Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (19 & 20 September 2013)

Date of Auction: 19th & 20th September 2013

Sold for £24,000

Estimate: £12,000 - £15,000

The unique Great War M.C., D.C.M., M.M. group of seven awarded to Sub. Lieutenant C. B. Wheeler, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, attached Royal Naval Division, who was twice wounded: later a member of the Federation of Malaya Volunteer Force, he died of wounds at Singapore in February 1942, while serving as a recently appointed 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps - or was a victim of the shocking Japanese atrocities

Military Cross, G.V.R., unnamed as issued; Distinguished Conduct Medal, G.V.R. (CZ-2224 P.O. C. B. Wheeler, Nelson Bn., R.N.V.R.); Military Medal, G.V.R. (CZ-2224 A.L.S. C. B. Wheeler, Nelson Bn., R.N.V.R.); 1914-15 Star (CZ-2224 C. B. Wheeler, A.B., R.N.V.R.); British War and Victory Medals (S. Lt. C. B. Wheeler, R.N.V.R.); Efficiency Medal, G.VI.R., 1st issue, Malaya (Sgt. Colin B. Wheeler, M.C., D.C.M., M.M., F.M.S.V.F.), monted court-style as worn, generally good very fine (7) £12,000-15,000

Footnote

The combination of M.C., D.C.M., M.M. is unique to the Royal Naval Division.

M.C.
London Gazette 15 February 1919:

‘On 27 September 1918 he was in charge of the section of two Stokes guns and was following his Battalion when the Battalion was suddenly held up by hostile machine gun fire. Taking a Lewis gun he crawled forward and cleared the enemy post thus helping the Infantry to obtain their objective. On 30 September 1918 at the Canal de l’Escaut, he again did good work causing considerable casualties to the enemy with a Lewis gun. Throughout the operations he showed conspicuous gallantry and able leadership.’

D.C.M.
London Gazette 17 April 1917:

‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He handled three trench motors with marked ability, and greatly assisted in clearing up a difficult situation. He set a fine example throughout.’

M.M.
London Gazette 26 March 1917.

Colin Bain Wheeler was born in July 1896 and enlisted in the Clyde Division of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as an Ordinary Seaman in November 1914.

Posted to Nelson Battalion, Royal Naval Division, in June 1915, he was embarked for the Dardanelles, but was wounded in Gallipoli on 13 July and admitted to hospital in Alexandria - a sojourn extended by a bout of scarlet fever.

Rejoining his battalion at Mudros in January 1916, he was embarked for France in May, and was transferred to 189th Stokes Mortar Battery, R.N.D., in which capacity he won his M.M. as an Acting Leading Seaman. Douglas Jerrold’s history takes up the story:

‘Such was the situation half-an-hour after the attack, when Lt.-Colonel Monro, commanding the Hood Battalion, was wounded, and Lt.-Commander Asquith, who had gone forward on the heels of his old battalion in the slender disguise of staff learner studying the effects of the artillery barrage, took command. To his energy and enthusiasm the success of the 189th Brigade's operations on this occasion was largely due. Well before 8 a.m. on the 4th, Lt.-Commander Asquith had got the Hood Battalion back to their correct alignment, and although touch could not be gained with the Hawke Battalion (who had probably by now edged further to the left, assuming the attack to have failed on the right) the situation was no longer critical. Dawn saw us with a fair hold on all our objectives, but with an awkward gap in the first and second enemy lines, and a machine-gun post still obstructing the consolidation of the essential defensive flank.

The history of the rest of the battle is soon told. Several attempts to subdue the two strong points and to close the gaps were made during the morning of the 4th, but without success. At 3.50 p.m., however, the enemy post on our left was rushed by the Nelson and Hawke after an effective bombardment from a Stokes gun, skillfully handled by Leading Seaman Wheeler, of the 189th L.T.M. Battery.’

Having then been advanced to Petty Officer, and added the D.C.M. to his accolades for the above cited deeds, he was wounded on 24 April 1917 and evacuated home.

Then in October of the same year, he joined an Officer Cadet Battalion in Ayrshire, from which he emerged as a newly commissioned Temporary Sub. Lieutenant in April 1918. Ordered back to France that August, where he joined Anson Battalion, Wheeler was detached for service in the 188th Light Trench Mortar Battery, R.N.D., in the following month, and won his third decoration for his good work with a Lewis gun a few days later - thereby winning the unique distinction of having won the M.C., D.C.M. and M.M. for services in the R.N.D.

Fall of Singapore

Demobilised in June 1919, he stated that he intended to take up employment as a tea planter and, true to his word, settled in Malaya.

A long-served member of the Federated Malay States Volunteer Force, he was awarded the Efficiency Medal in June 1938 (
The F.M.S. Government Gazette refers), but his subsequent part in desperate struggle for Singapore in February 1942 appears to have been undertaken as a recently appointed 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (London Gazette 31 March 1942 refers). By the latter date, however, he was dead, official records listing his demise as 14 February, the day before the surrender of the colony. Moreover, he is listed on the Singapore Civil Hospital Grave Memorial, a sure indication of a sorry end:

‘During the last hours of the battle of Singapore, wounded servicemen taken prisoner and civilians massacred by the Japanese were brought to the hospital in their hundreds. Many were already dead on arrival, many more succumbed later, and the number of fatalities was such that burial in a normal manner was impossible. Before the war an emergency water tank had been dug in the grounds of the hospital, and this was used as a grave. Some 300 civilians and 107 members of the the Armed Forces of the Commonwealth were buried in this collective grave ... A bronze panel, affixed to the memorial over the original grave, bears the inscription, ‘Beneath this Cross lie 107 British soldiers and 300 civilians of many races, victims of man’s inhumanity to man, who perished in captivity in February 1942. The soldiers are commemorated by name at Kranji War Cemetery.’

The exact nature of Wheeler’s end at the hands of the Japanese will probably never be known, but events at nearby Alexandra Hospital are worthy of mention in the current context.
Sinister Twilight, by Noel Barber, takes up the story:

‘While this was happening, other Japanese troops were forcing all the patients to get out of the wards. The men who could not move were bayoneted. In the broiling heat, two hundred patients - together with a few R.A.M.C. personnel - were paraded in the grounds. All the patients were desperately ill. Some could barely hobble. Many collapsed. It made no difference. Herding them into groups of four or five, the Japanese roped them together with their hands behind their backs. They were then marched to the old servants' quarters behind the hospital -a building consisting of several small rooms, ranging in size from nine feet by nine to ten by twelve. Between fifty and seventy patients were jammed into each room. Wedged together, it was impossible for them to sit down and it took several minutes for some patients to get their arms above their heads and make a little more room in this modern version of the Black Hole of Calcutta. There they were left for the night. Water was promised but none arrived - though those nearest the open windows could watch the Japanese soldiers sitting down on the grass, eating tinned fruit. From time to time during the night the intolerable pressure of bodies wedged tightly against each other was eased in a fearful manner when the Japanese would take a small party out and lead it away.  Those left behind could hear screams - then a Japanese soldier would return wiping blood from his bayonet. Only three men escaped when a shell scored a direct hit on the building, blowing off doors and windows. Though it killed several of the patients, the confusion did give a handful of men their only chance. Eight made a dash for it, and though five were gunned down, three men got away. They were the only survivors of this night of horror ... ’

Wheeler was aged 43 years, the son of Louis and Annie Wheeler, and the husband of Mary Wheeler of Aberdeen.