Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (19 - 21 June 2013)

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Date of Auction: 19th - 21st June 2013

Sold for £25,000

Estimate: £12,000 - £15,000

‘About noon Morse came on board the “Queen Elizabeth” for ammunition for the naval machine-guns of the “River Clyde”, which had been provided and manned by the Royal Naval Division; and we learnt from him of the desperate nature of the fighting round the “River Clyde” and the severity of the losses. He told us that the naval casualties included among the killed Lieutenant-Commander Pownall, the commander of the Malta submarine flotilla and depot ship, who had begged me to get him a billet on one of the beaches. We were all much struck by the bearing of Morse during the recital of his tale, and when he left us to return to the inferno round the “River Clyde” I must confess I never expected to see him again, but I’m glad to record that he survived to win a D.S.O.’ From Naval Memoirs 1910-1915, by Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes.

The outstanding Second World War Mediterranean operations K.B.E., C.B., Great War Gallipoli “V.C. action” D.S.O. group of twenty awarded to Vice-Admiral Sir Anthony Morse, Royal Navy, who was decorated for his gallantry during the River Clyde action off ‘V’ Beach in April 1915 - adding the C.B. to his honours for the evacuation of Crete in 1941, he became a Senior Flag Officer in the Mediterranean 1943-45 and was elevated to K.B.E.


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, with gilt and enamel centre, in its Garrard & Co. case of issue; The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, C.B. (Military) Companion’s neck badge, silver-gilt and enamel, in its Central Chancery case of issue; Distinguished Service Order, G.V.R., silver-gilt and enamel; 1914-14 Star (Lieut. J. A. V. Morse, R.N.); British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf (Lieut. J. A. V. Morse, R.N.); 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; Africa Star; Burma Star; Italy Star; War Medal 1939-45; Jubilee 1935; Coronation 1937; United States of America, Legion of Merit, Officer’s breast badge, gilt and enamel; France, Legion of Honour, Officer’s breast badge, silver-gilt, silver and enamel; France, Croix de Guerre 1939, with bronze palm riband fitment; United States of America, Medal of Freedom, with silver palm riband fitment, the edge engraved ‘John A. V. Morse’; China (Republic), Order of the Brilliant Jade, in silver-gilt and enamel, the reverse officially numbered ‘70’, in its lacquer case of issue, mounted court-style as worn where applicable, together with Algiers Chamber of Commerce, silver medallion, the edge inscribed ‘Monsieur le Contre-Amiral Morse, Flag Office, Algeria, 1943’, in its case of issue, and an earlier bronze medallion of the Geological Society of London, unnamed, enamel work chipped on the D.S.O., particularly on the recessed reverse centre, and damage to arm points on the Legion of Honour, the 1914-15 and 1939-45 Stars re-gilded, unless otherwise stated, generally very fine

The 1939-45 War campaign group of three awarded to Acting Sub. Lieutenant C. A. L. Morse, Royal Navy, the Admiral’s son, who was posthumously mentioned in despatches for his gallantry at the battle of the River Plate
1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; War Medal 1939-45, good very fine (Lot) £12000-15000

Footnote

K.B.E. London Gazette 18 December 1945.

C.B. London Gazette 8 January 1942.

D.S.O. London Gazette 1915 - as per Vice-Admiral Sir John de Robeck’s related despatch:

‘Lieutenant John A. V. Morse, R.N., assisted to secure the lighters at the bows of the River Clyde under very heavy fire, and was very active throughout the 25th and 26th at ‘V’ Beach.’

John Anthony Vere Morse, always known as Anthony, was born in October 1892 and entered the Royal Navy as a Cadet in May 1905. Advanced to Lieutenant a few days after the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, when he was serving in the destroyer Nubian, he removed to the battleship Cornwallis that November, in which capacity he was embarked for the Dardanelles.

“River Clyde” D.S.O.

During the landings 25-26 April 1915, Morse was in charge of Cornwallis’ picket boat and was assisted by Midshipman Wilfrid Malleson. They arrived alongside the River Clyde towing a launch and began helping with the lighters and boats getting them into position under heavy Turkish fire as the Munsters landed. Morse also kept a hot fire on the Turkish Maxims and pom-poms with the 3-pounder on his picket boat. A glimpse of him in action may be found in Stephen Snelling’s Naval V.Cs:

‘With no sign of movement from the River Clyde, Drewry dashed back to find Unwin, almost unconscious from his prolonged immersion, being rubbed down. He murmured something about the third lighter which sent Drewry scurrying back into the tornado of fire and down on to the lighter, where he was soon joined by Lieutenant Tony Morse, in charge of a 38-strong party from the battleship Cornwallis. Morse was responsible for taking the third tow of troops to the shore. Amid the chaos and carnage, the lighter was given a helpful shove by a picket boat which carried it as far as the hopper, where Samson was still sheltering. Drewry wrote:

‘Just as we hit the hopper a piece of shrapnel hit me on the head knocking me down for a second or two and covering me with blood. However, we made the lighter fast to the hopper and then J went below ... and a Tommy put my scarf round my head and J went up again ...

In an attempt to make a connection with the other lighters which had drifted with the current, Drewry swam out with a rope. But it was too short. Stuck in the middle, he saw a Midshipman aboard one of the lighters and called for a line. The youngster was 18-year-old Wilfrid Malleson, one of the Cornwallis party which had gone along the starboard side of the River Clyde. He had already had at least one narrow escape when a Midshipman beside him was hit and fatally wounded while getting on to the lighter. There he lay, face down, sheltering from the fire.

Nothing very much was possible as bullets were whistling over our heads and the lighters were all isolated and swaying backwards and forwards on account of the current. After about an hour of inaction, during which time occupants of the lighter sustained about one casualty every ten minutes, I observed a lighter on the starboard side, manned by Lieutenant Morse and Midshipman Drewry, being pushed from behind by our 2nd picket boat ... ’

From his prone position, he saw the lighter pushed into place between his own boat and the hopper, and watched Drewry's futile effort to reach the other lighters. Hearing Drewry's call, he searched for a rope, but the only one was that which had originally held the lighter to the spit. To haul it in meant standing up totally exposed to the furious fire. But this is exactly what be did, with a soldier paying it out until they managed to get it across. Malleson wrote:

‘I was a bit done, so Lieutenant Morse made it fast. The new lighter had by now drifted to forward of the hopper. I therefore swam to the hopper and managed to get a rope from it and started to row one end back. However, [the] rope was too short, and feeling exhausted, I scrambled aboard the lighter again. Lieutenant Morse told me to get a dry change so I crawled into the River Clyde where J remained till evening’. ’

As cited above, Morse also returned in his picket boat to the Cornwallis to get more ammunition for the machine-guns mounted in the bows of the River Clyde, and delivered a recital of events to his seniors which left them much struck by his gallant bearing.

Famously five V.Cs were awarded for the River Clyde incident, one of them to Morse’s assistant, Midshipman Malleson, and another largely on the back of information provided by Morse, namely the award to Sub. Lieutenant A. W. St. Clair Tisdall of the Anson Battalion, Royal Naval Division, of whose deeds he wrote, ‘I sincerely assure you that I have never seen more daring and gallant things performed by any man, naval or military’.

Cornwallis continued to support the landings at Gallipoli until the 28th, Morse being given credit for his coolness and skill and the accuracy of the ship’s fire, hits being scored under difficult circumstances.

Morse removed to the destroyer Harpy in July 1915, also in the Dardanelles, and thence, in January 1916, to another destroyer, the Napier. Then in March 1917, he was given his first command, the P-46, in which capacity he served until removing to his final wartime appointment, the destroyer Unity, in February 1918 He was mentioned in despatches for his services on convoy and patrol duties (London Gazette 1 April 1919 refers).

Between the Wars - Chinese accolade

Between the Wars, Morse enjoyed a number of seagoing appointments and was advanced to Commander in June 1927 and to Captain in June 1934, in which latter year he also received an expression of appreciation from the British ambassador in Brussels for valuable services rendered on the occasion of the funeral of the late King of the Belgians; so, too, from the War Office and Air Ministry.

Later in the same year, Morse was appointed Head of the British Naval Mission to China, in which capacity he remained employed until 1937 and was awarded the Order of the Brilliant Jade, which insignia he received Royal Licence and authority to wear (London Gazette 13 July 1937 refers).

By the renewal of hostilities he was serving as Flag Captain to the C.-in-C., Africa, but shortly thereafter took command of the cruiser Neptune and was deployed to the South Atlantic to the search for the Admiral Graf Spee - his young son was similarly employed in the Exeter and would be killed at the battle of the River Plate.

Crete 1941 - C.B.

Having then returned home in June 1940 to take up appointment as Chief Staff Officer to the Rear-Admiral Northern Patrol, he was ordered to the Mediterranean in the new year and, by May 1941, was serving as Naval Officer in Command (N.O.I.C.), Suda Bay, Crete, services that would win him a C.B.

In the course of these operations he oversaw activities ashore, 15 ships off-loading 15,000 tons of Army stores at Suda - where there was a single stone pier - in the period 29 April to 20 May, when the Germans commenced their invasion proper. And having watched the enemy bomb and capture Maleme airfield, he set about planning the evacuation, establishing an H.Q. in a cave near Sphakia with General Freyberg. Much of their communication equipment had been lost or destroyed, but what was left Morse used to maximum effect, particularly disseminating intelligence.

Morse told Admiral Cunningham on 29-30 May that 10,000 men remained to be taken off, while on 31 May Freyberg requested that 3000 more men be evacuated. Shortly afterwards, Field Marshal Wavell ordered General Freyberg to be flown off and Admiral Cunningham sent similar instructions to Captain Morse, ‘whose stout hearted vigour and counsel had been of the greatest value throughout’. He was flown to Alexandria in a Sunderland, having ordered all small craft left in Suda Bay to try and make their way to Egypt.

North Africa and Italy - Flag Officer - C.B.E. and K.B.E.

Following Crete, Morse was appointed by Admiral “ABC” Cunningham as N.O.I.C., Syrian Ports, then made S.N.O. Levant Area, in order to get around De Gaulle's French naval officers at Beirut. Morse handled them with his usual forceful tact and urbanity, and was very soon in complete command of everything that was worth commanding.

Then in early November 1942, and once more at Cunningham’s behest, he was appointed Commodore 1st Class and Flag Officer, Algiers, his arrival in the Bulolo with Admiral Burrough at his side taking place amidst a German air raid - a near miss from one bomb damaged the Bulolo’s engine-room telegraph and she ended up driving her bows into a thick bank of sand. Such mishaps aside, Morse excelled in his new duties. Cunningham later wrote in A Sailor’s Odyssey:

‘Commodore J. A. V. Morse, in charge of the port of Algiers was not actually on my staff, though naturally I saw much of him and his work. Algiers, which was our principal port for the supply of the Army and the repair of ships, was no bed of roses. Morse’s conspicuous ability, his drive and energy, quiet imperturbability and charm of manner, coupled with his innate flair for getting the best out of people and getting on with all and sundry, particularly the French and Americans, were assets of great price which enabled him to succeed where many others might have failed.’

Cunningham’s approbation aside, Morse was also the recipient of the Officer’s grade of the American Legion of Merit (London Gazette 7 September 1943), the citation stating:

‘For exceptionally meritorious conduct of a high degree in the performance of outstanding services. As Senior Officer in Charge of the Port of Algiers, Commodore Morse controlled the principle port of entry of British personnel and supplies arriving to support the Tunisian campaign. His skill and ingenuity in handling the vast amount of shipping from this port have been major factors in the successful supply of campaign troops in Tunisia.’

Advanced to Rear-Admiral, he next took up appointment as Flag Officer, Western Italy, in which capacity he was awarded the C.B.E. for his part in Operation “Shingle” (London Gazette 6 June 1944 refers), in addition to the French Legion of Honour, this latter in May 1945. Here, then, a period in which he made massive improvements at Naples, where, as he put it, he oversaw the arrival of ‘an army of ants to eat their way into the wreckage’ - in fact, by early 1944, Naples had more traffic than New York.

He also received a number of high ranking visitors to his H.Q. in a villa on Capri, onetime the property of Mussolini’s daughter, Edda Ciano; similarly, too, when he moved to another villa, formerly the property of the German Ambassador to Spain, on Ischia - when Harold MacMillan and his wife paid a visit, Morse had them collected in a launch formerly owned by Prince Umberto.

But it was for his subsequent service as Flag Officer, Northern Area, Mediterranean, that he was elevated to K.B.E. and awarded the American Medal of Freedom (London Gazette 15 October 1946 refers), though the citation for the latter also covered earlier services in the Mediterranean and off the South of France:

‘For exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services in Italy and Southern France from September 1943 to June 1945. As Flag Officer Western Italy, and later as Flag Officer, Northern Area, Mediterranean, Rear-Admiral Morse controlled the movement, routing, and acceptance of all vessels of all nationalities entering Western Italian ports and adjacent waters. He was responsible for all escort vessels and made final decisions on protective and security measures for all vessels in the area under his command. Since the success of the operations in Italy and the invasion of Southern France depended upon waterborne movement of supplies and personnel his responsibilities were exceedingly great. Through his efficient organization and unflagging efforts these water movements and port discharges were made with only infinitesimal losses, thereby enabling the Allied Armies to overwhelm the enemy with superior might bringing the successful termination of the War at an earlier date.

The latter years

Having been already invested with his C.B. and C.B.E. at Buckingham Palace in July 1945, Morse served as Flag Officer, Malaya, 1945-46, prior to returning home and receiving his K.B.E. back at the Palace in July 1946. Advanced to Vice-Admiral and placed on the Retired List in the following year, he died in a road accident in Southern Rhodesia in May 1960. And, as reported in The Times that August, his ashes were scattered from H.M.S. Puma in the South Atlantic, where the battle of the River Plate had been fought, and his beloved son killed.



Claude Anthony Leeds Morse was born in 1919, the son of Lieutenant (afterwards Vice-Admiral) J. A. V. Morse, R.N., and followed his father into the Senior Service. An Acting Sub. Lieutenant serving in the heavy cruiser H.M.S Exeter on the renewal of hostilities in September 1939, he was killed in action at the battle of the River Plate on 13 December, when his ship was hit by no less than four of the Admiral Graf Spee’s 11-inch shells. Young Claude - he was 20 years of age - was subsequently awarded a posthumous mention in despatches (London Gazette 23 February 1940 refers). He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Plymouth War Memorial.

Sold with a quantity of original documentation, including the Admiral’s warrants for his K.B.E., dated 18 December 1945, C.B.E., dated 6 June 1944, and C.B., dated 8 January 1942, together with an official letter regarding the award of his American Medal of Freedom and an Admiralty letter confirming his appointment to Officer of the French Legion of Honour, dated 19 May 1945, ‘for distinguished service in command of a force composed mainly of French ships during operations in the Western Mediterranean’.