This was epitomised by a First World War ‘Western Front’ Military Cross group of four sold at London saleroom Noonans (24% buyer’s premium).
Indeed, according to the Mayfair auction house, they were bought by what was described as “a private collector of medals with interesting stories”.
The recipient, Major Frank W Prentice, Tank Corps, late Royal Engineers, had an impressive war record in itself but what helped an estimate of £8000-10,000 to £24,000 was the fact he had previously served as an assistant storekeeper on the RMS Titanic.
Prentice (1889-1982) was the second-to-last member of the Titanic crew to die, being survived only by Sidney Edward Daniels.
He survived her sinking on her maiden voyage in April 1912 by jumping 100ft from the poop deck over the propellors just as the stern disappeared into the freezing North Atlantic. He swam to Lifeboat 4 and was pulled in by its occupants.
Eventually picked up by the Carpathia, Prentice disembarked at New York City on April 18. He returned to England and signed on to the Oceanic on July 10, also White Star Line. He later recalled that he was on board when one of Titanic’s lifeboats was found drifting in mid-Atlantic with four dead.
Following the outbreak of the First World War the Oceanic was converted into an armoured cruiser and sailed from Southampton on August 25, 1914. Her naval service was to last just two weeks: on the morning of September 8 she ran aground on the notorious Shaalds of Foula reef off Shetland. Once again Prentice had to jump into the water and was picked up by a lifeboat.
Deciding that he had more than pushed his luck with ships and the sea, he decided at that point to join the army.
In later life Prentice reflected: “I’ve had a lot of experiences during my life. Two world wars. Badly shattered right arm. Another wound in the leg. And all anyone wants to know about is the Titanic.”
Top price in this of Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria auction on December 7 was the top-estimate £40,000 for an “outstanding and rare Second War CGM (Conspicuous Gallantry Medal) and ‘Immediate’ DFM (Distinguished Flying Medal) group of five awarded to Lancaster Rear Gunner Warrant Officer Victor Arthur Roe.
It underlines again the solid collecting demand for RAF bomber crew honours at auction now.
Roe was killed in action on a raid to Chemnitz on March 5-6, 1945. Despite being just 21 at the time he was carrying out his 98th operational sortie.
The medals were being sold by Roe’s family and were bought by “a leading collector of Second World War flying gallantry medals” via a phone bid.
Mark Quayle, specialist (associate director) at Noonans said: “This is a remarkably poignant story attached to a rare group of medals. From humble origins, and the most difficult of starts in the life, Victor Roe rose above his difficult beginning to distinguish himself among the elite of the elite – the Pathfinder Force.
“A talented ‘Tail-End Charlie’, he regularly engaged and successfully fought off enemy aircraft from the rear turret of his Lancaster bomber.”
Prolific and daring
Noonans’ January 18 auction offered the First and Second China Wars campaign pair awarded to Sir Harry S Parkes (1828-85), GCMG, KCB, which made £30,000 against an estimate of £15,000-20,000. These medals, consigned by a private collector, were bought by an overseas collector after strongly contested online bidding.
Nimrod Dix, deputy chairman of Noonans and head of the medal department, said: “Sir Harry travelled to South China at the age of 13 and had a prolific and, somewhat daring, career as British Consul in Canton and Shanghai, Ambassador to Japan and then to China.
“He also served as Chief Political Officer during the Second China War, when he played a key role in conducting negotiations and seizing high-ranking Chinese officials. His heroic defiance of the torturers in the Board of Punishments in Peking’s Forbidden City led to the destruction of the Summer Palace and established his reputation.
“Despite large bounties on his head, he survived multiple assassination attempts.”