Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (5 July 2011)

Date of Auction: 5th July 2011

Sold for £15,000

Estimate: £6,000 - £8,000


Sold by Order of the Family for the Benefit of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund


A rare post-war Colonial Administrator’s C.B.E., Great War Salonica operations M.C. and South Russia 1919 operations D.F.C. group of eight awarded to Captain H. Mercer, Royal Air Force,
late Royal Fusiliers and Devonshire Regiment


The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, C.B.E. (Civil) Commander’s 2nd type neck badge, silver-gilt and enamel, in its Garrard & Co. case of issue; Military Cross, G.V.R., the reverse privately inscribed, ‘H. Mercer, Salonica, June 1917’; Distinguished Flying Cross, G.V.R., the reverse privately inscribed, ‘H. Mercer, S. Russia, Nov. 1919’; 1914-15 Star (666 Pte. H. Mercer, R. Fus.); British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf (Capt. H. Mercer); Russia, Order of St. Stanislaus, 3rd Class breast badge, with swords, by Osipov, St. Petersburg, 40 x 40mm., bronze-gilt and enamel, manufacturer’s initials and gilt mark on reverse; ; Russia, St. George’s Cross for Bravery, 4th Class, silver base metal, the reverse officially numbered, ‘1/M 257 675’, with letters on reverse signifying ‘white metal’, mounted as worn, together with a set of related miniature dress medals and assorted tunic ribands, the St. Stanislaus lacking one sword hilt, otherwise generally good very fine (18) £6000-8000

Footnote

C.B.E. London Gazette 1 January 1951.

M.C. London Gazette 26 July 1917:

‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Though severely wounded he carried on for half a mile of heavy barrage to the objective. Here he rendered valuable assistance and set a splendid example to all.’


D.F.C. London Gazette 1 April 1920:

‘On 23 September 1919, at Dubovka, Lieutenant Mercer bombed the concentrated Bolshevik flotilla, which were armed with all kind of guns, including anti-aircraft guns, and then descending to the water level, machine-gunned the personnel on four occasions on that day. Lieutenant Mercer has always been heedless of danger and has proved a very gallant officer during the difficult and dangerous operations in South Russia.’

C.B.E.
London Gazette 1 January 1951.

M.C. London Gazette 26 July 1917:

‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Though severely wounded he carried on for half a mile of heavy barrage to the objective. Here he rendered valuable assistance and set a splendid example to all.’

D.F.C. London Gazette 1 April 1920:

‘On 23 September 1919, at Dubovka, Lieutenant Mercer bombed the concentrated Bolshevik flotilla, which were armed with all kind of guns, including anti-aircraft guns, and then descending to the water level, machine-gunned the personnel on four occasions on that day. Lieutenant Mercer has always been heedless of danger and has proved a very gallant officer during the difficult and dangerous operations in South Russia.’

Howard Mercer, who was born in Streatham, London in May 1896 and was educated at Elstow School, Bedford, enlisted in the 19th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, shortly after the outbreak of hostilities, and first entered the French theatre of war in November 1915.

Subsequently commissioned in the 3rd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment, in September 1916, he actually served in the 10th Battalion out in the Balkans, where he won the M.C. for his gallantry in the battle of Doiran in February 1917, before transferring to the Royal Air Force as an Observer in the summer of 1918. Of the action at Doiran, H. A. Jones states in Over the Balkans and South Russia - No. 47 Squadron:

‘The Devons and the Hants were caught by the barrage in the Jumeaux Ravine. The barrage consisted mostly of 8-inch high explosive and shrapnel. The noise and efficacy of the 8-inch shells, constantly falling within the confines of a narrow space out of which precipitous heights loomed vaguely, was magnified a hundred fold. Many casualties were caused before the troops had reached their assembly points. The assaulting troops had to go across the Jumeaux before the real storming of the enemy positions could take place. The wonder is that any got across at all ... The survivors of two companies of the Devons, under their gallant commander Lieutenant-Colonel T. N. Howard, got through. But by the time that reinforcements and ammunition reached them, the situation on either flank was such that the divisional commander decided that all troops should be withdrawn to our original lines, so the Devons were recalled. The few who got back brought with them 8 prisoners - 7 Bulgarians and a German telephonist. This gallant battalion lost 16 officers and 249 other ranks.’

Mercer was also mentioned in Milne’s despatch dated 29 March 1917 and, as stated above, subsequently transferred to the Royal Air Force, qualified as an Observer and served in No. 17 Squadron in Salonica, where he completed at least 50 bombing sorties in the period June-September 1918, before ending the War in Egypt.

In April 1919, Mercer transferred to No. 47 Squadron, under the command of Raymond Collishaw, and left for Novorossisk and South Russia, where he served in ‘C’ Flight and, as cited above, won the D.F.C. for his part in the raid on Dubovka on 23 September - this just one of around 50 operational sorties he flew in South Russia. Indeed he had already seen plenty of action during No. 47’s busy operational agenda earlier in the summer, including a combat with a “Red” aircraft during a strike against Tcherni-Yar on 20 August. His pilot’s combat report takes up the story:

‘At 0810 hours over Tcherni-Yar an enemy Nieuport was seen to dive on me on the right rear. My front gun was not working, so I circled round to give my Observer Lieutenant Mercer a field of fire. After 10 minutes fighting during which four bursts of fire were exchanged from about 50 to 100 yards the enemy was seen to go down in control after a burst of fire into his left wing, out of which splinters flew. He was observed to go down over the marshes N.E. of Tcherni-Yar and was then lost sight of. He was undoubtedly badly shot up.’


In addition to the D.F.C., Mercer was also awarded the 3rd Class of the Order of St. Stanislaus, with swords (citation no. 2925), in addition to the St. George’s Cross for Bravery, 4th Class for the following deeds (Russian Army H.Q. Order to Caucasian Army, No. 269, dated 7 August 1919 refers):

‘From 23-27 July 1919, during the operations against Tcherni-Yar, and in spite of the heaviest of anti-aircraft fire, for flying low over enemy lines carrying out reconnaissance and effectively bombing our enemy’s troops and ships, enabling our troops to take up position without hindrance although threatened by strong enemy movement on our flanks with his cavalry.’

The full story of No. 47’s part in the Russian intervention is told in John T. Smith’s Gone to Russia to Fight, the R.A.F. in South Russia 1918-20, a copy of which is included and in which Mercer is mentioned on several occasions, including quotes from his Flying Log Book - thus reference to him and his pilot, Lieutenant E. J. Cronin, shooting up an armoured car on 28 August, killing the driver; so, too, in H. A. Jones’ Over the Balkans and South Russia - No. 47 Squadron, a 1923, 1st edition of which is included and, interestingly, annotated by Mercer, often vexed by the lack of credit given by the author to his own ‘C’ Flight.

Mercer transferred to the Colonial Office on returning from Russia, took up an appointment as an Administrative Officer in Nigeria in 1921, and appears to have remained employed in that country until transferring to Tripolitania in 1940, where he served as Acting Chief Administrator in the rank of Colonel in Tripoli during the 1939-45 War, gaining the Africa Star, Defence & War Medals, and afterwards the C.B.E. on his retirement at the end of 1950.

Sold with a quantity of original documentation, including the recipient’s C.B.E. warrant, dated 1 January 1951, Foreign Office letter informing him of the same award, dated 30 December 1950; M.I.D. certificate, dated 29 March 1917; Colonial Office letters of appointment for Nigeria, dated August and September 1921, retirement letter, dated 20 June 1951 and Foreign Office career summary and letter of thanks for services rendered, dated 13 November 1951; War Officer retirement letter, dated 12 October 1948; and assorted newspaper cuttings from Tripoli days; together with an extensive photograph album, with an excellent array of scenes from his service in the Devons in the Balkans in 1917-18, and a few images from No. 17 Squadron in the Balkans and Egypt, these in addition to extensive coverage of his time in Tripoli (approximately 140 images in total).

N.B.
Further original documents, including the recipient’s Flying Log Book (of which photocopies of the operational entries are included) are held in the Imperial War Museum’s collection.