Orders, Decorations and Medals (28 & 29 March 2012)

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Date of Auction: 28th & 29th March 2012

Sold for £8,200

Estimate: £5,000 - £6,000

A fine K. St. J., Second World War D.S.O., Great War M.C. group of eleven awarded to Major R. G. W. Bewicke-Copley, the 5th Lord Cromwell, who, as a Company Commander in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, was severely wounded and taken P.O.W. at the gallant defence of Calais in May 1940 - ‘He was hit by bullets in both arms and in the head, the sight of one eye being badly affected, and yet he remained in command when all the men at his barricade, save himself and two riflemen, were dead’

The Order of St. John of Jerusalem (K. St. J.), Knight of Grace’s set of insignia, comprising neck badge and breast star, in silvered base metal and enamel, in its fitted case of issue; Distinguished Service Order, G.VI.R., 1st issue, silver-gilt and enamel, the reverse of the suspension bar officially dated ‘1944’; Military Cross, G.V.R., the reverse privately inscribed, ‘Major R. G. W. Bewicke-Copley, K.R.R.C.’; 1914-15 Star (2 Lieut. R. G. W. Bewicke-Copley, K.R. Rif. C.); British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf (Major R. G. W. Bewicke-Copley); 1939-45 Star; Defence and War Medals 1939-45; Coronation 1953; Italy, Al Valore Militare, bronze, unnamed, mounted as worn and contained in an old leather case with gilt coronet and ‘C’ to lid, very fine and better (12) £5000-6000

Footnote

D.S.O. London Gazette 3 February 1944.

M.C. London Gazette 3 June 1918.

Robert Godfrey Wolseley Bewicke-Copley was born in May 1893, the son of Brigadier-General Sir Robert Bewicke-Copley, K.B.E., C.B., and Selina Frances, and the scion of the Barons Cromwell, one of whom served as Lord High Treasurer to King Henry VI - he became the 5th Lord Cromwell in July 1923, after his mother had won the approval of the Committee for Privileges of the House of Lords to terminate the abeyancy of the title.

Educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, Robert was commissioned in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and first saw action out in France and Flanders with the 3rd Battalion in the period May-November 1915. He then departed for the Mediterranean theatre of war, transferred to the Machine Gun Corps in May 1916 and was awarded the M.C. and mentioned in despatches (London Gazette 28 November 1917 refers), in addition to the Italian Al Valore Militare in bronze. He was also wounded. Having then witnessed further active service in Russia 1918-19, he transferred to the Reserve of Officers.

Recalled on the renewal of hostilities in September 1939, Lord Cromwell assumed command of ‘D’ Company, 2nd Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, in which capacity he found himself charged with the defence of Calais in May 1940. He was taken P.O.W. on the 28th, having shown great gallantry in the face of overwhelming odds - Airey Neave’s The Flames of Calais sets the scene:

‘The situation of the 60th was desperate. A death-struggle at the bridges. Barricades of burned-out lorries and trucks off the Rue Edison and Place Richelieu were manned by the surviving officers and riflemen. Houses in the area had long been devastated by the flames and blown by shellfire into heaps of rubble behind which the defenders fired on the Germans. The mortar bombs came in an endless stream exploding dead on the road-blocks.

The 60th, lying without cover in the streets, had little protection from the Stukas. No one who experienced the attack on the morning of the 26th is ever likely to forget it. A hundred aircraft attacked the Citadel and the old town in waves. They dived in threes, with a prolonged scream, dropping one high explosive and three or four incendiaries. They machine-gunned the streets and dropped a few heavy bombs between the 60th H.Q. in the Rue des Marechaux and the docks. The first effects on the defence were paralysing but, as others had experienced with Stukas, the damage was moral rather than physical. Within a few minutes, the riflemen eagerly fired Bren guns and engaged the Stukas, one of which was brought down on the seashore ... ’

Neave continues:

‘At the Place Richelieu, Lord Cromwell, firing a Bren gun, was three times wounded that morning. He had already shown all those qualities that add up to real leadership in war. He was hit by bullets in both arms and in the head, the sight of one eye being badly affected. And yet he remained in command when all the men at his barricade, save himself and two riflemen were dead. At 11.30 a.m. he was compelled to fall back to the line of the Rue des Marechaux.’

Taken prisoner the following day, he was repatriated to the U.K. in 1943 on account of his wounds, and was awarded the D.S.O.

Post-war, Cromwell busied himself with a string of appointments in Leicestershire, where he had been a D.L. and J.P. since the mid-1930s, including terms of office as President of the county’s Red Cross and St. John Ambulance Brigade, in which capacity he was appointed a K. St. J., and, from 1949, as Lord Lieutenant. Lord Cromwell died in October 1966.