Orders, Decorations and Medals (16 & 17 September 2010)

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Date of Auction: 16th & 17th September 2010

Withdrawn

Estimate: £1,200 - £1,500

A remarkable Second World War Arctic convoy B.E.M. awarded to Galley Boy C. E. Slaughter, Merchant Navy, who was just 14 years of age at the time of his gallant deeds in the S.S. Harpalion during PQ-10, when his ship had to be abandoned as a result of damage caused by relentless bombing: as such he may well be the youngest recipient of B.E.M.

British Empire Medal, (Civil) G.VI.R., 1st issue (Charles Edward Slaughter), extremely fine £1200-1500

Footnote

B.E.M. London Gazette 18 August 1941. The original joint recommendation states:

‘During heavy enemy air attacks, Slaughter, Whtye and Ulke displayed bravery and initiative in maintaining steam after the ship had received damage below and when the conditions in the stokehold were both difficult and dangerous. It was largely due to their efforts that the vessel was brought safely to port.’

In fact their ship did not reach port, as confirmed by her Master’s report reproduced below, so most probably a case of wartime censorship. However, it is worth adding the following observations made by the relevant Honours & Awards Committee:

‘This homeward convoy QP-10 was subject to U-Boat attack, two ships being torpedoed and sunk and on the following day to heavy air attack, but due to the effective fire of convoy and escorts, one enemy aircraft was shot down and several others damaged, and three ships of the convoy suffered damage only as a result of near misses. Whilst at Murmansk the ships were subject to frequent air attacks, several ships being hit and damaged. The story of the passage of this convoy is one of outstanding leadership and seamanlike skill, combined with courage and determination of the highest order, in the face of the enemy.’

Charles Edward Slaughter was born in Hull in the third quarter (i.e. July to September) of 1927, thereby confirming his tender age at the time of the above cited deeds as a Galley Boy in the S.S. Harpalion in homeward bound Russian convoy PQ-10.

In his official report, the Master of S.S. Harpalion, Captain H. W. Williams, stated:

‘We were bound from Murmansk to Reykjavik with a general cargo of 600 tons of mineral ores, the number of crew including myself, 4 Naval and 4 Military Gunners, was 52. We also had on board 18 survivors of the S.S. New Westminster City and of this total there were no casualties. We left Murmansk on 10 April 1941, at 1600 BST sailing in convoy PQ-10. There were 15 ships in the convoy and we were number 13, the convoy sailing in 5 columns.

During the afternoon of 11 April the convoy was attacked by several aircraft the Empire Cowper was hit and sunk by bombs. After this attack an enemy aircraft flew directly over my ship at 200 feet. We opened fire with all our guns when it was a little off my bow. I saw at least 4 of our tracer bullets entering the fuselage under the wings and the aircraft immediately caught fire and crashed into the sea about a quarter of a mile away on my port side. Nothing further occurred until the morning of 13 April at 0100 when I was called to the Bridge by the Second Officer who reported a ship had been struck by a torpedo. The ship was the Kiev and was in the centre column of the convoy. The convoy made a 45 degree emergency turn and at 0330 another ship the El Occidente which was in the 5th column was torpedoed and sunk by a submarine. The convoy was now among icebergs and ice flows and each Master was responsible for the manoeuvring of his ship. The convoy proceeded without incident until an Fw. aircraft was sighted at 0400 flying around the convoy to the east and out of range of our guns. The aircraft did not attempt to attack any of the ships. At 0500 three Ju. 88 aircraft approached from the Norwegian coast, they did not attack immediately but flew around at a height of 1,000 feet.

At 0607 the bombing attack commenced. About 8 bombs were dropped within 20 to 50 yards of my ship but no damage was done we were firing with all our guns during the attack. The second attack began at 0703 and was made by two aircraft - 4 bombs were dropped close to my counter and about 20 yards from the ship these bombs had delayed action fuses and when they did explode a column of water about 40 feet was thrown into the air. At 0842 two aircraft made a third attack on my ship, one approaching from the bow and the other from the stern, and 8 bombs in sticks of 4 were dropped by each aircraft on my port bow about 50 yards away. At 0940 a fourth attack was made. One aircraft flew very close to my stern at a height of about 200 feet and dropped 4 bombs right under my counter some 10 to 20 feet from the stern.

After this attack I found that the vessel would not answer the Bridge steering gear, so I ordered the after hand gear to be put into operation but found that the quadrant moved but the rudder did not ... The engines were still working but the vessel was steaming away from the convoy as the ship was not under control. I sent a message to H.M.S. Fury who was unable to use a tow as the weather was too rough at 1006 she ordered me to abandon ship as the Convoy was now 10 miles away. I ordered abandon ship the sea cocks were opened before leaving. We lowered the two boats with all the crew the first being picked up at 1057 the second at 1115. H.M.S. Fury proceeded to sink my ship with 8 salvos we rejoined the convoy and reached Reykjavik on 21 April then to England aboard an American Troop Ship landing at Gourock on 25 April. While we were in the boats waiting to be picked up by H.M.S. Fury an enemy aircraft attacked us with machine-gun fire and dropped 4 bombs which fell close to the starboard side of the ship. During the bombing attacks the Firemen left the stokehold and refused to go down again to maintain steam. I called for volunteers and the first to volunteer was Slaughter, a Galley Boy aged about 15 years. Steward Whyte then volunteered and also one of the Firemen named Ulke, and these three men went into the stokehold.’

For his own part in PQ-10, Captain Williams received a Commendation and consideration for the appointment of Commodore; sold with copied research, including information from the Honours & Awards file, copy index to births in the third quarter 1927, and the Captain's report following the loss of S.S. Harpalion.