Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria to include a Fine Collection of Napoleonic Medals (25 March 2015)

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Date of Auction: 25th March 2015

Sold for £6,000

Estimate: £4,000 - £5,000

‘Midshipman George Leslie Drewry, R.N.R., commanded the hopper when it drove ashore on “River Clyde’s” port bow. When he saw Unwin hauling in on the line to bring the nearest lighter to shore, Drewry jumped in the water to help him. He came across a wounded soldier, picked him up and tried to drag him ashore, but the man was hit again and died in his arms. While standing on one of the lighters, Drewry was hit by shrapnel in the head which knocked him to the ground. His face covered in blood, he bound up the wound with a soldier’s scarf and went on with his work. He was presented with his Cross by King George V at the Palace on 22nd November 1916.’

The Victoria Cross at Sea, by John Winton, refers.

The important Memorial Plaque issued in remembrance of Acting Lieutenant G. L. Drewry, V.C., Royal Naval Reserve, who was decorated for his gallantry during the landings at ‘V’ Beach, Gallipoli on 25 April 1915: the first officer of the R.N.R. and Merchant Service to win the V.C. in the Great War, he was killed in an accident in H.M. Trawler William Jackson at Scapa Flow in August 1918

Memorial Plaque 1914-18 (George Leslie Drewry), extremely fine £4000-5000


V.C. London Gazette 13 August 1915:

‘Midshipman George L. Drewry, R.N.R., assisted Commander Unwin at the work of securing the lighters under heavy rifle and Maxim fire. He was wounded in the head, but continued his work and twice subsequently attempted to swim from lighter to lighter with a line.’

The famous events surrounding the
River Clyde and the landings at ‘V’ Beach, Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 need little explanation here, ending as they did in the award of no less than five Naval V.Cs. However, the following extract from John Winton’s The Victoria Cross at Sea provides an excellent summary of the desperate actions undertaken by the River Clyde’s officers and Midshipmen:

‘The reality, which began at 6 a.m. on Sunday 25 April 1915, was somewhat different.
Albion duly bombarded for an hour, River Clyde, the hopper and the lighters ran in and, despite some hitches and premature groundings, the floating bridge was established. The first troops ran ashore in dead silence. The plan seemed to be working. However, as soon as the bombardment lifted, three platoons of Turkish soldiers, with four machine-guns, returned to their hardly damaged trenches and their almost intact wire. Just as the disembarkation was gathering speed, they opened fire.

In a moment
River Clyde's gangways were strewn and choked with dead and dying. The Dublin Fusiliers in the lighters were cut down where they stood. The catastrophe was past comprehension. Unable to believe what was happening, fresh men pressed out of River Clyde's hold, tossing the dead bodies into the sea to make way for themselves to go forward to the slaughter. A few men got ashore and sheltered under a bank, but there was no question of anybody joining them. After three hours, 1,500 men had tried to land and only 200 had done so. The guns on River Clyde's fo'c'sle could make little impression on the Turkish defences, and the main body of troops could not get ashore until after dark that evening.

That anybody got ashore at all was almost entirely due to the great gallantry and physical stamina of
River Clyde's officers and men. At one point, because of the current setting round the Cape and the difficulties of securing the bridge, the lighters began to drift away from the beach. Commander Edward Unwin, in command of River Clyde, himself swam ashore with a line, secured the first lighter and towed it to shore. There was nothing suitable to secure the lighter to, so he stood in the water himself, like a human ballard, with the line wrapped around his waist, while the first parties of Munster Fusiliers rushed over his head. The men who assisted Unwin had to swim from lighter to lighter, under very heavy fire. Midshipman Drewry, of River Clyde, was wounded in the head but still took lines from one lighter to another until he was exhausted. A sailor from River Clyde, Able Seaman Williams, stood neck-deep in the water for over an hour, under murderous fire, but he held on to his line until he was killed where he stood. Another seaman, George Samson, worked in the lighters all day, under constant fire, eventually he was very badly wounded by Maxim machine-gun fire. He carried thirteen pieces of bullet shrapnel in his body to the day of his death. Another Midshipman, Wilfred Malleson, took over from Drewry, and swam with lines from the hopper to the lighters and succeeded in securing the nearest lighter. When the line broke he made two more attempts to secure it.

Unwin was in his fifties and the cold and immersion were too much for him. Numbed and helpless he was obliged to return to his ship, where the doctor wrapped him up in blankets. But as soon as his circulation had returned he ignored the doctor's advice and went back to the lighters, where he was wounded three times. Later in the morning he decided that something must be done for the wounded, lying in the shallow water by the beach. He commandeered a launch, secured her stern to
River Clyde and punted her to the shore. He rescued seven or eight wounded men, manhandled them into his boat and hauled them back to River Clyde. He was in the end forced to stop through sheer physical exhaustion.

Unwin, Drewry, Malleson, Williams and Samson were all gazetted for the Victoria Cross on 16 August 1915, Williams's award being posthumous. Williams and Samson were the first men from the lower deck to win the V.C. since Seeley and Pride in Japan over half a century earlier. Only Peel's
Shannon, and Vindictive at Zeebrugge, can equal River Clyde's individual record of five Victoria Crosses. River Clyde's were all won within a few hours, four of them within minutes of each other.’

Winton continues:

‘Drewry joined the Navy from the Merchant Service and was the first Royal Naval Reserve officer to win the V.C. He was born on 3rd November 1894, at Forest Gate, Essex, the son of Thomas Drewry, works manager of P. & O. Steam Navigation Co. and Mary (nee Kendall). He went to Merchant Taylor's School, Blackheath, and seems to have been somewhat accident-prone. As a young boy he was knocked down in the street by a car. As an apprentice on board the sailing ship
Indian Empire, he fell from a mast into the sea and was nearly drowned. Rounding Cape Horn, the ship was wrecked on remote Hermit Island. The crew managed to get ashore but their lifeboat was smashed by heavy seas. Stranded, they lived for a fortnight on roots and shellfish until rescued by a Chilean gunboat.

In 1912 Drewry joined the P. & O. and travelled the world. He joined the R.N.R. on 1st July 1913 and when at Port Said he was called up for active service on 3rd August 1914 and appointed as a Midshipman R.N.R. to
Hussar and then to River Clyde. He was promoted Acting Lieutenant on 2nd September 1916 and appointed to the battleship Conqueror. The Imperial Merchant Service Guild presented him with a Sword of Honour, as the first R.N.R. officer and Merchant Service to win the V.C.

His last accident was at Scapa Flow on 2nd August 1918, when he was in command of H.M.T.
William Jackson.  A block fell from the end of a derrick and struck him on the head, injuring his skull, and breaking his left arm. He died a short time later, aged twenty-four. His brother officers of the Northern Patrol erected a window to his memory in All Saints Church, Forest Gate. In April 1940, his brother Mr. H. P. Drewry donated £10,000 to fund scholarships for the sons of Merchant Navy officers killed in action.’