Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (16 April 2020)

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Date of Auction: 16th April 2020

Sold for £2,800

Estimate: £2,400 - £2,800

A 1921 Constabulary Medal (Ireland) group of four awarded to Constable E. Saunders, Royal Irish Constabulary, formerly South African Infantry, Royal Munster Fusiliers and Royal Field Artillery, who was wounded and taken prisoner during the heroic ‘Last Stand of the South African Brigade’, 21-23 March 1918, and was awarded the Constabulary Medal for his gallantry, which is believed to have been demonstrated during the attack on Causeway Barracks, co. Kerry, on 4 March 1921

Constabulary Medal (Ireland), 2nd type, ‘Reward of Merit Royal Irish Constabulary’ (Constable Edward Saunders 72790. 1921) lacking integral top riband bar; British War and bilingual Victory Medals (Sjt. E. Saunders. 4th. S.A.I.) regimental number officially corrected; Special Constabulary Long Service Medal, G.V.R., 1st issue (Edward Saunders) suspension damaged on first, with traces of restoration work, contact marks, nearly very fine (4) £2,400-£2,800


Provenance: Spink, March 1996.

Edward Saunders was born in Chichester, Sussex, on 25 November 1891. He worked as a labourer and, according to his military attestation papers, served one year in the Royal Munster Fusiliers and four years in the Royal Field Artillery before emigrating to South Africa, probably to work in the Johannesburg area. After the Boer rebellions of 1914 had been suppressed and the German colony of South-West Africa conquered in early 1915, the South African government formed an Infantry Brigade, which was sent for service initially in Egypt and then on the Western Front. The Depot of the South African Overseas Expeditionary Force was established at Potchefstroom, Transvaal. Saunders was accepted and attested there on 19 August 1915, on the basis, like most of the recruits accepted at this time, of his previous military experience.

The South African Brigade first experienced active service against the Turkish-led Senussi tribesmen in the Western Desert of Egypt in early 1916. After the initial battles, in which Saunders served in ‘B’ Company of the 3rd South African Infantry Regiment, he was admitted to hospital, first in Sollum and then Alexandria, from March 1916, due to a serious injury and fracture of his right arm. He was sent to England by hospital ship in May and released from hospital in July to join ‘G’ Company of 3rd S.A.I. Regiment and then the Vickers gun detachment, which were both training in England. Saunders re-joined his unit in the field in France on 10 February 1917, becoming a Lewis gunner, and by the end of the year had progressed to Sergeant. The 3rd S.A. Infantry Regiment distinguished itself in two great battles that year, Arras in March 1917 and Third Ypres in September-October.

In February 1918 the 3rd S.A. Infantry was disbanded, due to a shortage of fresh recruits to replace battlefield losses. Saunders transferred to ’A’ Company, 4th South African Infantry. The South African Infantry Brigade was heavily engaged from the beginning of the German Kaiserschlacht offensive on the Somme. During the first day (21 March 1918) Saunders’s Company made what the Official History called a ‘spirited counterattack’ to recapture Chapel Hill. Over the next days the Brigade conducted a costly fighting retreat that took them to a position which they were ordered to hold ‘at all costs’. Their fighting strength was reduced to around 500 men (losses were so great that the 2nd and 4th Regiments were merged). It was clear that the remnants of the Brigade could not retreat from their position, but they held out all day on 23 March against intense artillery bombardment and repeated infantry attacks. When all their automatic weapons were put out of action, their rifle ammunition was expended and only 100 men remained unwounded, the survivors surrendered at around 4.30 p.m. The Germans called the ‘Last Stand’ of the South African Brigade ‘magnificent’. Saunders was reported as ‘Missing’ on 24 March 1918. It later emerged that he had been wounded and taken Prisoner of War. He was repatriated to the UK in January 1919 following the cessation of hostilities, and demobilised on 24 April 1919.

Saunders joined the Royal Irish Constabulary at the Army Recruiting Office, Chichester, on 7 September 1920, and served as a Constable with Kerry Police from 1 October. He was awarded the Constabulary Medal on 21 April 1921, together with a First Class Favourable Record, probably for gallantry during the attack on Causeway R.I.C. Barracks. Causeway Barracks was attacked several times by the I.R.A. between November 1920 and May of the following year. It was a strong stone building, two storeys high, standing in its own grounds, which were protected with barbed wire. Inside it was fortified with steel shutters, doors and plates, and heavily sandbagged. It could hold a garrison of 42, and was equipped with a wireless transceiver.

By 1921, Constabulary Medals were only awarded sparingly for Defence of Barracks, and restricted to those whose actions stood out from the rest of the garrison. This makes it hard to match awards to specific events and specific dates, unless the official recommendation has survived somewhere in the various archives in which contemporary documents were lodged after the British left southern Ireland. The attack of 4 March 1921, where the roof of Causeway barracks became ‘an inferno of flame’, seems most likely to be the action during which Saunders distinguished himself, possibly along with two other Constables. He received a second First Class Favourable Record on 5 December 1921. Saunders stayed on in Kerry until the disbanding of the R.I.C in February 1922, after which he returned to England, where he served as a Special Constable.