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

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Date of Auction: 1st & 2nd March 2017

Sold for £1,300

Estimate: £800 - £1,000

The K.B.E. group attributed to Surgeon Vice-Admiral Sir James Watt, R.N., Medical Director-General of the Royal Navy who was an expert on burns, surgery and nautical medicine

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, K.B.E. (Military) Knight Commander’s 2nd type set of insignia, comprising neck badge and breast star, silver, silver-gilt and enamels, with full neck cravat in its Garrard & Co case of issue; The Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Commander’s neck badge, silver and enamel, with neck cravat in its case of issue, together with related miniature and pair of silver cuff links of the order; 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; Pacific Star, clasp, Burma; War Medal, with M.I.D. oak leaf; U.N. Korea, these all unnamed as issued, very fine or better (11) £800-1000


James Watt was born on 19 August 1914 in Morpeth, Northumberland, where his father was a master confectioner. James was educated at King Edward VI grammar school and studied Medicine at Durham and Newcastle, where before the war he was house surgeon at Ashington Hospital and resident medical officer at the Princess Mary Maternity Hospital.

In 1940 Watt joined the RNVR and was appointed surgeon lieutenant in the elderly cruiser Emerald, then in the Indian Ocean. The ship was part of Force V, hunting the German raider Scheer, before being sent to Basra to prevent a coup in Iraq handing that country over to the Germans. While in the Gulf an outbreak of malaria affected more than 70 of her company and, despite Watt's care, two men died.

In June 1941 Emerald suffered a collision with another cruiser, Dauntless, causing structural damage and flooding the forward engine room. Fourteen men were left killed or missing, but Watt managed to save five of the severely wounded.

Watt's next appointment was to the lend-lease destroyer Roxborough on North Atlantic convoy duties. During convoy HX222 she encountered severe weather and waves crushed her bridge superstructure, washing her captain and first lieutenant overboard and killing nine others. This left Watt as senior officer on-board. Assuming his new duties, he continued to treat the wounded while a Canadian sub lieutenant conned the ship and used hand-steering to bring her safely into St John's, Newfoundland.

Watt and the remaining ship's company were accommodated in a New Jersey hotel resort, known as HMS Asbury, and run by the renowned millionairess Lily Lambert, who was eventually decorated by the British for her war work. After several months in the USA, and further convoy duty on the east coast, Watt was sent to the escort carrier Arbiter.

Watt saw more service on Atlantic convoys until Arbiter embarked 1843 Naval Air Squadron of Corsair fighter-bombers, bound for the British Pacific Fleet. She was preparing for air strikes on mainland Japan when the atom bombs were dropped. Arbiter remained in the Far East after V-J Day when Watt treated malnourished prisoners of war and civilians whom she ferried from Hong Kong to Australia. For his distinguished service in the Far East he was mentioned in despatches.

Postwar, Watt was a surgical registrar at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, but, inspired by a religious experience, he rejoined the Royal Navy in 1949. He served in the hospital ship Maine during the Korean War and rose rapidly in his profession: as surgical specialist in Hong Kong from 1953 to 1955; consultant in surgery at the naval hospitals in Plymouth, Malta and Gosport; and professor of naval surgery from 1965 to 1969.

Promoted to Surgeon Rear Admiral in 1969, Watt became Dean of Naval Medicine and medical officer in charge of the Institute of Naval Medicine, which he sought to develop into a first-class centre for research. Three years later he was promoted Surgeon Vice Admiral and became medical director general of the Navy, when he reorganised the naval medical service, extending its research programmes and supervising the organisation and co-ordination of surgical support for the Royal Marines.

Watt was Queen's Honorary Surgeon from 1969 to 1977, and was appointed Commander of the Order of St John in 1972, and KBE in 1975. He died unmarried on 28 December 2009.