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Date of Auction: 22nd September 2006

Sold for £19,000

Estimate: £12,000 - £15,000

The K.C.S.I., Second World War K.B.E., C.B., Western Desert and Burma operations D.S.O. and Bar group of eighteen awarded to General Sir Frank Messervy, Indian Army, an inspiring leader who commanded five different Divisions in the 1939-45 War and was constantly up at the front in the thick of the fighting: as a result, his H.Q. was overrun on two occasions - firstly by one of Rommel’s battle groups, when he quickly tore off his rank insignia, promptly escaped and rejoined his Division 18 hours later - and secondly by the Japanese, when he grabbed an American carbine and rallied his men in his pyjamas

The Most Exalted Order of the Star of India
, K.C.S.I., Knight Commander’s set of insignia, comprising neck badge, gold, silver and enamel, with diamond-set motto and central onyx cameo of Queen Victoria, and breast star, silver, with gold, silver and enamel centre, with diamond-set motto, in its Garrard, London case of issue; The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, K.B.E. (Military) Knight Commander’s 2nd type set of insignia, comprising neck badge, silver-gilt and enamel, and breast star, silver, silver-gilt and enamel, in its Garrard, London case of issue; The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Companion’s C.B. (Military) neck badge, silver-gilt and enamels, in its Garrard, London case of issue; Distinguished Service Order, G.VI.R., with Second Award Bar, silver-gilt and enamel, the reverse of the suspension bar officially dated ‘1941’ and the reverse of the Bar ‘1944’; British War and Victory Medals (Capt.); General Service 1918-62, 1 clasp, Kurdistan (Capt., 9-Horse); 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Burma Star; War Medal 1939-45, M.I.D. oak leaf; India Service Medal 1939-45; Coronation 1953; Pakistan Independence Medal 1948; Egyptian Order of the Nile, 4th class breast badge, by Lattes, silver, silver-gilt and enamel; United States of America, Legion of Merit, Commander’s neck badge, bronze-gilt and enamel, the reverse centre inscribed, ‘Lt. Gen. Frank W. Messervy’, and the ends of the reverse scroll riband ‘British’ and ‘Army’, in its case of issue, mounted as worn where applicable, the G.S.M. 1918-62 with officially re-impressed naming, good very fine or better (18) £12,000-15,000


Frank Walter Messervy
was born in Kingston, Jamaica in December 1893, the son of Walter Messervy of Bletchingley, and was educated at Eton and commissioned into the Indian Army from Sandhurst in January 1913. Joining Hodson’s Horse later that year, he served in France, Palestine and Syria during the Great War and participated in Allenby’s great cavalry drive on Damascus in 1918 - he was also present with his regiment in the subsequent Kurdistan operations of 1919. Between the Wars, with the exception of attending the Staff College, Camberley, he remained stationed in India, serving variously as Brigade Major of the 1st Risalpur Cavalry Brigade, an instructor at the Staff College, Quetta, and as C.O. of the 13th Duke of Connaught’s Own Lancers.

Appointed a G.S.O. 1 in the 5th Indian Division on the outbreak of hostilities, he went to the Sudan in the following year and took command of “Gazelle Force”, a raiding unit that quickly won a reputation for hunting the Italians. In 1941 he was appointed to the command of the 9th Indian Infantry Brigade, which force he led in the advance into Ethiopia and at the capture of the fort at the battle of Keren, work that no doubt resulted in his next posting as C.O. of the 4th Indian Division in the Western Desert, and later in the Cyrenaica operations. During the bitter fighting at Sidi Omar in November 1941, his H.Q. and one of his Brigades were surrounded for seven days, but by his staunch and skilful leadership he held out and finally drove the enemy back, thus checking Rommel’s offensive over the Egyptian frontier. He also participated in Auckinleck’s advance on Benghazi that Winter. He was awarded the D.S.O.

In 1942 Messervy took command of the 1st Armoured Division in Cyrenaica, but on this occasion his luck deserted him, and within 96 hours of coming into contact with the enemy, his force was effectively eliminated as a fighting unit. Sent back to India, he was suddenly recalled later in the same year, this time to take command of the 7th Armoured Division back in the Western Desert, in which capacity he won praise for his great dash and courage during Rommel’s push on Tobruk - it was during this period that his H.Q. was overrun but, having torn off his rank insignia, he made his escape, rejoining his Division after 18 hours on the run. A wartime newspaper article takes up the story:

‘The General and his Staff were captured by a German battle group after fighting until their weapons were silenced and their cars on fire. The surviving officers were wearing only shorts and shirts, and the General, who was determined from the very first moment to escape, managed to tear off his badges of rank before yielding. General Messervy and two of his officers were alone in a lorry driven by a young German officer who had improvidently left a hammer lying on the back seat. It can be imagined how fingers itched and eyes travelled from hammer to head. It was decided to wait until dark. But before this another chance came. The British attacked again and in the confusion the party managed to nip out of the lorry and scoot for an old gun emplacement about 400 yards away. Yells and threats followed them, but the Germans were too busy with the battle to pursue. For three hours until it was dark the party crouched under an old tarpaulin in growing hope and discomfort. They crept out, found some water, and set out on an arduous walk towards where they thought the British troops might be found. They crept through several enemy parties but just before dawn, after 16 miles of it, a Scottish voice challenged them and they knew they were safe.’

A spell at G.H.Q., Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, followed, but Messervy returned to India at the end of the year, where he commanded 43 Indian Armoured Division and served as Director of Fighting Vehicles at G.H.Q., Delhi. He had, meanwhile, been created a C.B.

Promoted to Major-General in 1943, he was next appointed C.O. of the 7th Indian Division, which force he led with great skill and courage following the Japanese offensive in early 1944, when he was charged with holding the Arakan line. Cut-off by the first of many enemy onslaughts, and with his H.Q. once again overrun, he grabbed an American carbine and led the way to the “Admin. Box” position two miles distant - in his pyjamas. Other accounts describe how he waded though a river up to his neck, with hand grenades clasped in each hand. Here, over the next three weeks, in poor and hastily dug defences, with a very mixed force of survivors, he stubbornly held his ground against numerous Japanese attacks of the most fanatical kind - the enemy’ sole “success” was the capture of the surgical dressing station, where, as was their custom, they butchered the wounded therein. Messervy was awarded a Bar to his D.S.O. - and recovered his lost red hat from a dead Japanese (‘With a laconic remark that it looked dirty, he took it off the dead man and put it back on his own head’).

The 7th Indian Division was next present at the bloody battles at Kohima and Imphal, but in October 1944, Messervy left to take command of IV Corps, in which latter appointment he won well-merited fame for his brilliant drive on Rangoon, when some 9,000 Japanese troops fell to his force. He next became G.O.C.-in-C. Malaya in 1945, in which latter capacity he accepted the surrender of General Itagaki, commander of Japanese 7 Area Army, which embraced Malaya, Java, Sumatra, Nicobar and the Andaman Islands, in addition to parts of Borneo and Siam. The formal ceremony was enacted in the grounds of H.Q. Malaya Command, Kuala Lumpur, Messervy accepting Itagaki’s sword on behalf of the Supreme Allied Commander - ‘Itagaki, who had replaced Field Marshal Terauchi, laid low by a stroke, leaned forward to affix his seal to the surrender document. As he pressed heavily on the paper, a spasm of rage and despair twisted his face. Then it was gone, and his mask was an expressionless as the rest. Outside, the same Union Jack that had been hauled down in surrender in 1942 flew again at the masthead. The War was over.’

Itagaki was subsequently tried for war crimes by the International Tribunal for the Far East in Tokyo, found guilty and hanged; his sword, meanwhile, was brought back home and now resides in the British Museum.

An indication of the high regard in which Messervy was held by both his seniors and juniors may be found in the following tributes:

‘I must write to say how deeply I appreciate the way you handled the 7th Indian Division and 4 Corps throughout the whole of the Burma campaign. There was no more inspiring or dashing leader than yourself, as history will reveal’ (Earl Mountbatten of Burma).

‘Frank Messervy ... had the temperament, sanguine, inspiring and not too calculating of the odds, that I thought would be required for the task I designed for 4 Corps’ (Field-Marshal the Viscount Slim).

‘At the peak of every battle the familiar figure would appear and morale would reach its zenith’ (Private Patrick McCormack, K.O.S.B.).

Having won further accolades in the form of a K.B.E. and American Legion of Merit, which latter was presented to him at a formal parade held at Government House, Singapore, Messervy was selected by the Government of Pakistan to be their first Commander-in-Chief in 1947, in which year he was also appointed K.C.S.I. He finally retired in the following year in the rank of General but acted as Honorary Colonel of the 16th Light Cavalry until 1949 and as Colonel of the Jat Regiment until 1955. The General, who was described by his
Times obituarist as ‘a man of immense will power and staunch religious faith’, died in February 1974.

Sold with uniform flashes for the 4th Indian Division, 1st Armoured Division, 7th Indian Division and IV Corps, together with General Officer’s khaki epaulette and Staff Officer collar badge; and copies of Messervy’s biography,
Spear-head General, by Henry Maule, and Lieutenant-Colonel G. R. Stevens’ history, Fourth Indian Division.