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

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Date of Auction: 16th April 2020

Sold for £6,500

Estimate: £6,000 - £8,000

A rare Cavalryman’s Great War 1918 Albert Medal for Land group of five awarded to Private G. W. Bennett, 12th Lancers, for his gallantry in going to the rescue a French woman who was knocked down by a train at Brie Railway Station, France, on 25 February 1918, and holding her safely between the lines as two trains passed - Bennett himself was not so lucky, being struck by one of the passing trains, resulting in him having both his legs amputated

Albert Medal, 2nd Class, for Gallantry in Saving Life on Land, bronze and enamel, the reverse officially engraved ‘Presented by His Majesty to Private George Bennett, 12th. (Prince of Wales’ Royal) Lancers for Gallantry in saving life in France on the 25th February, 1918’; 1914 Star, with clasp (114 Pte. G. W. Bennett. 12/Lrs.); British War and Victory Medals (L-114 Pte. G. W. Bennett. 12-Lrs.); France, Third Republic, Medal of Honour, First Class, silver-gilt, reverse engraved ‘G. W. Bennett. A.M. 12 Royal Lancers’, with rosette on riband, all suspended from a quintuple top riband bar, oak leaves suspension re-soldered on last, the reverse of the AM dented and with contact marks from the star, otherwise nearly very fine (5) £6000-8000

Footnote

Provenance: Spink, March 1994.

A.M. London Gazette 26 August 1918:

‘A woman who was crossing the line in front of a troop train at a railway station in France, to reach a passenger train, was caught by the buffer of the engine. Private Bennett, 12th Lancers, hearing the woman’s screams, and seeing her position, rushed to help her and pulled her into the six-foot way between the two trains. Unfortunately a basket which the woman was carrying was struck by the troop train and knocked Bennett against the passenger train, with the result that he was badly injured and suffered the amputation of both his legs. Had it not been for his presence of mind and courage the woman probably would have been killed.’

George William Bennett was born in Bermondsey, London, in 1884 and attested for the 5th Lancers on 25 February 1907. Transferring to the Army reserve on 24 February 1914, he was recalled to the Colours on the outbreak of the Great War and posted to the 12th Lancers. He served during the Great War on the Western Front from 15 August 1914 until 25 February 1918, on which date he performed his selfless act of gallantry at Brie Railway Station: ‘I have never been so proud of a 12th Lancer in my life as I was of you this morning. It was the finest deed a man can do and I am proud of you a 12th Lancer. Accidents will happen but yours was more than this: man cannot do more than lay down his life for another.’ (letter to the recipient from Richard Staller refers).

Bennett was severely injured in his rescue attempt, and had to have both legs amputated, the right leg above the knee and the left below. For his gallantry he was additionally awarded the French Medal of Honour in gold (French Government Decree dated 4 October 1918). He was presented with his Albert Medal by H.M. King George V at Buckingham Palace on 18 September 1918, and was discharged on 16 January 1919, after 11 years and 324 days’ service.

Sold together with a number of related documents, including the recipient’s discharge Certificate; letter of congratulations on his gallant act; various letters regarding the award of both the Albert Medal and the French Medal of Honour; and various postcard photographs of the recipient, both before and after his accident.