Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (11 & 12 December 2013)

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Date of Auction: 11th & 12th December 2013

Sold for £32,000

Estimate: £18,000 - £22,000

‘It was my great good fortune to be appointed General Staff Officer to the Arab Forces in the early part of 1918. From then throughout the final phase of the Arab revolt on till Damascus, I worked, travelled, and fought alongside Lawrence. Night after night we lay wrapped in our blankets under the cold stars of the desert. At these times one learns much of a man. Lawrence took the limelight from those of us professional soldiers who were fortunate enough to serve with him, but never once have I heard even a whisper of jealousy. We sensed that we were serving with a man immeasurably our superior ... In my considered opinion, Lawrence was the greatest genius whom England has produced in the last two centuries, and I do not believe that there is anyone who had known him who will not agree with me. If ever a genius, a scholar, an artist and an imp of Shaitan were rolled into one personality, it was Lawrence.’
Colonel W. F. Stirling, D.S.O., M.C., from his autobiography, Safety Last.

The important Boer War and Great War Palestine operations D.S.O. and Bar, M.C. group of fourteen awarded to Colonel W. F. Stirling, Chief of Staff to Lawrence of Arabia and Advisor to Emir Feisal in Damascus in 1918, late Royal Dublin Fusiliers - he was second-in-command of the 1st Battalion in Gallipoli until buried by a shell - and Royal Flying Corps: a remarkable man, who later proof read Seven Pillars of Wisdom and became The Times correspondent in Syria, he survived an assassination attempt at Damascus in 1949 - even though the surgeons were unable to remove four of the six bullets that hit him

Distinguished Service Order, E.VII.R., silver-gilt and enamel, with Second Award Bar; Military Cross, G.V.R., unnamed as issued; Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902, 5 clasps, Tugela Heights, Orange Free State, Relief of Ladysmith, Laing’s Nek, Belfast (Lieut. W. F. Stirling, R. Dub. Fus.); King’s South Africa 1901-02, 2 clasps, South Africa 1901, South Africa 1902 (Lieut. W. F. Stirling, R. Dub. Fus.); 1914-15 Star (Capt. W. F. Stirling, R. Dub. Fus.); British War and Victory Medals, with M.I.D. oak leaf (Major W. F. Stirling); Egypt, Order of the Nile, 4th Class breast badge, silver and enamel; Italy, Order of the Crown, 5th Class breast badge, gold and enamel; Syria, Order of Merit, breast badge, gilt metal and enamel; Hedjaz, Order of El Nahda, a rare 1st type 2nd Class set, comprising neck badge and breast badge, in silver, gold and enamels, complete with original plaited neck cord; Albania, Order of Scanderbeg, a scarce 1st type Grand Cross set of insignia by Cravanzola, Roma, comprising sash badge, silver-gilt and enamels, and breast star, silver, gilt and enamels, complete with full dress sash, minor official correction to surname on the Boer War awards, reverse centre lacking on the Italian piece, enamel work chipped in places but otherwise generally very fine or better (12) £18000-22000


D.S.O. London Gazette 28 January 1902:
‘For skill and gallantry in action at Kaffirspruit, 19 December 1901.’

Bar to D.S.O. London Gazette 8 March 1919:
‘For gallant service rendered during the operations resulting in the occupation of Damascus by Arab Forces. By his example and personal courage whilst leading the Arabs he, in conjunction with another officer, was mainly instrumental in securing the successful occupation of the town and the establishment, without grave disorder, of the Arab Military Authorities therein.’

The other officer referred to in the above citation is almost certainly Lawrence.

M.C. London Gazette 1 January 1918.

Walter Francis Stirling was born on 31 January 1880, the son of Captain Francis Stirling, R.N., who was last heard of having left Bermuda on that same day in command of the training frigate Atalanta, and was presumed lost at sea with all hands shortly afterwards - one of the notorious “Bermuda Triangle” mysteries. Young Walter spent much of his early life at Hampton Court Palace - where Queen Victoria had set aside a wing for widows of Naval officers who died in the course of duty - was educated at Sandhurst and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in 1889.

The Boer War - D.S.O.

Actively engaged in South Africa with the 4th Division Mounted Infantry in Dundonald’s Brigade, Natal Field Force, and afterwards as Adjutant, 14th Mounted Infantry, he took part in operations which included the Relief of Ladysmith and the actions at Laing’s Nek, Belfast and Kafferspruit.

Stirling’s service with the Mounted Infantry during the latter part of the War mostly involved long drives against the blockhouses, operations which, he later noted in his autobiography, Safety Last, ‘entailed dividing the countryside into huge triangles, marked out at every six or eight hundred yards with armoured blockhouses interconnected with double barbed-wire fences. It was a laborious process but profitable, for once a Boer Commando got into one of the triangles, our mounted troops could then line up and sweep the whole country, driving the enemy up against one of the blockhouse lines where they either had to surrender or else fight their way out ... on my return from one of these drives I received two telegrams. One was from Lord Kitchener and said: “Congratulate you on immediate award in the field of the D.S.O. for skill and gallantry in action at the affair of Kaffirspruit.” ’

After further service with the Dublin Fusiliers at Malta and in Egypt, Stirling transferred to the Egyptian Army, and served with the 11th Sudanese Regiment engaged in patrols throughout the Sudan 1907-12. Promoted to Captain in 1908, he retired in 1912 and lived in Canada for a time, before returning to Egypt to run the Sporting Club in Alexandria.

Close shave in the R.F.C. - buried by a shell in Gallipoli

After the outbreak of hostilities in 1914, he served temporarily with the Gordon Highlanders in the Censorship Office, Egypt, and later in the same year transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and trained as an Observer at Ismalia, where he was then detailed to patrol and reconnoitre the Sinai Desert. On one patrol in search of Turkish troop movements Stirling and his pilot, Grall - ‘an extraordinarily nice Breton naval quartermaster’ - crash landed in the desert. The latter broke his collarbone and three ribs in the process, but the pair evaded capture by Turks and Bedouin to arrive safely back in Akaba. Grall was awarded the D.C.M. for this feat.

Upon hearing of the disaster that had befallen his regiment aboard the River Clyde in the landings at Gallipoli, however, Stirling at once requested permission to rejoin his regiment in the peninsula, where only one officer remained unwounded. Thus he served as second in command of the 1st Battalion, Dublin Fusiliers, for three months until he ‘got buried by a shell which burst on the parapet of the trench’ above his head and had to be evacuated.

Palestine - early impressions of Lawrence of Arabia and Allenby

Upon his return to Egypt, late in 1915, he was posted as G.2 Intelligence at General Sir Archibald Murray’s G.H.Q. in Ismailia. Here he very soon met T. E. Lawrence, then a young subaltern who had arrived out from England in December 1914 as G.3 Intelligence. Lawrence was then ordered to Basra with additional instructions to make a report on anything he saw there which could be of interest to the Egyptian Expeditionary Force.

‘The document that he produced for us on his return was an amazing document, considering its author was only a 2nd Lieutenant. It was a violent criticism of the mental capacity of the draughtsmen and map-makers, of the quality of the stone used in their lithography, of the disposal of the cranes on the quayside, of the system of mooring the barges and of the shunting operations on the railway, of the medical arrangements, particularly of the provision for the wounded, and even of the tactical dispositions of the commanders in the field and of the general strategical conception of the campaign. We dared not show it to the C.-in-C., but had to water it down till it was considered fit for the great man’s perusal. I have regretted ever since that I never kept a copy of the original; it was Lawrence at his best’ (Stirling’s autobiography refers).

Stirling was active throughout the Palestine campaign, taking part in the fall of Gaza, the operations in and around Jerusalem, and the night attack across the river Auja. Shortly afterwards he was posted to Surafend as G.2 Operations, where one of his duties was to accompany Allenby on all his official visits:

‘For his inspections of the front line we used to take three Rolls-Royces in convoy, the first out in front as a pilot car, the C.-in-C’s vehicle in the centre, and the third behind us in reserve. I had to arrange the route and was also responsible for the necessary safeguards on sections of the road that were too exposed. The first day I went out with the chief he changed his mind after we had been travelling half an hour and wanted to go a different way.

Without thinking I blurted out:, “You can’t do that. I’ve made all the arrangements for this route.”
He stared at me for almost a minute, then burst out laughing. “Well,” he said, “this is the first time I’ve been so directly opposed since I became Commander-in-Chief.”

After that we got on famously together.’

And of his M.C.:

‘While the Duke [of Connaught] was over, he held an investiture on behalf of the King inside the the ruins of King David’s Tower in Jerusalem. It was a wonderful setting and I, amongst others had the honour of being invested with the Military Cross.’

Chief of Staff to Lawrence of Arabia and the Road to Damascus

Stirling, who had met Lawrence for the first time in 1915, renewed the acquaintance when he suddenly received orders to join Lawrence and the forces of the Arab Revolt as Chief Staff Officer. The force, under Emir Feisal, son of King Hussein of the Hedjaz, was commanded by General Jaffar Pasha, with Nuri Pasha as his second-in-command and Lieutenant-Colonel Pierce Joyce of the Connaught Rangers as his adviser.

Lawrence describes Stirling as ‘a skilled staff officer, tactful and wise’ whose ‘passion for horses was a passport to intimacy with Feisal and the Chiefs.’ Indeed Feisal presented Stirling with an Arab mare of the purest Saklowi strain which had been presented to him by the people of the Nejd. Their reunion also gave Stirling time to reflect further:

‘As I see it, his outstanding characteristic was his clarity of vision and his power of shedding all unessentials from his thoughts, added to his uncanny knowledge of what the other man was thinking and doing ... The great sagas sung throughout the desert of phenomenal rides carried out by despatch riders and dating back to the days of the Caliph Haroun Al-Raschid have been completely eclipsed by Lawrence’s achievements. On one occasion he averaged a hundred miles a day for three consecutive days. Such endurance as this is almost incredible. I myself have ridden fifty miles in a night, but never want to do it again ... ’

From July 1918 until their triumphant entry into Damascus on the first of October, Lawrence and Stirling planned and executed numerous sorties behind Turkish lines including the destruction of rail communications and the liaison of British and Arab Forces. In Revolt in the Desert, Lawrence refers to several of these actions, including a fine effort by Stirling, as senior British Officer present, shortly before the second attack on Deraa:

‘I rested next day in Nair’s tent, among his peasant visitors; sorting out the too-abundant news furnished by their quick wit and goodwill. During my rest day, Nuri Said, with Pisani and two guns, Stirling, Winterton, Young, their armoured cars, and a considerable force, went openly to the railway, cleared it by approved military means, destroyed a kilometre of rail, and burnt the tentative wooden structure with which the Turks were mending the bridge blown up by Joyce and myself before our first attack on Deraa.’

So, too, of going into action with him in a Rolls armoured car:

‘As we drove up we heard firing, and saw shrapnel behind a ridge to our right, where the railway was. Soon appeared the head of a Turkish column of about two thousand men, in ragged groups, halting now and then to fire their mountain guns. We ran on to overtake the pursuers, our great Rolls very blue on the open road. Some Arab horsemen from behind the Turks galloped towards us, bucketing unhandily across the irrigation ditches. We recognised Nasir on his liver-coloured stallion, the splendid animal yet spirited after its hundred miles of a running fight: also old Nuri Shaalan and about thirty of their servants. They told us these few were all that remained of the seven thousand Turks.’

Anxious to take advantage of the situation, Lawrence asked the hard-pressed Arabs to hang on at all costs for another hour, while he and Stirling roared back to the nearest British column and rallied some reinforcements:

‘We drove back three miles to the leading Indians, and told their ancient, surly Colonel what a gift the Arabs brought. He seemed not pleased to upset the beautiful order of his march, but at last opened out a squadron and sent them slowly across the plain towards the Turks, who turned the little [mountain] guns their way. One or two shells burst nearly among the files, and then to our horror (for Nasir had put himself in jeopardy, expecting courageous help) the Colonel ordered a retirement, and fell back quickly to the road. Stirling and myself, hopping mad, dashed down and begged him to not be afraid of mountain guns, no heavier than Very pistols; but neither to kindness nor to wrath did the old man budge an inch. We raced a third time back along the road in search of higher authority.’

That authority was duly found, and by nightfall the Middlesex Yeomanry had put the Turks to flight. Yet further adventures were to follow, however, including another unfortunate incident with the Indian cavalry. Stirling takes up the story:

‘At daybreak we pushed on, topped the ridge in front of us, and there in the distance lay Damascus, sparkling in the early morning sun. A great cloak of greenery spread out on every side of the city save the north, but over part of it a pall of smoke hung motionless in mid-air: the result of the explosions we had heard overnight. We stopped the car by a small stream and got out to wash and shave. No sooner had we completed our ablutions than a patrol of Bengal Lancers appeared round the shoulder of the hill, galloped up and made us prisoners.
Lawrence was in full Arab kit. I had on the Arab head-dress of
agal and kufiyah and a camelhair abaya, or cloak, which concealed the ordinary khaki uniform I was wearing underneath.

Unfortunately I could not speak a word of Urdu, but I tried to indicate that I was a British officer by pulling back my cloak and displaying the red gorget patches on my collar. The only effect this had was to provoke a prod in the back with the point of a very sharp lance. We were driven as captives across country until we were lucky enough to meet a British officer of the regiment to whom we explained our identity. We were immediately released and after regaining our car drove quickly along the main road to Damascus.’

But as Damascus finally hove into view, lit up by exploding Turkish ordnance, Lawrence felt ‘sick to think of the great town in ashes as the price of freedom’:

‘T.E. was very despondent that night. Just before going to sleep I asked him why he was so depressed seeing we were on the eve of our entry into Damascus, and in sight of the final act which was to crown all his efforts with success. “Ever since we took Deraa,” he replied, “the end has been inevitable. Now the zest has gone and the interest.” ’

On a happier note, Stirling was awarded a Bar to his D.S.O. and Order of El Nahda:

‘At the close of the campaign I was awarded a Bar to my D.S.O.; it has always been a matter of private gratification to me that I won both as “immediate awards in the field” and that on both occasions I had received a telegram of personal congratulations from my chief: from Lord Kitchener for the original award, and now from Lord Allenby. Shortly afterwards King Hussein made me an award of the Order of the Nahda, 2nd class, the Arab decoration commemorating the liberation of the Arab world. It consists of a collar of twisted camel cord made up in the colours of the Sherifian standard from which hangs a silver and enamel star, and the great star which is worn on the tunic was designed and executed by the silversmiths of Mecca.’

Lawrence returned to England soon afterwards but Stirling remained in Damascus and was appointed Advisor to the Emir Feisal. It now became his difficult task to liaise between Feisal and the French Government whilst Feisal and the Syrian people were placed under French tutelage: Stirling was no doubt relieved to receive his new appointment as Deputy Chief Political Officer for the Middle East in the spring of 1919.

The latter years - “Did they really think they could kill Colonel Stirling with only six shots?”

His subsequent appointments included Acting Governor of Sinai Peninsula and Egyptian Government Governor of the Jaffa District, 1920; Advisor to Palestine Administration, 1920-23 and a similar appointment to the Albanian Government, 1923-31, in which latter period he found time to review Lawrence’s proof of Seven Pillars of Wisdom; helped initiate postal and telephone censorship, 1939-40; served in the Balkans on ‘special service’, 1940-41; Chief Staff Officer to the Economic Advisor, Military Mission to Syria, 1942-44; Commander, with the rank of Colonel, British Military Headquarters, 9th Army, Syria, 1944-45.

He retired in 1946, when commanding Desert and Frontier Areas of Syria, settled in Damascus and became the Times correspondent for Syria. On 6 November 1949, an unknown terrorist group attempted to kill Stirling by shooting him six times at close range, but he survived the attack despite the surgeon’s inability to extract four of the bullets. The assailants were never caught but a few days later in a Damascus café, two Arabs were overheard summing up his reputation in the city: “Did they really think they could kill Colonel Stirling with only six shots?”

Stirling lived afterwards in Egypt, until expelled by the Egyptian Government in 1951, and then settled in Tangier, Morocco, where he died on 22 February 1958; sold with an extensive file of research.