Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (17 & 18 July 2019)

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Date of Auction: 17th & 18th July 2019

Sold for £7,500

Estimate: £6,000 - £8,000

A rare Second World War ‘D Day’, ‘Gold’ Beaches Naval Frogman’s Immediate D.S.M. group of four awarded to Able Seaman A. G. Hirst, Royal Navy, a member of L.C.O.C.U.3 who, in the initial landings of Allied Forces on the coast of Normandy, ‘carried out his duties of clearing obstacles and rendering mines safe, while under enemy mortar and machine gun fire from the beach perimeter; his courage and fortitude whilst suffering from severe and multiple injuries was an example to all his comrades’

Distinguished Service Medal, G.VI.R. (A.B. A. Hirst. P/JX. 399104); 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; War Medal 1939-45, extremely fine (4) £6,000-£8,000


D.S.M. London Gazette 29 August 1944: ‘For gallantry, skill, determination and undaunted devotion to duty during the initial landings of Allied Forces on the coast of Normandy.’

The recommendation submitted by Lieutenant Harold Hargreaves, Officer Commanding No. 3 L.C.O.C.U., on 24 June 1944, states:

Carried out his duties of clearing obstacles and rendering mines safe, while under enemy mortar and machine gun fire from the beach perimeter. His courage and fortitude whilst suffering from severe and multiple injuries was an example to all his comrades.’

A further endorsement said, ‘I consider that the courage and conduct of this man was outstanding.’

Able Seaman Arthur George Hirst was a frogman in L.C.O.C.U.3 [Landing Craft Obstacle Clearance Unit No. 3], part of Assault Group “G” Two, employed on ‘Gold’ Beaches in the initial landings. The short list of awards in the above Gazette included 21 D.S.Ms, mostly to members of the M.T.B. and Landing Craft flotilla but including three awards to ‘Locku Boys’ of Assault Group “G” Two. These awards were specifically for services ‘rendered in the earlier stages of the operation, and a further list of recommendations is understood to be in preparation.’

Lieutenant Hargreaves, who was subsequently awarded the D.S.C. in a later list (London Gazette 14 November 1944) described what he, and the other frogmen like Hirst, faced on ‘D’ Day in the following excerpt from The Frogmen, by Waldron & Gleeson:
"The invasion of Normandy to the average person was the greatest combined operation that had ever taken place, and that in fact was the truth. However, few people know of the work carried out by small, special units, both before the operation, and during the initial assaults. We were one of the small units which had this particular role to play. A role which was not easy, and from which many of us did not expect to return, but one which we were determined to carry out until our work was completed. For the invasion of Normandy the Force Commanders used approximately a hundred and twenty officers and men of the Locku units divided into ten parties, or units. Each unit had an officer and eleven men, and each was allotted to its own beach and had its own particular job to do. In my case, and that of a brother officer, we found ourselves detailed to deal with the obstacles on a beach near the village of La Riviere.
"We were supposed to go in at H hour, which was the very beginning of the assault. We were dropped into our craft from an L.S.I. at seven o'clock in the morning and went hell-for-leather for the beach, and arrived hoping to find the front row of obstacles on the water's edge, and not in the water, but discovered some two or three feet of water over them. We left our craft and got to work at once on posts with mines secured to the tops of them, specially constructed wooden ramps which were mined, and steel hedgehogs with mines and anti-aircraft shells on top of them, and we were subjected the whole time to quite a hot fire from rockets, shells and bombs.
"We must have been about four hundred yards from the beach when the firing first started, and they didn't forget to inform us that they knew we were coming. When we finally got on the beach we discovered that we were being systematically sniped, not only with rifles but also by odd bursts of machine-gun fire - a most unpleasant experience - but one that we soon got used to. As time went on we almost forgot about it until we realised that opposition was dying down because in the meantime the Army had landed and was dealing with machine-gun posts, mortar posts, and all the other unpleasant places Jerry had prepared for us.
"The weather was very much worse than anyone would have expected in June, and we had the greatest difficulty working in a very heavy surf. It was hard going and we soon got pretty tired, but in the meantime the obstacles were being slowly but systematically destroyed. As we made an initial gap for the landing craft to come through, so we increased the size of the gap as time went on. We succeeded in clearing the whole of the beach some thousand yards in length, with obstacles going out to over four hundred yards by the end of "D" day.
"That didn't end our work, of course, although the worst was over. Landing craft of all shapes and sizes were simply pouring on to the beach, and in the meantime, having cleared that beach, we had to proceed to another beach and get rid of the obstacles there. In all, we successfully disposed of over two thousand five hundred obstacles, practically every one mined, in addition to this, as a sort of savoury, we cleared the explosives out of half a dozen beetle tanks.
"Not long before 'D' day a special jacket had been invented to protect us against that terrible blast which can be experienced when a mine or shell explodes underwater. This jacket was known as a 'Kapok Jacket' and was worn underneath our swim suits. It proved to be a most wonderful thing, and saved the lives of no less than three of my men. One of my petty officers, who was working in about six feet of water, had a shell or mortar bomb explode in the water quite close to him, and although he was completely knocked out, and in fact paralysed for several hours, he had no injuries whatever, and no after effects. A Royal Engineer who was swimming towards the beach from one of the landing craft, and was some distance farther away from the explosion than the petty officer, was killed outright, and I have no doubt that many men suffered the same fate on that day.
"I would like to make it quite clear that we don't in any way look upon ourselves as supermen, or heroes, or anything like that at all, and we did not by any means clear all the obstacles off the beaches in time for the landing craft to get in. There were nowhere near enough of us to have hoped to do it. What we could, and did do, was to clear an initial gap for the landing craft to beach safely, and to increase that gap as quickly as possible until the beach was entirely free from obstacles.
"Consequently many of the landing craft who didn't use the gap, because of the simple fact that there just wasn't room for them, struck obstacles, or had holes blown in them or their bottoms torn out, with the result that many men had to swim ashore with full equipment.
"When our original job had been completed we had to keep our reputation as 'Jack the Handyman' by doing many jobs to assist on the beaches, such as winching drowned vehicles out of the water. We did this by taking a wire with a hook on the end, right out to sea in our swim suits and breathing sets, hook up the vehicle, come to the surface and signal to the operator ashore to start up his winch, which he did, and pulled the drowned vehicle up high and dry. We helped to unload stores, we cleared mines, we assisted the Royal Engineers, in fact we did everything except mind the babies, and if there had been any there we would have done that too.”

For another example of a D.S.M. awarded to a frogman in L.C.O.C.U.1 see Dix Noonan Webb, 10 May 2017, Lot 52.