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

Date of Auction: 18th & 19th July 2018

Sold for £5,000

Estimate: £5,000 - £6,000

A superb ‘Dargai Heights’ V.C. action D.C.M. group of four awarded to Colour Sergeant J. Keeling, Derbyshire Regiment, for his conspicuous gallantry at the storming of the Chagru Kotal, on 20 October 1897, when he was severely wounded as part of the storming party led by Captain Smith and Lieutenant Pennel - charging out ‘of cover and across a heap of dead and wounded men into a perfect hail of bullets‘

Distinguished Conduct Medal, V.R. (Cr. Sgt. J. Keeling. Derbys: R.); India General Service 1854-95, 1 clasp, Sikkim 1888 (579 Pte. J. Keeling 2nd. Bn. Derby: R.); India General Service 1895-1902, 2 clasps, Punjab Frontier 1897-98, Tirah 1897-98 (579 Color Sergt. J. Keeling 2d. Bn. Derby: Regt.); Army L.S. & G.C., E.VII.R. (579 C.Sjt: J. Keeling. Notts: & Derby Regt.) light contact marks and minor edge bruising overall, otherwise very fine or better (4) £5000-6000


Provenance: Glendinings, June 1988.

D.C.M. submitted to the Queen, 9 July 1898, and announced under Army Order 135 of 1898.

Joseph Keeling was born in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, and attested for service with the Derbyshire Regiment (having previously served with the 5th (Militia) Battalion) at Derby in July 1883. Initially posted to the 1st Battalion, he was transferred to the 2nd Battalion, in December 1885, and served with them in India from that date, apart from 4 months in 1893, until September 1898.

Keeling was present in the action at the Dargai Heights, and was awarded the D.C.M. for his gallantry during the storming of the Chagru Kotal, 20 October 1897. The Regiment received three gallantry awards for the action (including the Victoria Cross to Lieutenant H. S. Pennell), the recommendations for which were made by, Brigadier-General Hart, V.C., Royal Engineers, to the Assistant Adjutant-General, 1st Division, Tirah Expeditionary Force, on 7 December 1897:

‘Sir, I have the honour to request you will forward, for the favourable consideration of the General Officer Commanding Tirah Expeditionary Force, the attached documents which I have collected regarding the gallant conduct of the following soldiers at the storming of Dargai on 20 October 1897:

Captain W. E. G. Smith , 2nd Battalion, Derbyshire Regiment (killed); Lieutenant H. S. Pennell, 2nd Battalion, Derbyshire Regiment; No. 579 Colour-Sergeant J. Keeling, 2nd Battalion, Derbyshire Regiment (severely wounded); No. 4755 Private George John Dunn, 2nd Battalion, Derbyshire Regiment (killed); No. 2732 Private Richard Ponberth, 2nd Battalion, Derbyshire Regiment (mortally wounded); No. 1701 Private J. Anthony, 2nd Battalion, Derbyshire Regiment (severely wounded); No. 3392 Private J. Spick, 2nd Battalion, Derbyshire Regiment (severely wounded).

On 20 October 1897, Captain W. E. G. Smith’s company of the 2nd Battalion, Derbyshire Regiment, was ordered to attack the heights at Dargai. The 1st Battalion, 2nd Gurkha Rifles and 1st Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment had already been unsuccessful in their attack, and were under cover blocking the way to the hundred yards of open space that had to be crossed.

Captain Smith ordered his company to charge, and started forward before his men could get through the companies in front of them. Lieutenant Pennell, Colour-Sergeant Keeling, Privates Spick, Dunn and Ponberth, forced their way through the men in front, and followed the gallant leading of their Captain who fell dead after he had gone about sixty yards. Immediately afterwards, Private Dunn was killed, Private Ponberth mortally wounded, Colour-Sergeant Keeling and Private Spick severely wounded, and Private Anthony was lying close by severely wounded.

There were officers, not engaged, who witnessed what happened, and describe the enemy’s fire as extremely heavy, but Lieutenant Pennell ran to the assistance of Captain Smith, and made two distinct attempts to carry and drag him back to cover, and only left his comrade when he found that he was apparently dead. Lieutenant Pennell then ran back to his company which was under cover. Taking all the circumstances into consideration, I consider it my duty to bring forward the conspicuous gallantry of Lieutenant H. S. Pennell, and of Private J. Spick, both of the 2nd Battalion, Derbyshire Regiment, as deserving of being recommended for the Victoria Cross; and, had he lived, Captain Smith’s gallant leading should not have passed unrewarded. It is also apparent that Colour-Sergeant J. Keeling, Privates Dunn, Ponberth and Anthony, are the names of very brave men deserving of the most honourable mention. I would therefore recommend the two survivors, Colour-Sergeant J. Keeling and Private J. Anthony, for the Medal for Distinguished Conduct in the Field, in recognition of the gallant support they gave their officers in following them out of cover and across a heap of dead and wounded men into a perfect hail of bullets.

It may be that Privates Booth, Hunt and Wilson of the 2nd Battalion, Derbyshire Regiment are deserving of special mention, but I am unable to obtain sufficient evidence to justify me in recommending them for the Medal for Distinguished Conduct in the Field.
I have the honour to be, Sir, your most obedient servant’.

Pennell was awarded the Victoria Cross, whilst Keeling and Spick were awarded the D.C.M. This was despite a second submission that was made on behalf of Private Spick, by Lieutenant Pennell, on 5 December stating, ‘Private Spick and Sergeant Keeling went on until they were hit, but Sergeant Keeling was hit almost immediately he left cover and therefore did not gain the same chance of proving his willingness to advance as Private Spick, who had covered, I should think, about 60 yards straight towards the position before he was hit.’

Having advanced to Colour Sergeant, Keeling subsequently served with the 1st Volunteer Battalion, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment. He was discharged to ‘Pension’, 17 October 1907, having served 24 years and 97 days with the Colours (L.S. & G.C. awarded in 1908).

Sold with copied research.