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05 October 2014
Auction News



By Christopher Proudlove

Medals awarded to a Gurkha for his outstanding leadership, superb courage and grim determination during the Malaya Campaign when his ambush party was surrounded by bandits were the surprise top lot in a Cardiff sale of militaria at Rogers Jones Co, South Wales leading antiques and fine art auctioneers.

The George VI Distinguished Conduct Medal and General Service Medal Malaya won by Corporal Pahalsing Thapa realised £3,600 against an estimate of £2,000-2,500. They were purchased by a UK-based internet bidder competing against a bidder from New Zealand, one of many international buyers who participated in the sale.

The citation for the DCM read: “On the night of the 11 Feb 1952 Cpl. Pahalsing 1/6th Gurkha Rifles, was the commander of an ambush party of five men in North Jahore. Just before darkness the party was moving down a track towards the selected ambush position when a strong enemy force was encountered at point blank range.

“The leading Gurkha Scout opened fire killing one bandit and wounding another. Cpl. Pahalsingh Thapa gave the order to charge, whereupon his small party came under heavy fire from light machine guns and grenades. He then ordered three men to take up fire positions while he and a Rifleman assaulted the enemy. They were both stopped by concentrated fire and Cpl. Pahalsing Thapa, realising that his party was now surrounded by about fifty enemy, organised his men into a defensive position, making use of the meagre cover which existed in the slightly overgrown and swampy rubber.

“For 1.5 hours the enemy launched fierce attacks from all sides and, in an attempt to demoralise the men, resorted to blood curdling yells, bugle and whistle blows and the firing of Verey lights at low level. The Gurkhas shouted back in defiance, refused to give one inch of ground, met all attacks with perfect calmness, smashing them with bursts of deliberate shooting.

“With ammunition running low and now reduced to two magazines for the light machine gun and sten, Cpl. Pahalsing Thapa detailed one Rifleman to break through the enemy and proceed to the nearest police station and summon aid from the Company Commander. However before reinforcements could arrive, the enemy fled, demoralised and defeated, leaving Cpl. Pahalsing and his gallant comrades in sole command of the battlefield. The outstanding leadership, superb courage and grim determination of Cpl. Pahalsing so inspired his men that, although outnumbered by ten to one, they defeated the enemy without receiving a single casualty.”

Nearest contender for top honours in the medal section of the sale was the British Empire Medal trio awarded to Able Seaman Ernest Thomas of Trealaw, in the Rhondda Valley, who helped drag men alive, dead and dying out of gallons of fuel oil and up on to the deck of his stricken warship which had struck a mine. The BEM, WWI War Medal and 1939-45 Star sold for £1,400 against an estimate of £600-800.

Thomas, was serving aboard HMS Hunter, a H-class destroyer, which during the Spanish Civil War was enforcing an arms blockade when she struck the mine south of Almeria on the afternoon of May 13, 1937. Eight of her crew were killed and 24 wounded.

“Recording the award by George VI of the British Empire Medal to Thomas, The London Gazette of November 12, 1937 report read: “An explosion caused by the mine occurred underneath the Stoker Petty Officers` and Torpedomen`s Mess Decks. To reach the ratings on these mess decks, this party had to jump down 8 feet, the ladder being blown away, into 3 feet of oil fuel and on to a deck which might not have been intact.

“During this period they remained in imminent risk of falling through the shattered deck into the water and fuel. Moreover, they were under the impression that the ship was about to founder. Their exertions to save life consisted of dragging living and dead men from under wreckage and out of the oil fuel and passing them up on deck. This operation lasted from 5 to 10 minutes. The rescued were in very severe danger from having swallowed oil fuel and had they been left would undoubtedly have died. Others were severely burnt and immersion of their wounds in oil fuel, if prolonged, would undoubtedly have caused death.”

A Second World War Distinguished Service Medal group of seven to Mech. 1 H.E.H. Checksfield, R.N. for “gallantry, patience and cheerfulness in dangerous waters” as H.M.S. Euryalus participated in the invasion of Sicily, the Salerno landing and the surrender of the Italian Fleet” sold for £1,120.

A 1914 group of three campaign medals, Death Plaque and commemorative scroll recalling the tragic career of Private Percy Pennington, 2nd Battalion Welsh Regiment, of Cwmaman, sold for an above estimate £950.

Pennington was among 21 soldiers killed in a single shell blast in 1916 as the Battle of the Somme entered its second phase. His grave in the field was later visited by George V, a moment captured by four large photographs and a newspaper cutting, sold with the medals.

Among orders and decorations, an R.N.L.I. Silver Medal to Stephen Hurry, awarded in 1843, exceeded its presale high estimate to sell for £1,400. He was serving aboard a smack which had witnessed the brig “Traveller” breaking up in gales on Gunfleet Sands off Harwich, Essex.

The crew was forced to take to the rigging and remained there all day and following night before a rescue could be attempted. Despite being buffeted for a considerable time Hurry was aboard one of two boats which managed to reach the wreck and take off the brig’s entire crew.

Highest price among a number of quality Japanese swords was achieved by a superb 14th century katana of the Mumei Yamato School with deep mahogany-coloured laquer patterned saya (scabbard) and gilt and pierced metal tsuba (hand guard) modelled with the figure of a farmer and ray skin handle with two black dragon menuki (grips). It sold for £2,400 against an estimate of £1,200-£1,400, while others were purchased by European collectors.

Entries are now invited for the next sale of medals and military antiques at Rogers Jones Co’s Cardiff saleroom, which is on ? For further information, please contact the auctioneer on 02920 7089125 orcardiffinfo@rogersjones.co.uk.

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