallis (24% buyer’s premium) tells the story. They were awarded to Major General Henry Robinson Swinburn, covering his service from the First World War and Afghanistan and Iraq 1918-19 (with a Military Cross for Kurdistan 1922) through to the Second World War.
Swinburn served with the British Expeditionary Force in 1940. He was with the 51st Highland Division. As Allied troops fell back in 1940 it was arranged to evacuate the whole French IX Corps, of which the division formed part, from Le Havre. However, as Rommel’s 7th Panzer Division advanced it became necessary to attempt an evacuation from the little port of St Valery en Caux.
The June German assaults on the perimeter around the port were repulsed by the British, but broke the French sector. Fog prevented the Royal Navy from helping the cornered troops and all except a handful of men who managed to escape to Veules-les-Roses were captured.
Included in the lot were telegrams received by Swinburn’s wife advising that he was reported missing and a second reporting him as a prisoner of war. An August 13 telegram states: “Very glad received postcard from Henry Swinburn who is well and prisoner number 1253 at Oflag VII C/H”. In January 1942 he was sent to Oflag IX A/H camp.
Throughout his imprisonment Swinburn took a keen and active interest in all intelligence, escape and security work, acting as chief co-ordinating officer for Major General Fortune, commander of the 51st Highland. He was deemed a major part of an organised system allowing coded messages to be sent directly to, and received from, MI9.
The Swinburn group sold online for a mid-estimate £4200 to a London specialist dealer in the May 27 auction. James Hancox of Wallis & Wallis said: “The medal group was unearthed by a local antique dealer and consigned to us by them.”
The auction took place amid Covid-19 restrictions and Hancox added: “I was the auctioneer and, as before, the auction took place at my dining table with my daughter clerking the sale for me. This was the third ‘online only’ auction we have carried out in this manner.”