Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (18 & 19 July 2018)

Date of Auction: 18th & 19th July 2018

Sold for £5,500

Estimate: £5,000 - £6,000

An interesting Boer War D.S.O. group of twelve awarded to Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Montgomery-Cuninghame, 10th Bart., The Rifle Brigade, who was wounded at Vaal Krantz and afterwards became an Intelligence officer, a career he pursued throughout and beyond the Great War

Distinguished Service Order, V.R.; Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902, 5 clasps, Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Relief of Ladysmith, Transvaal, Laing’s Nek (Capt: Sir T. A. Cuningham, D.S.O. Rif: Bde:); King's South Africa 1901-02, 2 clasps, South Africa 1901, South Africa 1902 (Capt. Sir T. A. A. M. Cunninghame, Bt., D.S.O. Rifle Bde.); 1914 Star (Major Sir T. A. A. M. Cuninghame. Bt: D.S.O. Rif: Brig:); British War and Victory Medals, with M.I.D. oak leaf (Lt. Col. Sir T. A. A. M. Cunninghame. Bt.) note variations in spelling of surname throughout; French Croix de Guerre, 1914-1918, with palm; United States of America, Distinguished Service Medal (Army), bronze and enamel, the edge officially numbered ‘650’; Czechoslovakia, War Cross 1914-18; France, Legion of Honour, Commander’s neck badge, gold and enamels; Greece, Order of George I, second class set of insignia, comprising neck badge and breast star, silver, silver-gilt and enamels; Greece, Order of the Redeemer, Commander’s neck badge, silver-gilt and enamels, the first nine mounted court style, enamel work chipped in places, otherwise good very fine or better (13) £5000-6000


Thomas Andrew Alexander Montgomery-Cuninghame was born on 30 March 1877, the sixth child and eldest son of Sir William James Montgomery-Cuninghame of Corsehill, V.C., 9th Bart. He was educated at Eton, and Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and succeeded as the 10th Baronet Cuninghame, of Corsehill, co. Ayr, on 11 November 1897.

Sir Thomas had an extremely interesting and active career which is recorded in detail in his autobiography, Dusty Measure - A Record of Troubled Times, published in 1939. During the first period of the Boer War he was badly wounded at Vaal Kranz on 6 February 1900, as he later recalled:

‘At the battle of Vaalkrantz we led the attack, and it was there that I was wounded in the leg. A series of pom-pom shells burst on the hill as we scaled it, one of which hit me in six places - most of them superficial. One piece, however, cut a big vein or artery under the knee and the blood spurted high. My sergeant put a tourniquet on and during the process I became aware of a warm stream trickling down the other leg. It was with some relief that I discovered it to be a leak from my water-bottle which had been pierced too. I lay long on the field until night came down and stopped the fight. It was an odd experience to lie there, without much pain or any particular fear, watching the shrapnel bursting over the ridge as our gunners searched the valleys beyond. At night I was carried off by a stretcher-party manned by refugees from Johannesburg. Nothing could have exceeded their their gentleness or their cheery consideration as they tended me on that long black nightmare journey. I think we must have crossed the winding Tugela at least five hundred times, and when we came to a place on the bank where a pontoon bridge ought to have been and wasn’t, the length, breadth, scope and fancy of my bearers in the way of language was informative and picturesque.’

He was mentioned in despatches by General Buller (London Gazette 8 February 1900): ‘Lieutenant Sir T. A. A. M. Cuninghame, Bart., Rifle Brigade, proved himself a thoroughly efficient and active Signalling Officer.’ On recovering from his wound, he soon became involved in Intelligence and his autobiography contains wonderful descriptions of his work. He was the head of a Special Branch which was exclusively devoted to tracking the Transvaal Government Laager and on one occasion their intelligence nearly resulted in the capture of Schalk Burgher. Cuninghame was mentioned in despatches by Lord Roberts (London Gazette 10 September 1901) and created a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order for this and other ‘special’ work which he carried out in 1901 and 1902.

On one occasion he had a narrow escape: ‘After returning, and still in pursuit of Schalk Burgher, I occupied myself in trying to get Commandos to surrender and made such progress that the leaders of two Commandos each agreed to do so if the other did. It all had to be very secret, of course, and the sad part of the story is that the southern group near the Vaal River, under the pressure of circumstances started to come in one whole day before the rendezvous. Worse still, the South African Police’s line was moved forward that day without notice to me or anyone else. The surrendering column was caught unexpectedly, with arms in buckets, by the Police. Naturally they turned back, and though no one was hurt the whole plan was wrecked. My party came down on the right day and spent hours waving flags uselessly. At sunset I sent a Boer girl by the name of Polly Honeyball on a pony into the Boer lines to discover what had happened, and by midnight got the report that it was by then too late to do anything, as emissaries from Louis Botha had arrived and had expressed such forcible dissent to the plan that it was definitely cancelled. It was a bitter blow and had an ugly sequel a few days after . We returned to the railway line, leaving the Police in occupation. A party of Boers with a white flag came near the Police post and an officer went out to see what they wanted. They let him get close, exchanged some words and then shot him dead in the back. This act, when Peace was declared, was specially exempted from the Act of Indemnity. The Boer who shot the officer was arrested, tried and hanged. He stated in court that he had shot Captain Myers by mistake and was sorry for it. He had intended to shoot Sir Thomas Cuninghame for suborning loyal burghers from their allegiance.’

Cuninghame remained an Intelligence Officer for the rest of his career and adopted various cover posts to hide the real nature of his work. The Times of 8 January 1945, records the following: ‘In 1912 Sir Thomas Cuninghame was appointed Military Attaché at Vienna and Cettinje. The information which he collected on the dispositions of the Austrian Army proved very useful to the Allied cause when he left Vienna with his chief, the British Ambassador, Sir Maurice de Bunsen, on the outbreak of war in 1914. His next post was as a member of the British Liaison Mission attached to the French Commander-in-Chief, Marshal Joffre, but in the following year he was sent as Military Attaché to Athens, where he acquired an intimate knowledge of the Great World War. Sir Thomas Cuninghame returned to Vienna as head of the British Military Mission, and after the signature of the Peace Treaty he remained there in his former capacity of Military Attaché until 1923, being also accredited to the new Czechoslovak Government at Prague. He had a wide circle of acquaintances among many nations of Central Europe, among whom his dry, shrewd wit earned him much popularity.’

He was four times mentioned in despatches for his work during the war (London Gazette 17 February 1915; 20 May and 20 December, 1918; and 12 July 1919). His work in Europe also involved the famous spy Trebitsch Lincoln, a saga not recorded in his autobiography but which can be found in Lincoln’s biography. Sir Thomas Montgomery-Cuninghame died on 5 January 1945. Sold with a first edition copy of Dusty Measure.