Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (22 July 2015)

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Date of Auction: 22nd July 2015

Sold for £6,000

Estimate: £4,000 - £5,000

The ‘Siege of Sidney Street’ K.P.M. awarded for gallantry to Sub. Inspector William Bryant, City of London Police, whose close encounter with armed burglars in Houndsditch led to him being seriously wounded and thereafter to the famous siege

King’s Police Medal, G.V.R., 1st issue (William Bryant, Sub.-Inspector) with gallantry ribbon, good very fine £4000-5000

Footnote

K.P.M. London Gazette 2 January 1911:

‘The King has been graciously pleased to award the King’s Police Medal to the following Officers of the City of London Police Force who took part in the attempted capture of armed burglars at Houndsditch on 16 December 1910.’

Police Gallantry by J. Peter Farmery states:

‘As a result of information received from a member of the public who heard suspicious noises coming from the rear of H. W. Harris, the jewellers, in Houndsditch, London, late at night on 16th December 1910, police were called from the nearby station. A number of officers under the charge of Sergeant Bentley went into Exchange Buildings, at the rear of Houndsditch. Sergeant Bentley posted the others to keep watch, whilst he went to the door of No. 11, Exchange Buildings, where a man answered the knock, but did not speak English. The door was closed in the officer’s face. Sergeant Bentley opened the door and went inside. Suddenly several shots were heard, and Sergeant Bentley fell out of the door mortally wounded. Sergeant Bryant, who was standing close behind, was also struck in the chest and arm, and fell seriously wounded. As the other officers rushed up, an automatic pistol was fired from the doorway, and Sergeant Tucker was hit just above the heart. He died instantly. Constable Woodhams, who was on the opposite side of the street, was also struck by flying bullets in both legs, his left femur being shattered to such a degree that he was subsequently invalided out of the Force. Constable Choat, who had been posted to keep watch at the end of the street some thirty yards away, ran up on hearing the shooting, and grabbed one of the murderers, who was trying to make his escape. This man, named Gardstein, was the leader of the gang, and one of his compatriots, in trying to shoot Constable Choat, also shot Gardstein in the back. Constable Choat was shot eight times, and soon collapsed and died. Gardstein was later found in nearby Grove Street, having died from wounds. The search for the escaped murderers led to the infamous Sidney Street Siege, on 3 January 1911.’

Bryant’s personal recommendation survives in the P.R.O., accompanied by Winston Churchill’s covering letter to the King - Winston was then Home Secretary:

‘Bryant also went to assist in the investigation of the noise and was a little distance behind Sergeant Bentley when the latter went to the door of No. 11 Exchange Buildings. On Bryant’s arrival at the door Bentley had stepped just inside and said “the man (whom Bryant had not seen) I have seen cannot speak English; he has gone to fetch somebody who can.” A few seconds elapsed when a man came from the back of the ground floor room and discharged a firearm four times. Bryant was struck in the chest and left arm, and fell heavily to the ground, and at the same time Bentley fell. Bryant says he scrambled to his feet, felt dazed, and his left arm was useless, and on recovering himself he saw Bentley, Choat and P.C. Woodhams lying on the ground, and their assailants had escaped. Bryant was removed to hospital and he is progressing satisfactorily.’

Constable Woodhams also received the K.P.M. in the same London Gazette announcement as Bryant. More unusually, so did Bentley, Choat and Tucker, the King consenting to their awards being ‘handed to their nearest relatives’, since they ‘would have received the decoration had they survived’; portrait photographs of all five officers appear in Police Gallantry.

As the subsequent investigation proceeded, it transpired that the dead burglar, George Gardstein, was a hard line anarchist, known in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Warsaw, Vienna and Paris, but in the name of Oloski Morountzeff. It was his accomplices, Fritz Svaars and Josef “Yoshka” Solokoff, both of whom were present at the murder of Bentley, Choat and Tucker, who brought about the famous Sidney Street Siege, having made their way to that address after the shooting. They were probably accompanied by a third party, Peter Piakoff (a.k.a. “Peter the Painter”). And the rest, as they say, is history, the whole meeting a violent end, but not before exchanging further shots with the police and attracting the keen attention of Winston Churchill, the Home Secretary, whose top-hatted figure memorably appeared for the cameras at the height of the siege.

William John Bryant joined the City of London Police in December 1898 and was 36 years old at the time of the above incident. His gallantry on that occasion also won him special promotion from Sergeant to Sub. Inspector, and a pension for the wounds. He retired in April 1911.

Sold with a copy of Colin Rogers’ The Battle of Stepney, Donald Rumbelow’s The Houndsditch Murders and the Siege of Sidney Street, and J. E. Holroyd’s The Gaslight Murders.