Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (17 & 18 May 2016)

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Date of Auction: 17th & 18th May 2016

Sold for £7,500

Estimate: £7,000 - £9,000

An outstanding Korean War M.C. group of eight awarded to Colonel C. W. Bowen, Royal Army Medical Corps, who was decorated for his gallantry whilst attached to the 1st Battalion, The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers in January 1951: he was still serving as the Battalion’s M.O. at the battle of Imjin later that year and last saw active service in Northern Ireland in the 1970s

Military Cross, G.VI.R., 2nd issue, the reverse officially dated ‘1951’, with its Royal Mint case of issue; The Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Officer’s (Brother’s) breast badge, silvered-metal and enamel; Defence Medal 1939-45; Korea 1950-53 (Capt. C. W. Bowen, M.C., R.A.M.C.); U.N. Korea 1950-54; General Service 1918-62, 1 clasp, Cyprus (Major C. W. Bowen, M.C., R.A.M.C.); General Service 1962-2007, 1 clasp, Northern Ireland (Col. C. W. Bowen M.C., Staff); Jubilee 1977, mounted loose style as worn, the fourth with officially corrected rank, generally good very fine or better (8)


M.C. London Gazette 17 April 1951. The original recommendation states:

‘Captain Bowen, as Medical Officer of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, was informed in the early hours of 3 January 1951 that ‘X’ Company, north of Seoul, had sustained serious casualties which required expert attention. In spite of the fact that 109 H.Q. was a mile up a fire-swept road from the Regimental Aid Post, Captain Bowen at once took his ambulance to the scene. The ambulance was hit several times before he reached his destination and he was forced to take cover in a ditch. From here he worked his way cross country to ‘X’ Company where throughout the day he continued to aid the wounded, being himself under fire for the greater part of it. He was slightly wounded in the hand by a rifle bullet.

His complete disregard for his own safety and the meticulous care with which he attended the wounded were of the highest order and in keeping with the finest traditions of the Royal Army Medical Corps. His actions constitute an example of duty which will not be forgotten by those who witnessed them. Without question Captain Bowen saved many lives that day.’

Cecil William Bowen, who was born at Youghal, Co. Cork, Ireland in October 1920, the son of Major A. P. Bowen, M.C. Educated at Shrewsbury, he studied medicine at London University before joining the staff of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital - which was evacuated to Cambridge during the War. He subsequently did two ‘house’ jobs at Bart’s, before joining Great Ormond Street Hospital as a Registrar in May 1946.

Appointed to a short service commission as a Lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps in June 1947, and having completed the final 18 months of his time in Hong Kong, he was on the verge of returning home when he was recalled in August 1950 as a result of the Korean emergency.

Posted as Regimental Medical Officer to the 1st Battalion, The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, Bowen quickly found himself in action, not least on 3 January 1951, when ‘hordes of screaming Chinese’ attacked the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, thereby necessitating his swift journey by ambulance to their forward positions. Interestingly, as an accompanying typed memoir relates, Bowen very nearly added an American Purple Heart to his M.C. for his gallant deeds that day:

‘As a patient on the way back to the British General Hospital in Kure, I spent a few days in an American Hospital ... One day the Sister in charge actually put in an appearance in the ward. She led a small but impressive procession: an orderly holding a tray covered with a purple cloth on which lay medals, followed by an American General. He went from bed to bed handing out these medals. When he gave me mine I was stupid enough to say “Thank you, Sir” or words to that effect. He replied, “Say, you are a Brit” and snatched the medal back. So I never received the Purple Heart which I would so much liked to have had (and thoroughly deserved after all the blood they had taken from me for various tests).’

Bowen was sufficiently recovered to rejoin the 1st Battalion, The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers in time for its subsequent ordeal at Imjin, when he was probably the last man to see Colonel K. O. N. Foster, the unit’s C.O., alive. His accompanying memoir states:

‘On the 25 April 1951, I was driving my jeep during the withdrawal. The C.O. [Foster] was standing at one side of the track and I stopped to speak to him for a few minutes. He told me to go ahead and to tell the Adjutant when I saw him that he would be following in 20 minutes or so. The track went through a ford and there we were fired upon, one bullet smashing the windscreen and waking up Fusiliers Coyne and Satchfield who were having a well-deserved rest in the back of the truck. Shortly after, I saw the Adjutant, Major David Brook, talking to the Brigade Commander, Brigadier Brodie, and told them that the C.O. would soon be there. Sadly, he never arrived.’

For his own part, Bowen was one of the lucky ones to escape this famous Chinese onslaught, and by the time of the Battalion’s departure from Korea in October 1951, he had undoubtedly played a major role in helping to treat and evacuate its final tally of 18 officers and 238 men wounded; another seven officers and 60 men were killed in action, one officer and 21 men reported “missing”, and four officers and 37 men taken P.O.W.

On returning to the U.K. in early 1952, Bowen served as a civilian doctor to the Army in Pembrokeshire, but in 1956, he rejoined the R.A.M.C. in the rank of Major. He subsequently served in Cyprus 1957-60 and was advanced to Colonel on the Staff in July 1973, in which latter capacity he was onetime deployed to Northern Ireland.

Appointed an Officer of the Order of St. John in 1983, Bowen finally retired in November 1984, having commanded Medical H.Q., South-West District from late 1982. The Colonel died in Shrewsbury in April 1996.

Sold with a dozen or so original photographs, the majority of them relating to the Korea War and with detailed captions on a separate handwritten list, among them a scene depicting a knocked out Centurion tank, armoured half-track and other vehicles, the relevant caption reading:

‘From 25 April [at Imjin] some of our stuff which was less fortunate than I was in my jeep. On the left is an armoured half-track ambulance with which Captain Patchett (R.M.O., 8th Hussars) was helping to evacuate wounded. He was “missing” - but is believed to be a P.O.W. On the right are the remains of a British Centurion tank. In between are at least two carriers and two jeeps beyond (I can’t see them, but Mike Kearney says there were). He took this photograph weeks later when the Chinks had withdrawn and the area was visited again. Colonel Foster was killed here. I think my jeep was the last (not armoured) vehicle to get out O.K. - we met a hell of a lot of sniping throughout the 7-8 mile journey.’

Also sold with a photograph album of scenes taken aboard the
Georgic during Bowen’s voyage home immediately after Korea (approximately 45 photographs); two Korean banknotes and other relevant documentation, including the recipient’s typed memoir (3pp.), as referred to in the above footnotes.