Orders, Decorations and Medals (21 September 2007)

Date of Auction: 21st September 2007

Sold for £8,800

Estimate: £8,000 - £10,000

The rare and outstanding Second Afghan War D.C.M. group of nine awarded to Colour-Sergeant W. McDonald, 72nd Highlanders, afterwards Norfolk Regiment and a Yeoman of the Guard: decorated for his bravery in the actions at Bala-Hissar and Takht-i-Shah on 12 December 1879, he received his decoration from the hands of the Queen in a ceremony on the Isle of Wight, but was shortly afterwards severely wounded by a gunshot to his left arm at Tel-el-Kebir - he survived however to be awarded one of the first non-annuity M.S.Ms ever presented to the Yeomen of the Guard

Distinguished Conduct Medal
, V.R. (Cr. Sergt. W. MacDonald, 72nd Foot, 12th Decr. 1879); Afghanistan 1878-80, 4 clasps, Peiwar Kotal, Charasia, Kabul, Kandahar (1415 Cr. Sgt., 72nd Highrs.); Kabul to Kandahar Star 1880 (1415 Col. Sergt., 72nd Highlanders); Egypt and Sudan 1882-89, dated reverse, 1 clasp, Tel-el-Kebir (1415 Cr. Sergt., 1/Sea. Highrs.); Coronation 1902, bronze; Coronation 1911; Army L.S. & G.C., V.R. (1150 Cr. Sgt., Norf. R.); Army Meritorious Service Medal, E.VII.R. (Clr. Serjt., 1/Seaforth Hdrs.); Khedive’s Star 1882, the reverse inscribed, ‘1415 Cr. St. W. MacDonald, 1/Sea. Hrs.’, surname officially corrected on the fourth, suspension bar bent on the M.S.M., contact marks, edge bruising and polished, thus good fine or better (9) £8000-10000


D.C.M. recommendation submitted to the Queen 12 October 1881, relevant details having earlier been published in the London Gazette of 4 May 1880:

‘On the occasion of the attack on the Bala-Hissar position and the subsequent counter-attack on the Takht-i-Shah, three non-commissioned officers - Colour-Sergeant W. MacDonald, Sergeants W. Cox and R. McIlveen, all of the 72nd Highlanders - greatly distinguished themselves, especially Colour-Sergeant MacDonald, by the cool and intelligent manner in which he superintended the construction of a breastwork under a very heavy fire.’

William McDonald was born at Cockpen in Midlothian in June 1850 and enlisted in the 72nd Highlanders in June 1868. Advanced to Corporal in January 1871, shortly before being embarked for India, he received rapid promotion thereafter, attaining the rank of Colour-Sergeant in January 1875, with only six and half years’ service and still aged only 23 years.

But it would not be until the Second Afghan War that he witnessed active service, and in so far as the Seaforths were concerned it was action of the hottest kind - not least in four days of bitter fighting round Kabul in December 1879. Indeed it was in the course of these operations that McDonald won his D.C.M., namely for his cool and intelligent handling of the defences on Bila-Hissar hill during three determined enemy attacks in the early morning hours of the 12th, and for his subsequent part in the counter-attack launched against the Takht-i-Shah later that day. Of the terrain and defences of the latter place, which was persistently and most gallantly attacked by McDonald and his comrades, Lord Roberts later wrote, ‘The slopes leading up to it were covered by huge masses of jagged rock, intersected by perpendicular cliffs, and its natural strength was increased by breastworks and stockades thrown up at differing points’ (Forty-One Years in India refers).

His D.C.M., the only known dated issue from the Second Afghan War, and quite possibly the first ever to be so inscribed, was formally approved by Queen Victoria on 12 October 1881, the relevant document citing his ‘gallant conduct on the occasion of the attack on the Bala-Hissar and Takht-i-Shah, near Kabul, on 12 October 1879’, and in the following year, with five of his comrades from the 72nd Highlanders, in a special ceremony on the Isle of Wight, he received his award from the hands of the Queen - see Major P. E. Abbott’s Recipients of the D.C.M. (2nd edition, Plate No. 2), for a photograph of these men taken at Parkhurst shortly afterwards.

Following this encounter with the Queen, McDonald was embarked for Egypt, where he was among four casualties sustained by the Seaforths at the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir in September 1882 - in his case ‘by a severe gunshot wound in the left arm’. In early 1885, he transferred to the 3rd (Volunteer) Battalion, Norfolk Regiment, as a Colour-Sergeant Instructor, and attended courses at the School of Musketry at Hythe, and the Small Arms School at Birmingham. Latterly serving as an Acting Sergeant-Major of the 3rd Battalion, he was finally discharged in November 1895, after 27 years with the Colours.

Settling in Swaffham, Norfolk, McDonald became a member of the Norfolk Patriotic Association, and an out-pensioner of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, as a result of which he was among those presented to H.R.H. Edward, Prince of Wales, in a visit to the hospital in 1899 - he was among a group of veterans photographed for a subsequent feature published in the Navy and Army Illustrated, 27 May 1899.

In January of the following year, he joined the Yeomen of the Guard, in which capacity he served until his death in October 1913, aged 63 years. In the interim, he was present at the funeral cortege of Queen Victoria on 25 June 1901, when King Edward VII made his first inspection of his Guard - 93 Yeomen were on parade, McDonald in the Fourth Division, and in July 1905 was recommended for the M.S.M. by the O.C. Eastern Group Reservists, the O.C. of the Norfolk Regiment depot, and the O.C. Highland Group Regimental District - the relevant documents revealed that McDonald had eight entries in the Regimental Defaulter’s Book, one for drunkenness in 1880 and the remainder for absence. Be that as it may, in AO 99 of May 1907, his award was formally announced, one of the first ever granted to a Yeoman of the Guard without annuity (see The Annuity Meritorious Service Medal 1847-1953, and The Yeomen of the Guard 1823-1903, both by Ian McInnes, for further details).