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 £120,000

Estimate: £130,000 - £160,000

‘I joined up as a youngster for a bit of fun, but it didn’t turn out like that. We were young men made old before our time. I felt then, that I had to go to the help of these lads. After all, they were my pals.

Five men tried to get through and I was the sixth. I made a dive and got through. The worst part was that I didn’t know just where our chaps were. I had to find them, and in a run for about 150 yards I went within five yards of one of Jerry’s machine-guns. It was my lucky day.’

James Towers, V.C., reflects upon events at Mericourt on 6 October 1918 (The Lancashire Daily Post, 12 November 1929, refers).

The outstanding Great War ‘Final Advance of the Allies’ V.C. group of five awarded to Private James Towers, 2nd Battalion, The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), who volunteered to carry a vital message to a stranded platoon under a galling fire at Mericourt in October 1918 - after five of his comrades had been killed before his eyes in attempting to carry out the very same task: as The Times later observed, survivors possessed of such boldness and who ‘so clearly risked their all on one tremendous stake’ were protected by a special ‘charm’

A Lancashire lad from Preston, hard working and modest by nature, it is said Towers had a natural sporting ability, the result of leaping dykes and fences on his father’s farm. If so, it was an ability that served him well, for the moment he broke cover on his seemingly suicidal mission, heavy enfilading machine-gun fire was upon him: darting from shell-hole to shell-hole, and crawling through wire entanglements, he came across the slumped body of the first volunteer runner - one of his best friends, Private Frank Dunlop

Undeterred, Towers continued on his way, taking a running leap at an embankment and landing within yards of an enemy machine-post the other side - but in several bounds he disappeared in the mist before the startled German gunners had time to react: shortly afterwards he delivered his vital message to the stranded platoon and led it to safety the following day

Victoria Cross (30245 Pte. J. Towers, 2nd Bn. Sco. Rif.; 6 Oct. 1918), with its Hancocks & Co. case of issue; British War and Victory Medals (30245 Pte. J. Towers, Sco. Rif.); Coronation 1937; Coronation 1953, generally very fine (5)
£130000-160000

Footnote

V.C. London Gazette 6 January 1919:

‘For most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty at Mericourt on 6 October 1918, when, under heavy fire, five runners having failed to deliver an important message, Private Towers, well aware of the fate of the runners who had already attempted the task, volunteered for the duty. In spite of heavy fire opened on him as soon as he moved, he went straight through from cover to cover and eventually delivered the message. His valour, determination, and utter disregard of danger were an inspiring example to all.’

James Towers
was born at 8 Wildman Street, Preston, Lancashire on 8 September 1897, the son of James and Betty Towers. At the time of his birth his father was employed as a cotton loomer but he later took up farming at Broughton, in which work he was assisted by young James after he had attended Emmanuel Boys School.

Enlisting underage in the West Lancashire Artillery in July 1915, James was quickly discharged when his true age was established, but he re-enlisted in the 5th Dragoon Guards in August 1916. Subsequently transferred to the infantry, he joined the 2nd Battalion, The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), and went to France in December 1916, where his unit formed part of 59th Infantry Brigade, 20th Division.

Suicidal mission - V.C.

On 6 October 1918, Towers and his comrades in the 2nd Battalion found themselves holding a railway embankment at Mericourt, three miles south-west of Lens. Under considerable pressure from the enemy, orders were given to retire, an order which failed to reach a platoon in ‘B’ Company as it had become cut-off between the lines of advancing Germans.

A volunteer was called for, a runner to pass on news of the order to retire to the stranded platoon. The first volunteer was killed. Four more volunteers suffered a similar fate in quick succession: James Towers, who had witnessed all five men going down, now stepped forward.

It is said he had a natural sporting ability, the result of leaping dykes and fences on his father’s farm. If so, it was an ability about to serve him well, for the moment he embarked on his seemingly suicidal mission, heavy enfilading machine-gun fire was upon him. Darting from shell-hole to shell-hole, and crawling through wire entanglements, he came across the slumped body of the first volunteer runner - one of his best friends, Private Frank Dunlop.

Undeterred, and hugging the ground, Towers continued on his way until he reached an embankment. Opting for the element of surprise, he broke into a run and leapt over the top, only to land within a few yards of a German machine-gun nest: he landed on his toes and with a few quick bounds disappeared into the mist before the startled Germans had time to react.

Unaware as to the exact location of the missing platoon - ‘The worst part was that I didn’t know just where our chaps were’ - the gallant Cameronian’s persistence eventually paid off, and he dug-in with his comrades for the night. The following day, in the early dawn mist, and making use of his hotly-acquired knowledge of the whereabouts of enemy machine-gun posts, he led the ‘lost platoon’ safely back to the battalion’s positions. He was awarded the Victoria Cross, ‘his valour, determination, and utter disregard of danger,’ had been an inspiring example to all who witnessed it.

Invested with his V.C. by H.M. King George V in the Quadrangle at Buckingham Palace on 8 May 1919, Towers returned to the Palace to attend the V.C. Garden Party in June of the following year. He was also one of 74 V.C. holders who formed a special Guard of Honour for the burial of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey on 11 November 1920.



The latter years - farming and milk delivery - reunions and royal encounters

Having been demobilised in January 1919, Towers returned to his father’s dairy farm at Durton Lane, Broughton. Later, when his father retired, he set up on his own, running a four acre poultry farm and a milk distribution business.

As reported in
The Lancashire Daily Post on 12 November 1929, Towers attended the Prince of Wales’s V.C. Dinner held in the House of Lords in November 1929 - ‘With me being a bit plump and red-faced he remembered me as I went up with my menu - “Hello, you here again!” he said’: on reaching his local railway station at 5 a.m. the following morning, Towers walked the three miles to his home and was out on the streets of Preston delivering milk by 7.30 a.m.

Towers also attended the Victory Parade and V.C. Dinner at the Dorchester Hotel in June 1946, and returned to London to take part in the Centenary Review of Holders of the Victoria Cross by Her Majesty the Queen in Hyde Park on 25 June 1956. During the 1960s and 1970s he attended a number of V.C. & G.C. Association memorial services and dinners.

He died at the Royal Infirmary, Preston in January 1977, aged 79, his last residence having been ‘Mericourt’, Lightfoot Green, Bartle, Preston. He was survived by his wife, Ethel, and his married daughter, Mrs. Marion Castle of Fulwood, Preston.

His funeral was attended by Major Ian Ritchie on behalf of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), a regimental wreath accompanying the coffin. Others who attended included Colonel Bob Rainford and representatives of the Preston Council of Ex-Servicemen, and officials from the V.C. & G.C. Association. His ashes were scattered on the January Plot at New Hall Lane Crematorium.

‘James Towers V.C. Close’ was subsequently named in his memory on the Lonsdale Estate in Preston.

The Victoria Cross awarded to Towers was one of three won by the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) in the Great War and one of a total of 13 such awards to the Regiment for all campaigns and wars. With the exception of Towers’s V.C., all of them are held in regimental museums - the other two Great War issues being held by the Scottish Rifles Museum.

Sold with a quantity of copied research, including birth, marriage and death certificates, and a trench map which includes the Mericourt sector.