Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (13 January 2021)

Date of Auction: 13th January 2021

Unsold

Estimate: £4,000 - £5,000

A rare inter-War M.B.E., Great War D.S.M. and ‘Russia 1919’ operations Second Award Bar group of six awarded to Lieutenant-Commander J. P. Canty, Royal Navy

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, M.B.E. (Military) Member’s 1st type breast badge, the reverse hallmarked London 1930; Distinguished Service Medal, G.V.R., with Second Award Bar, the reverse officially impressed, ‘Baltic. July 15. 1919.’ (342015. J. P. Canty, Sh. Std., “Godetia” Minesweeping. 1917.); 1914-15 Star (342015 J. P. Canty, Sh. Std. R.N.); British War and Victory Medals (342015 J. P. Canty. V.C.P.O. R.N.); Royal Navy L.S. & G.C., G.V.R., 1st issue (J. 342015. J. P. Canty, Sh. Stewd., H.M.S. Hollyhock.) minor contact marks, otherwise generally very fine or better (6) £4,000-£5,000

Footnote

M.B.E. London Gazette 3 June 1932.

D.S.M. London Gazette 17 April 1918: ‘In recognition of their services in minesweeping operations between 1 April and 31 December 1917.’

Bar to D.S.M. London Gazette 14 May 1920: ‘For services in Russia, 1919.’

The original recommendation states: ‘H.M.S. Lupin. Mining and sinking of H.M.S. Gentian and H.M.S. Myrtle. Baltic July 15, 1919. ‘I cannot only endorse the remarks of the Medical Officer of H.M.S. Lupin concerning this Chief Petty Officer, but can from personal observation that he volunteered for the dinghy’s crew earlier in the day and performed the unaccustomed task of pulling an oar two and a half miles in a rough sea. He was also always to be found on the spot when boats were coming alongside and was among the first to man a painter or a fall.’

John Patrick Canty was born in Portsmouth in December 1882, the son of an Able Seaman then serving as a rigger aboard the royal yacht Victoria & Albert, and entered the Royal Navy as a Ship’s Steward (Boy) in March 1898. In the previous year, while a pupil at Greenwich School, he won the Royal Humane Society’s Medal in bronze for saving a Royal Marine from drowning in the sea at Sandgate (R.H.S. Case No. 29,272 refers).

A Ship’s Steward aboard the gunboat H.M.S. Skipjack on the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, he remained similarly employed until removing to the sloop Hollyhock in June 1915. His C.O. in the Skipjack was Commander L. G. P. Preston, R.N., affectionately known as “L.G.P.” to his subordinates, who rose to become Admiral Sir Lionel Preston, K.C.B. And so commenced an uninterrupted wartime career in minesweeping, the details of which may be traced though his seagoing commissions in Taffrail’s Swept Channels. Thus the author’s detailed description of the occasion when Skipjack and some trawlers ran into a large minefield laid by the Kolberg off Scarborough in mid-December 1914:

‘The Skipjack was quite close to the trawlers when the stillness of the morning was rudely shattered by the thudding boom of a heavy explosion. A column of white water mingled with greyish smoke leapt out of the calm sea. It was as high as a church spire, and seemed to hang for a moment in mid-air before curling over to fall sizzling and hissing back to the surface in the midst of a blackened area dotted with silver bodies of dead fish.

The detonations continued, one after the other. Within five minutes eighteen mines were swept up, or had exploded in the trawlers’ sweeps. The Kolberg’s cargo had been very thickly sown. Never afterwards throughout the whole period of the war were mines discovered in such profusion, or so close together.

But the situation was alarming. The ‘safety period’ had passed. The tide was falling fast, and every minute brought the mines nearer the ships’ bottoms.

The scene was extraordinary. Trawlers, most of them with their sweeps parted, were intermingled with mines torn from their moorings and floating ominously on the surface. The mines were being fired upon.

Two trawlers had been blown up. One, the Orianda, unable to stop her engines, steamed on, sinking as she went, until nothing remained but the tip of her masthead travelling along the surface like the periscope of a submarine. Then this last trace of her disappeared.

A second trawler, Lieutenant Parsons’ Passing, was down by the bows, badly on fire, and blowing off dense clouds of steam from the severed steam-pipe. Her sweeping consort promptly went alongside to render what help was possible.

A third little ship, commanded by Lieutenant Crossley, R.N.R., was in immediate danger of sinking owing to leaks caused by the heavy explosions close alongside her. Crossley himself was below in the cramped space near the screw shaft trying to stop the inflow of water by divesting himself of his clothing and stuffing it into the stern gland. He plugged it sufficiently to allow the pumps to keen down the inrush of water, and so saved the ship.

It was a hideous melee of trawlers and unexploded mines drifting with the tide. The rattle of rifles and heavier guns rent air. Now and then a mine hit by gunfire detonated with a mighty roar, or was punctured and sank bubbling to the bottom. Low water was rapidly approaching. The extent of the minefield was unknown.

Commander Preston was the senior officer on the spot at the moment. In the midst of this hideous danger he did not hesitate, but gave the order to anchor as the only possible method of avoiding further heavy loss.

Many men, confronted with the same problem, would have trusted to luck and beat a hasty retreat. But Preston argued to himself that the ships would be comparatively safe at anchor until the tide turned. And when it did turn, the risk of striking mines as the ships swung was infinitesimal compared with the danger of trying to extricate the whole flotilla then and there. At high water all vessels could be withdrawn in safety. So the anchors rattled down to the bottom, and for a time there was peace ... ’

In June 1915, Canty accompanied “L.G.P.” to his next command, the sloop Hollyhock, and again, in June 1916, to his final seagoing command, the Lupin, evidence indeed of how much he was valued by the future Director of Minesweeping Operations at the Admiralty.

But it was during his next seagoing appointment, in the sloop Godetia, that he won his D.S.M. for minesweeping duties in 1917. A glimpse of the deeds behind that distinction being found in a recommendation for promotion for Canty, written by the C.-in-C. Fleet Minesweepers in January 1918:

‘He has been present at the clearing of all the minefields dealt with by the Fleet Minesweepers since the commencement of hostilities and has carried out his duties under the arduous conditions of minesweeping in Northern Waters in a cheerful and able manner.’

In May 1919, Canty removed to his old ship the Lupin, off Russia, a posting that would result in the award of his second D.S.M. for the above cited deeds on 15 July, when the Myrtle and Gentian were mined with heavy loss of life and casualties. The Surgeon who was lent to Lupin to treat the wounded also wrote in glowing terms of Canty’s deeds:

‘Finally, I cannot close this report without referring to the assistance rendered me by the Ship’s Company of H.M.S. Lupin, who were indefatigable in attending to the various wants of the wounded. In this respect the work done by John Patrick Canty, Victualling Chief Petty Officer, deserves special mention. By taking charge of the wounded, he relieved me of great anxiety, leaving me free to deal with urgent matter of dressing their injuries.’

Canty, who had been awarded his L.S. & G.C. Medal in June 1916, was commissioned as a Warrant Supply Officer in December 1922 and was advanced to Paymaster Lieutenant in October 1930. Awarded the M.B.E. on his retirement in 1932, he commenced his long association with Vernon in the following year, where he served as ‘Mess Pilot’ and Secretary of the Wardroom until 1962 - a remarkable span of service which was marked by the naming of the ‘John Canty Lounge’.

Sold with a large quantity of original career documentation, including his M.B.E. warrant, signed by the Prince of Wales (afterwards Edward VIII); his parchment Certificate of Service, and a run of Ship’s Steward’s certificates for the period 1899-1906; assorted career photographs, including pictures of King George V visiting a battleship; a copy of The Log of H.M.S. Encounter, by H. M. Fowler (The Westminster Press, 1910), being the story of that ship’s time on the Australian Station 1908-10 and in which Canty is mentioned several times; and a presentation water colour cartoon with assorted signatures from the Mess Committee at Vernon, December 1965.