News & Blog

World Record Victoria Cross

Posted on Fri, 24 November 2017 by Phil Mussell - General News, Medal News

The Unique ‘Mystery’ Victoria Cross and triple DSO group of 11 awarded to World War I “Q-Ships” Captain Vice-Admiral Gordon Campbell, RN, sold at Morton & Eden in London on November 23, 2017 for an outstanding £700,000 hammer (£840,000 including premium), a new world auction record for a VC and any group of British medals

The VC was awarded to Vice Admiral Gordon Campbell (1886-1953), who as Captain of the ‘Q-Ship’ Farnborough successfully destroyed a German submarine U.83 on 17 February 1917.

Gordon Campbell’s complete group of 11 medals, also including the DSO with two bars and France’s Légion d’Honneur Chevalier’s badge and Croix de Guerre, 1914-1918 will now stay in the UK on public display having been acquired by his great-nephew Baron Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza.

After the sale Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza stated: “These medals have enormous historic value for the UK, as well as personal value to me and my family.”

“Behind every medal is a human story, and an example to generations to come. Gordon Campbell was an old-fashioned hero who was recognised for conspicuous gallantry, consummate coolness, and skill in his command of ‘Q’ Mystery Ships, decoys for German U boats.”

“I am offering the medals for display in a UK museum, where I hope as many people as possible will have the opportunity to learn about Gordon and his incredible story.”

On what was a highly secret mission, Gordon Campbell deliberately steered his vessel, disguised as a merchant ship, into the direct path of a U-boat torpedo, only changing course very slightly at the last moment to prevent a direct hit on the engine room. As soon as the torpedo struck, the British crew went through their well-practised pantomime of panic and the deployment of the lifeboats. Then only when the enemy vessel was almost upon them did Campbell order his guns to open fire in “what maybe regarded as the supreme test of naval discipline”.

A few months later Campbell, whilst captain of H.M.S. Pargust, deployed the same tactic and duly sunk the submarine UC-29 on 7 June. Then, as Commander of H.M.S Dunraven, he saw action on 8 August 1917 with another enemy submarine - SM UC-71. After this action, and despite the sinking of Dunraven, King George V decreed that two Victoria Crosses should be awarded to the ship – to an officer and a rating respectively. Although nominated for a second VC by his brother officers, Campbell demurred and accepted a bar to his DSO instead because, as he later wrote: “I already felt that the Victoria Cross I wore was on behalf of my crew and through no special act of my own”.

Gordon Campbell’s medals had been consigned for sale by The Fellowship of St John (UK) Trust Association, an Anglican charity working in education and mission and proceeds from the sale of the medals will be used to support a number of projects which the Trust is currently involved with including an orphanage in Zimbabwe, university scholarships in South Africa, hurricane relief in the West Indies and various charities in the UK, amongst them a social enterprise centre at St Catherine’s Church in Burnley.

The previous world auction record for a Victoria Cross sold at auction was achieved in Australia in July 2011, when a VC sold for the then equivalent of £678,000 (Australian $1,002,000 hammer).

The UK auction record for a VC was £340,000 hammer (£408,000 with premium) which was achieved for the Cross awarded to Lieutenant John Duncan Grant in 1905 for the British campaign in Tibet. It too was sold by Morton & Eden in July 2014 and is now on view in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum London.