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

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Date of Auction: 16th April 2020

Sold for £3,400

Estimate: £2,400 - £2,800

A Great War 1918 ‘Salonika’ D.S.O., May 1915 ‘2nd Ypres’ M.C. group of six awarded to Brigadier H. C. Ponsonby, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, one of just three officers of the 4th Battalion to survive the Battle of Frezenberg Ridge, 8 May - 10 May 1915; thrice mentioned in despatches, he would go on to further distinguish himself in the Balkans while attached to and in command of the 10th Battalion, Devonshire Regiment

Distinguished Service Order, G.V.R., silver-gilt and enamel, with tailor'’s copy integral top riband bar, lacking pin; Military Cross, G.V.R., unnamed as issued; 1914-15 Star (Capt: & Adjt: H. C. Ponsonby K.R. Rif: C.); British War and Victory Medals, with M.I.D. oak leaves (Lt. Col. H. C. Ponsonby.); Greece, Kingdom, War Cross 1916-17, Second Class, silver, with bronze star on riband, mounted court style for display, generally very fine or better (6) £2,400-£2,800

Footnote

D.S.O. London Gazette 3 June 1918:
‘For distinguished services in connection with the Military Operations in Salonika’


M.C. London Gazette 23 June 1915.

M.I.D. London Gazettes 22 June 1915 (France); 21 July 1917 (Salonika); 11 June 1918 (Salonika)

Greek Military Cross 2nd Class London Gazette 7 October 1919:
‘For distinguished services rendered during the course of the campaign’


Henry Chambre Ponsonby was born in 1883, the second son of Chambre Brabazon Ponsonby and his wife the Honourable Mary Sophia Elizabeth Plunkett of Kilcooley Abbey, County Tipperary, Ireland. Educated at Eton College and the R.M.C. Sandhurst, he was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in the 4th Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps in October 1902 and was promoted to Lieutenant in 1907. Proceeding to Meerut, India with the 4th Battalion in 1910, Ponsonby was then transferred to Rawalpindi where he was in command of a detachment at the time of the Delhi Durbar in 1911, and appointed Adjutant in June 1912, a position he would keep until February 1916.

Following the outbreak of the Great War, he was advanced to Captain on 12 October 1914 and embarked with his battalion from Bombay to England four days later, serving with them on the Western Front from 21 December 1914 as part of the 80th Brigade in the 27th Division under Major-General Snow. On 5 January 1915 the battalion was ordered to take over a section of trenches from the French at St. Eloi in the Ypres Salient. Here, dogged by bad weather and appalling trench conditions, they tasted their first action in the gallant ‘Sortie of St. Eloi’ on 2 March, where, incurring significant casualties, a section of German trench was captured and then ultimately relinquished following a determined counter attack by the enemy. Ponsonby was Mentioned in Despatches by Field Marshall French for gallant and distinguished service in the field during the period 2 February 1915 to 5 April 1915 (London Gazette 22 June 1915), the St. Eloi sortie being the only action of note performed by the 4th Battalion in this period.
This was just a forestaste, however, of the bitter fighting that the battalion was to experience two months later at Frezenberg Ridge during the Second Battle of Ypres. In relation to which, the following extract is taken from
A Brief History of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps 1755-1915 by Sir Edward Hutton:

‘On Sunday night, the 3rd May, in consequence of the increasing pressure in the northern sector of the salient, the 80th Brigade was silently and skilfully withdrawn to a position nearer to Ypres. On the 5th a further withdrawal was made, and a position was taken up east of Bellewaarde Lake, still nearer to Ypres, with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and 4th Battalion in front line, and the 3rd Battalion in close support. On the 9th the 3rd Battalion relieved the gallant Canadians, who had been badly knocked about, while the 4th Battalion repulsed an infantry attack. On the 10th, after a terrific bombardment and a strong covering fire of machine guns and rifle fire, the enemy infantry essayed another advance, which was easily and promptly scotched by a well-directed rifle fire. Bellewarde Wood was now an impenetrable abattis, and the two Rifle Battalions were thus enabled to lend close and valuable assistance against the concentrated enemy attack to the south upon the neighbouring troops at Hooge. The 3rd and 4th Battalions in closest touch worked with great effect, and individual acts of gallantry were very numerous. By 6 p.m. the bombardment ceased, and the further advance of the enemy was effectively checked. By midnight the 4th Battalion was withdrawn and a bare remnant collected ; on the following day it was moved to a temporary bivouac, where the men lay down to sleep for a full night's rest after twenty-six days in the trenches, during a great part of which they had been closely engaged. The steadfast valor of the Riflemen was rewarded by a characteristic message from H.Q. Army Corps : — " The G.O.C. is lost in admiration at the way in which the 3rd and 4th Battalions have stuck out the pounding which they have received."
On the 14th the 4th Battalion, sadly reduced, was formed into a composite regiment with the remnant of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, and marched under Majendie again into the trenches until the 17th, when the Battalion moved to billets in the rear. On the 18th Major Widdrington rejoined the Battalion, and resumed command.’


Battle Honours of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps by T. N. F. Wilson quantifies the scale of the losses thus:

‘During the three days, May 8th - 10th, the 4th Battalion lost 15 officers and 478 other ranks. After the second enemy attack on May 10th, the 4th Battalion (3 officers and 98 other ranks, including C.O. and Adjutant) was formed into a Composite Battalion with Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry’.

Together with the C.O. (Major Majendie) and Second Lieutenant Antrobus, Captain Ponsonby was one of the 4th Battalion’s three surviving officers following Frezenberg Ridge. His Military Cross was gazetted the following month and The King’s Royal Rifle Corps Chronicle 1916 confirms that it was awarded for Ypres May 1915.

Ponsonby embarked for Salonika with the 4th Battalion in November 1915 and then joining the staff in February 1916, he was appointed G.S.O. 3, 10th Division and then Brigade Major, 78th Brigade in May 1916. He received his second mention for distinguished services rendered with the British Salonika Force during the six month period leading up to 29 March 1917. Returning to field duties, on 18 June 1917 he was attached to and given command of the 10th (Service) Battalion, Devonshire Regiment, which he led as Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel until shortly before the conclusion of hostilities in Salonika in September 1918, receiving the D.S.O. for his distinguished services in that theatre and earning a third mention in despatches for the period 21 September 1917 to 28 February 1918.
Returning to his parent regiment, on 11 September 1918, Ponsonby took command of the 3rd Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps fighting, right up until the armistice in the Salonika theatre on 30 September 1918, while the battalion’s ranks were continually thinned greatly by both disease and enemy action. For his services during the Salonika campaign, the King of the Hellenes conferred on him the Greek Military Cross 2nd Class.


Remaining with the 3/K.R.R.C. for a time after the conclusion of the war, Ponsonby saw service in India and then held a succession of staff appointments leading to his promotion to Colonel of the 1st Queen’s Royal Regiment in China from 1928 -1932. His final command was that of the 6th Infantry Brigade from 1935-1939 and the retired Brigadier Ponsonby died in 1953. Something of his character is revealed by this excerpt from his obituary:

‘In sport he showed equally outstanding ability, and no doubt in this he was helped by his Irish ancestry. He was a first class shot with a gun and rifle, a first class fisherman, and during his Mastership of the Peshawar Vale Hunt he showed as good if not better sport than any previous Master who carried the horn. Perhaps most of us will remember him best with a hawk on his hand. His knowledge of falconry was deep and he trained his hawks himself in so much that he would have a row of hawks on the end of his bed - peregrines, shikras, and his pet goshawk - and yet all would sit with their tails outward.’

Sold with copied research including a copy of the May 1915 War Diary of the 4th Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps.