Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (1 & 2 March 2017)

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Date of Auction: 1st & 2nd March 2017

Sold for £240,000

Estimate: £180,000 - £220,000

The exceptional Great War ‘First Day of The Somme’ V.C., ‘German Spring Offensive’ M.C. group of six awarded to Captain George Sanders, who was awarded his Victoria Cross whilst serving as a Corporal in the 1/7th (Leeds Rifles) Territorial Battalion, for gallantry near Thiepval on 1 July 1916, when, following an advance into the enemy’s trenches, he found himself isolated with a party of thirty men - Impressing upon them that it was ‘his and their duty to hold the position at all costs’ they fought a series of desperate actions over a period of 36 hours, all without food and water, the gallant Sanders eventually returning to British lines with nineteen of his comrades.

Subsequently commissioned from the ranks and posted to the 1/6th Battalion, Sanders again found himself in a fight against overwhelming odds on 25 April 1918 at the Battle of Kemmel Hill, following which action he was posted as missing - Witnesses stated that he was last seen standing on top of a pill-box rallying his men, shot in the right arm and leg, but continuing to fire his revolver at the enemy at point blank range with his left hand - This, however, was not the last to be heard from the heroic Sanders, as the following July a letter was received from him, sent from Limburg Prisoner of War Camp and two months later the London Gazette carried the announcement of the award of his Military Cross

Victoria Cross, reverse of the suspension bar inscribed ‘No. 3203 Cpl G. Sanders, 1/7th Bn W. York. R. T.F.’, reverse centre of the cross dated ‘1 July 1916’; Military Cross, G.V.R., unnamed as issued; 1914-15 Star (3203 Pte G. Sanders. W. York. R.); British War and Victory Medals (Capt. G. Sanders.); Coronation 1937, unnamed as issued, mounted loose style as worn, first nearly extremely fine, others with some contact wear and polishing overall, therefore nearly very fine and better (6) £180000-220000

Footnote

A total of nine Victoria Crosses were awarded for bravery on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, with only three of the recipients surviving the war, including George Sanders. Six of the nine Victoria Crosses awarded for 1 July 1916 are known to reside in museums.

V.C. London Gazette 9 September 1916.

‘For most conspicuous bravery. After an advance into the enemy’s trenches he found himself isolated with a party of thirty men. He organized his defences, detailed a bombing party, and impressed on his men that his and their duty was to hold the position at all costs. Next morning he drove off an attack by the enemy and rescued some prisoners who had fallen into their hands. Later, two strong bombing attacks were driven off. On the following day he was relieved, after showing the greatest courage, determination and good leadership during thirty-six hours under very trying conditions. All the time his party was without food and water, having given all their water to the wounded during the first night. After the relieving force was firmly established, he brought his party, nineteen strong back to our trenches.’

M.C. London Gazette 18 September 1918.

‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. After the enemy had penetrated the front line, he promptly organised his men in support and effectually held up the enemy for some time, inflicting heavy casualties. He stood on top of a “pill-box” firing his revolver into the enemy at 20 yards. His splendid example of courage did much to inspire his men at a critical time.’

George Sanders, the youngest child from a family of seven was born on 8 July 1894 at New Wortley, Leeds, the son of Thomas and Amy Sanders, his mother died on 16 February 1904 when he was just nine years old. He was educated at Little Holbeck School and is also known to have been a choirboy at St Johns Church, Leeds. He was subsequently employed at the Airedale Foundry in Leeds as a fitter’s apprentice, which foundry was principally concerned with making railway locomotives.

He enlisted as a Private into the 1/7th (Leeds Rifles) Territorial Force Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment on 9 November 1914, being posted to France with this battalion on 16 April 1915, where it formed part of the 146th Brigade. Having been promoted to the rank of corporal he was awarded his Victoria Cross the following year for gallantry on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916 and was hailed in the local press as being the first Leeds Territorial to gain this distinction. Promoted to the rank of Sergeant he was sent on leave to England and received a heroes welcome on 14 November in his hometown of Leeds, before attending Buckingham Palace the following day to receive his award from King George V.

Returning to the Western Front, Sanders was commissioned in the rank of 2nd Lieutenant on 27 June 1917 into the 2nd (attached 1/6th) Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, being promoted to the rank of Acting Captain on 15 December 1917. He was a ‘prominent figure’ in the Battle of Kemmel Hill, where he was wounded and taken prisoner of war, receiving an M.C. for gallantry in this action. He was subsequently repatriated on 26 December 1918, prior to being demobilised from the army on 20 March 1919.

After the war he worked on the staff of Meadow Lane Gasworks, which was then under the Leeds Corporation prior to being taken over by the North Eastern Gas Board, and in the Second World War he was Officer Commanding the Home Guard at the gas works. He died at the age of 55 at St James Hospital, Leeds on 4 April 1950 following a long illness and was given a funeral with full military honours, which was attended by four other V.C. holders, his own medals being carried by his former Sergeant Major. The firing party had been chosen from the 45th Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment (T.A.) who were successors of the 7th (Leeds Rifles) Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment.

Sold with the following archive of original documentation and photographs:

i. Commission document in the rank of Second Lieutenant, dated 27 June 1917, named to ‘George Sanders, VC’.

ii. Leeds Rifles War Memorial Order of Service, 13 November 1921, 4pp, at which ceremony George Sanders, VC unveiled the war memorial.

iii. Victoria Cross dinner invitation named to Captain G. Sanders, VC, MC for a dinner held in the Royal Gallery of the House of Lords.

iv. Cigarette card illustrating Corpl. G. Sanders, VC, issued by Gallaher Ltd.

v. Various assorted newspaper cuttings.

vi. Signed presentation photograph, inscribed ‘E Company, 18 West Riding (Leeds) Bn. Home Guard, Best wishes to Major G. Sanders, VC, MC our Company Commander’, dated 3 December 1944.

vii. Eleven photographs, including pictures of Sanders in uniform as an NCO, an officer and in the Home Guard during the Second World War.

viii. Contemporary published poem, entitled ‘Sgt. Sanders, VC: A Descriptive Poem on the exploits of Sergeant Sanders of the West Yorkshire Regiment, who was awarded the V.C. for conspicuous bravery on July 1st, 1916’, by Ben Norton ‘The Yorkshire Poet’, 4pp, a twenty-one verse poem from which the following eleven verses are extracted:

Yorkshire Tykes, come here and listen.
And a story I will tell
Of a lad who hails from Holbeck,
And who did his duty well;
How George Sanders won his V.C.,
By his brave heroic deeds,
And brought credit to the ‘Yorkshires’
And the famous city of Leeds.


On July 1st we waited,
Till the famous order came, Which meant death to many comrades,
While to others it brought fame.
With a cheer we charged the Germans,
We were out to win the fight,
As we neared the German trenches
Comrades fell on left and right.


But their deaths did not deter us,
Nay, it raised our Yorkshire ire,
And we charged for that inferno
Heedless of their hellish fire.
Soon we took those German trenches,
And prepared to make a stand
To defend the captured dugouts,
Corporal Sanders in command


He was quiet, cool, and collected,
And without a bit of fuss
He did his duty like a man,
And taking charge of us.
Just like an old campaigner
He told us what to do,
His courage filled us all with grit
We knew he’d pull us through.


then to the best advantage
He disposed our little force,
And we waited for the Germans
Who were bound to come, of course.
They thought they’d take us prisoners,
To escape we had no chance
But when the Fritzes came to try
We led them quite a dance.


Then those Huns they had the impudence
To call to us at last -
‘You had best come and surrender,
For you know we have you fast!’
We answered - ‘Come and take us’ -
And we gave a quiet smile,
But they knew they’d have to reckon
With the Yorkshire rank and file.


The Fritzes kept us busy,
But we peppered them quite strong,
And they had a warm reception
Every time they came along;
We marked our men and shot them
When they came to attack,
And our bombs and rifle fire
Made them anxious to get back


And so we fought and waited,
Till at last we heard a shout
Which told us that our British chums
Were somewhere round about.
Twas sweet to hear their voices,
We could not be deceived,
We knew if it was possible
We soon should be relieved.


And those welcome sounds came nearer,
Then the Boches turned and fled,
And our chums were quite astonished
For they thought that we were dead.
And then they gave a rousing cheer,
They saw what we had done,
And knew we’d kept the trenches
We had captured from the Hun.


They said we had done wonders,
We did our best, tis true,
But it was Corporal Sanders
Who safely brought us through;
And those brave lads who fought with him
I’m sure will all agree,
That none were more deserving
Of the coveted V.C.


Now Tykes that ends my story,
Excuse me speaking loud
But to have a chum like Sanders
Makes us ‘Yorkshires’ feel quite proud;
Here’s long life to the hero
Who performed such variant deeds,
He’s a credit to his comrades,
And the good old city, Leeds.