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 £4,800

Estimate: £4,000 - £5,000

The outstanding Irish Troubles C.B.E., Great War ‘Balloonatic’s’ D.S.O., early Western Front M.C. group of eleven awarded to Lieutenant-Colonel H. M. Meyler, Border Regiment, late Middlesex Regiment, Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force, who, having won his M.C. for gallant trench observation work and been gassed at Bellewarde in 1915, transferred to the Royal Flying Corps as a Kite Balloon Officer and won the D.S.O. after being wounded for a second time and undertaking at least one parachute descent: adding the C.B.E. to his accolades for services as a legal officer in Ireland in the early 1920s, he is also believed to be the only politician to have served as an M.P. in the First Parliament of the Union of South Africa and in the House of Commons

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, C.B.E. (Military) Commander’s 1st type neck badge, silver-gilt and enamel; Distinguished Service Order, G.V.R., silver-gilt and enamel; Military Cross, G.V.R., unnamed as issued; Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902, 3 clasps, Rhodesia, Orange Free State, Transvaal (Lieut. H. M. Meyler, Middx. Rgt.); King’s South Africa 1901-02, 2 clasps, South Africa 1901, South Africa 1902 (Lt. H. M. Meyler, Middx. Rgt.); 1914-15 Star (Capt. H. M. Meyler, Midd’x. R); British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf (Lt. Col. H. M. Meyler, R.A.F.); Union of South Africa Medal 1910; Belgium, Order of Leopold II, 5th Class breast badge, silver, silver-gilt and enamel, with swords and silver palm; Belgium, Croix de Guerre, with bronze palm, together with a white metal Union of South Africa commemorative medallet, the Boer War Medals with removed clasp backstraps and the Belgian Leopold with chipped enamel to reverse, otherwise generally good very fine (12) £4000-5000

Footnote

C.B.E. London Gazette 1 January 1923.

D.S.O.
London Gazette 1 January 1919:

‘Rewards to officers and other ranks of the Royal Air Force, in recognition of distinguished service.’

M.C.
London Gazette 23 June 1915:

‘For services rendered in connection with Military Operations in the Field.’

Belgian Order of Leopold II and Croix de Guerre
London Gazette 15 July 1919.

Mention in despatches
London Gazette 3 June 1915 and 27 December 1918.

Hugh Mowbray Meyler was born near Taunton, Somerset in June 1875 and was educated at King’s College, Taunton and at All Hallows Grammar School, Honiton, prior to studying law at London University. Admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court in 1898, he established a legal partnership - Sheppard & Meyler - in Taunton, in addition to gaining a commission in the 2nd (Volunteer) Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry.

Boer War, Natal Rebellion and and the Union of South Africa

With the advent of hostilities in South Africa, however, Meyler resigned his commission and enlisted as a Trooper in the 67th Company, Imperial Yeomanry, in which capacity he was attached to the Rhodesian Field Force from October 1899 until May 1900. Subsequently commissioned in the 2nd Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, he served in the Transvaal, east of Pretoria, in the period July-November 1900, in addition to operations in the Orange River Colony, onetime in the 5th Division’s Mounted Infantry (Queen’s Medal & 3 clasps; King’s Medal & 2 clasps).

Settling in Natal after the Boer War, and having been placed on the Reserve of Officers, Meyler set up his own Law Practice and became a member of the Executive of the Association of Closer Union Societies, in which latter capacity he made speeches alongside General Smuts and became a regular contributor to the London
Times and Natal newspapers. In fact, he was largely responsible for organising the campaign in Natal in favour of the Union of South Africa (1909-10). He was subsequently elected an M.P. for the First Parliament of the Union of South Africa (Medal).

Meanwhile, at the time of the Natal Rebellion in 1906, when he was residing at Utrecht, he contacted Army H.Q. in Pretoria and offered his services as an Intelligence Officer. In a subsequent letter addressed to Sir Matthew Nathan, ex-Governor of Natal, Meyler stated:

‘ ... Major R. S. McClintock, R.E., was then the Chief Intelligence Officer at Pretoria, and at my own expense I organised a system to obtain information for him from reliable natives who had acted as British Scouts in the Boer War [Meyler was fluent in the Zulu language]. All information obtained was forwarded to Pretoria. The work I then did was of an extremely dangerous nature, and for months I was being constantly warned by the natives of the danger of assassination for anyone working in those parts for the Imperial Forces, and two natives who were working for me were actually murdered. For these services I have previously neither asked for, nor received, any recognition, but on the eve of my retiral I ask that I may be given the Natal Rebellion Medal 1906 ... ’

His application was unsuccessful, the view of the Union authorities being that his services were performed for the sole benefit of the Imperial Military Forces, and had never been authorised by the Natal Government.

The Great War - trench observation work - M.C. - gassed

On the outbreak of hostilities, Meyler returned home and was appointed a Captain in the 5th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, but it was on attachment to the 4th Battalion that he went to France at the beginning of 1915.

In common with many early awards, no citation was published for his subsequent award of the M.C. but the background of his gallant work is to be found in the unit’s war diary, where one reference suggests the minute details of his observations most likely resulted from forays into No Man’s Land in the Kemmel-Vierstratt sector in January-February 1915. Moreover, the effects of his observation work were quickly felt by the enemy:

22 January 1915: Captain Meyler, Commanding ‘A’ Company, in trench K2, had previously arranged to observe for the 3rd Siege Battery which was to shell a German machine-gun emplacement opposite K2, where considerable activity had been noticed lately. After a few rounds two shells fell exactly on the emplacement blowing bodies up into the air and leaving two machine-guns, one considerably damaged, exposed to view. Later, shells were directed on the same trench further to the north and again falling in the trench left a gap exposed, revealing a heavy and well prepared timber framework with which their position had been riveted. Several of the enemy, including an officer, were, while making a bolt from the place, shot down by our men who were waiting for them. Rifles were laid on this section of the German trench and were fired throughout the night to prevent the enemy rebuilding same.’

The 4th Middlesex next participated in costly actions on the Bellewaarde-Hooge line, Meyler being gassed in an attack in June. He was mentioned in despatches (
London Gazette 3 June 1915, refers), and transferred to the Border Regiment on his recovery at the year’s end.

Royal Flying Corps - ‘Balloonatic’ - D.S.O.

In March 1916, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, initially as a Captain and Wing Adjutant, but in June he was gazetted as a Balloon Officer and in August as a Flight Commander.

He subsequently completed 123 operational hours of balloon observation work, a past time that required the highest form of individual co
urage. A brief but illuminating summary of the trials and tribulations of the ‘Balloonatics’ is to be found in the introduction to Alan Morris’ definitive history of the same title:

‘Perceiving their elongated brownish-grey skins the Allies eschewed the technical description of ‘gasbag, stabilised, captive’. To them kite-balloons were ‘sausages’, although, as the comically somnolent appearance belied their true nature, the Germans’ drachen (dragon) was more apt. Generals knew them as observation-balloons, and the Teddy Bears ensconced in wicker cages beneath the bellies were agents of the Great War’s most devastating weapon - heavy artillery.

Throughout the obscene struggle these observers were to be the only men who could speak from the air, the only ones who might disregard - in any military sense - the seasons, the elements, and even time itself. At any given moment during the final phase 300 of them would be signposting the newcomer’s path to hell.

Nevertheless, to accomplish these feats they were placed in the position of goats staked out as tiger-bait, and when the luck ran out - as in 1918 it often did after half a day’s work - their end could be even more gruesome.

Nor did success necessarily win plaundits. Too frequently their efforts were discounted, even derided, by comrades. Hybrids, neither aviators nor artillerymen, they endured the demands and discomforts of both occupations yet remained isolated from such benefits as might accrue from belonging to the ‘established’ body of either Service.

Consequently they came of a rare and peculiar breed, sustained by their belief that, through proxy, their deadliness equalled that of any aeroplane or submarine; and by the highest form of individual courage.

Oddities in the first conflict of Mechanical Man, kite-balloon observers earned, but could never hope to receive, a completely dignified salute. When at last a tribute was paid it was a compound of amusement, rough reflection, and incredulous admiration.

Those employed to destroy them called them ‘The Balloonatics’. ’


Meyler was advanced to Major and given command
of No. 8 Balloon Company, R.F.C. (Sections 23 and 39) in June 1917, but also appears to have commanded No. 5 Balloon Company, R.F.C. at the time of the 3rd Battle of Ypres. Be that as it may, it was in this period that he raised his operational hours to the 123 mark and was wounded in October (Record of Service, Solicitors, 1914-1918, refers).

In the following month he returned to duty as a Lieutenant-Colonel and Balloon Wing Commander, with charge of 2nd Balloon Wing, R.F.C., in Belgium, in which capacity he was injured in a parachute descent in September 1918 (
ibid).

He was mentioned in despatches (
London Gazette 27 December 1918, refers), and awarded the D.S.O., in addition to the 5th Class of Belgian Order of Leopold II and the Croix de Guerre.

Irish Troubles - C.B.E. - further politics - M.P.

Following the end of hostilities, Meyler returned to duty with the Border Regiment, but in the early 1920s he was employed as a Legal Officer in Ireland at the time of the troubles, undoubtedly risky work which was rewarded with a C.B.E. in January 1923. He was placed on the Retired List in the following year and set up another Legal Practice, Messrs. H. M. Meyler & Co., in Churton Street, London.

Meanwhile, following his earlier career in South Africa, Meyler had entered the British political arena as a prospective Liberal candidate for Bethnal Green (South-West) in the General Election in December 1918 and for Blackpool in the General Election of November 1922, both attempts ending in defeat. However, in the following year, he was indeed returned to Parliament as a Liberal M.P. for Blackpool, with a majority of 3,000 votes, surely a unique attainment alongside his previous service in the First Parliament of the Union of South Africa. As it transpired, Meyler was defeated by the Conservative Candidate, Sir Walter de Frece, in the General Election of 1924, but not before making numerous contributions to debates in the House of Commons. Moreover, throughout the 1920s, he became a well-established speaker and author in respect of defending the rights of blacks and Indians in the Union of South Africa.

Sadly, however, Meyler found himself in financial difficulties in the late 1920s, as a result of share dealing losses, so much so that a court order was obtained against him by his creditors, a firm of City stockbrokers, for the removal of his office furniture and other assets. On the morning of 30 April 1929, a Sherriff’s Officer duly arrived at Meyler’s office and, after speaking to him, proceeded to go about his work. Shortly afterwards, and having sent his secretary away, Meyler locked himself in her office and shot himself with his old service revolver.

At the subsequent Coroner’s Inquest, the Sherriff’s Officer claimed that the war hero had shown no signs of strain during their encounter, evidence that was swiftly contradicted by Meyler’s secretary who stated that she had had heard ‘raised voices’ and that her employer appeared ‘very white and agitated.’ The morning of his death, Meyler had written a letter in which he claimed to be the victim of a miscarriage of justice, his creditor having obtained a court order of execution against him before a bankruptcy hearing.

Sold with the recipient’s original D.S.O. warrant, together with five large-format Great War balloon observation photographs; and a large quantity of copied research, covering his civil, political and military careers.