Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (3 December 2020)

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Date of Auction: 3rd December 2020

Sold for £1,600

Estimate: £1,600 - £2,000

A good Great War ‘Anti-U-Boat Operations’ D.S.M. group of seven awarded to Chief Petty Officer H. McR. Duncan, formerly Able Seaman, H.M.S. Monarch, Royal Navy, for his gallantry when his Dover Patrol destroyer, H.M.S. Liberty, hit the UC-46 ‘a magnificent blow only two feet forward of the conning-tower’ - at 24 knots

Distinguished Service Medal, G.V.R. (188644. Mc.R. Duncan P.O. H.M.S. Liberty. Straits of Dover. 8. Feb. 1917.); Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902, 2 clasps, Cape Colony, Orange Free State, unofficial retaining rod between clasps (H. Mc.R. Duncan. A.B. H.M.S. Monarch.) small impressed naming; 1914-15 Star (188644, H. M. Duncan. P.O. R.N.) in named card box of issue; British War and Victory Medals (188644 H. Mc R. Duncan. P.O. R.N.) in named card box of issue; Royal Navy L.S. & G.C., G.V.R., 1st issue (188644. H. Mc.R. Duncan, P.O. H.M.S. Blake.); Italy, Kingdom, Messina Earthquake Medal 1908, silver, unnamed, light contact marks, good very fine and better (7) £1,600-£2,000

Footnote

Provenance: Dix Noonan Webb, March 2009 (when sold without the Messina Earthquake Medal).

Although over 1,250 Queen’s South Africa Medals awarded to H.M.S. Monarch, only 1 officer and 5 ratings received this clasp combination.

D.S.M. London Gazette 23 March 1917.

Harry McRae Duncan was born in Brighton, Sussex, on 9 August 1880 and joined the Royal Navy as a Boy 2nd Class on 5 May 1896. He joined H.M.S. Monarch on 9 January 1898 and, being advanced to Able Seaman on 21 September 1899, served in her during the Boer War, qualifying for the above described Medal & clasps for services in South Africa.

Advanced Petty Officer Class II on 18 April 1907, he served in H.M.S. Duncan from 15 August 1908, and served in her during the relief operations following the Messina Earthquake on 28 December 1908.

By the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, Duncan was serving as a Petty Officer (T.) in destroyers, and he remained similarly employed in the Dover Patrol for the remainder of the War, initially with an appointment in H.M.S. Flying Fish, but later in H.M.S. Liberty, and it was in the latter ship that he won his D.S.M. when, serving as Torpedo Coxswain, he was at the wheel at the time. Keble Chatterton’s Beating the U-Boats takes up the story:

‘In the early hours of 8 February 1917, H.M. destroyer Liberty happened to be patrolling on a W.S.W. course towards No. 7A buoy of the Dover Barrage. She had altered course from E.N.E. only at 2.50 a.m. when half a mile from No. 7A. It was now 3.09 a.m. when a large submarine was seen to break surface and lying almost at right angles to the Liberty, slightly off the destroyer’s starboard bow but right in the centre of the moon’s rays. The enemy had evidently just come through this obstacle at a favourite jumping spot, but the “policeman” on duty was there waiting. Straight for the conning tower under the full moon the Liberty steered at full speed, firing one round. Unfortunately this shot fell wide, and the flash from the gun blinded those on the bridge.

The captain, Lieutenant-Commander P. W. S. King, R.N., therefore determined not to waste time but to ram the German. Travelling at a speed of 24 knots, the destroyer hit the enemy a magnificent blow only two feet forward of the conning-tower. You can imagine what effect such speed and weight of steel were like, meeting 420 German tons: in fact the latter’s dull weight momentarily stopped the destroyer dead. Not put off by that, Lieutenant-Commander King began dropping depth-charges, which of course exploded to some purpose and the fate of the UC-46 was rapidly settled. It was discovered that the destroyer was beginning to leak quickly, but presently, when she was taken round to Chatham and docked, it was established beyond all doubt that she must have cut through the submarine to a depth of at least four feet. Lieutenant-Commander King was awarded a D.S.O. for his neat performance.’

The UC-46 was lost with all hands, 23 officers and men under the command of Friedrich Moecke.

In April 1917, while repairs were carried out on the Liberty, Duncan removed to another destroyer, the Undine, and remained similarly employed until the War’s end. Awarded his Long Service and Good Conduct Medal in June 1919, he was finally pensioned ashore as a Chief Petty Officer on 4 September 1920.

Sold with a portrait photograph, together with a file of research, including copied service record and assorted roll verification.