Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (8 & 9 May 2019)

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Date of Auction: 8th & 9th May 2019

Sold for £420

Estimate: £400 - £500

The Second World War O.B.E. group of nine awarded to Paymaster Captain W. J. G. Prophit, Royal Navy, who served in the cruiser Aurora 1940-43, better known to the Italians as the “Silver Phantom”, whose ships she regularly sent to the bottom of the Mediterranean

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, O.B.E. (Military) Officer’s 2nd type, silver-gilt; British War and Victory Medals (Payr. Mid. W. J. G. Prophet. [sic] R.N.); 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; Africa Star, clasp, North Africa 1942-43; Defence and War Medals 1939-45; Coronation 1937, mounted Court-style as worn, ribands a little frayed in places, remnants of lacquer, generally very fine or better (9) £400-£500


Provenance: R. C. Witte Collection, Dix Noonan Webb, December 2007.

O.B.E. London Gazette 2 June 1943.

William James Grierson Prophit was born in August 1900 and entered the Royal Navy as an Assistant Clerk in the battleship Ajax in the Grand Fleet in August 1917, in which ship he served until the end of the War, latterly as a Paymaster Midshipman.

Between the Wars he enjoyed steady promotion, served as Secretary to Captain (afterwards Admiral of the Fleet) “ABC” Cunningham, D.S.O., in Calcutta and Despatch on the North America and West Indies Stations 1926-28, and to Rear-Admiral R. V. Holt, the S.N.O. Yangtze 1937-40, in which latter period he would undoubtedly have seen action, this being the time of the Sino-Japanese War. Indeed it seems more than likely that Prophit accompanied Holt at his various meetings, and served on his flagship Bee - if so, he would have endured attack from Japanese aircraft on the occasion the Bee went to the rescue of the U.S.S. Planey.

Soon after the renewal of hostilities, Prophit joined the cruiser Aurora, commanded by Captain W. F. Agnew, C.B., C.V.O., D.S.O., and saw action in the Denmark Straits in 1941, when she sank a German supply ship Belchen, in addition to sinking the German sloop Bremse off the Murmansk coast in September of the same year. But it was in the Mediterranean theatre of war that Aurora won her nickname the “Silver Phantom”, when, as part of “Force K”, she participated in numerous “club runs” resulting in heavy loss to the Italian Navy and merchant fleet. Thus her memorable action on 8 November 1941, when, in the company of her consort Penelope, and two destroyers, she accounted for an entire enemy convoy - 10 merchantmen and the destroyers Fulmine and Libeccio; then on the first day of December, she sank the Italian supply ship Adriatico and the tanker Iridio Mantovani, and the destroyer Alvise da Mosto.

A little over two weeks later, however, the “Silver Phantom” was mined off Tripoli, and made her way to Malta for repairs, and thence to Liverpool, enduring enemy raids and near misses at Valetta in the interim. Back in action in the Mediterranean towards the end of 1942, she was bombed in the Aegean in late October 1943, an action which marked the end of Prophit’s time aboard, for she was still undergoing repairs by the time of his next appointment, in the rank of Acting Paymaster Captain, in early 1944 - namely his final wartime post as Naval Secretary and Member of the Naval Board of the Royal New Zealand Navy. He had, meanwhile, received his O.B.E. at an investiture on 9 November 1943.