Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (23 June 2021)

Date of Auction: 23rd June 2021

Sold for £2,400

Estimate: £1,800 - £2,200

The Great War D.S.C. and Lloyd’s M.S.M. group of four awarded to Captain W. J. Campbell, Master of the S.S. Rathlin Head when attacked by torpedoes on 25th and 26th May, 1918, by the U-46

Distinguished Service Cross, G.V.R., the reverse hallmarked London 1917 and engraved ‘CaptainW. J. Campbell July 1918) in its Garrard & Co. Ltd. case of issue; British War and Mercantile Marine War Medals (William J. Campbell); Lloyd’s Medal for Meritorious Services, 3rd type, silver (Captain Wm. James Campbell, S.S. “Rathlin Head,” 25th May 1918.) in its Wyon case of issue, nearly extremely fine (4) £1,800-£2,200


D.S.C. London Gazette 7 August 1918:
‘In recognition of zeal and devotion to duty shown in carrying on the trade of the country during the war.’

The attack on the Rathlin Head was described in the Report of the Interviewing Officer with Campbell: “The Master of S.S. “Rathlin Head” complied with instructions given him by Admiralty and S.O. Convoy and did everything in his power to avoid capture. - Zigzagging at full speed and firing guns at intervals after first attack evidently prevented the submarine from successfully attacking during the night. The Master decided to abandon ship after the second attack next morning. Ship had considerable list to port having received four torpedoes - 2 in Chain Locker and No. 1 Hold and No. 2 in Stoke-hold and bunkers. Ship was in grave peril of turning turtle. Crew took to their boats an hour after last torpedo struck ship and stood by for rescuing ships seen in the distance. The Master and part of crew eventually reboarded their ship and secured tow-ropes and ship was towed into port.”

The first attack took place on May 25, 1918 at 49 degrees 42 minutes N./11 degrees 30 minutes W., while the second attack took place on May 26, 1918 at 50 degrees 20 minutes N./10 degrees 45 minutes W.

The minutes of the Mercantile Marine Awards Committee describes the attacks in detail: “At 3.45 pm (May 25, 1918), the S.S. Rathlin Head was attacked by two torpedoes from a S/M [later determined to be Leo Hillebrand in U-46]. The ship was zig-zagging at the time. The weather was fine. The torpedoes struck the ship near the foremost bulk-head of No. 1 hold. At 4. pm. the ship was attacked by a third torpedo, which passed 100 feet ahead of her. Fire was opened from the Howitzers at the supposed position of the S/M, 8 rounds being fired, and the ship's course altered to port, but the propellers came out of the water and she lost her way. The enemy was then taken on her port quarter, No. 6 hold was flooded and in consequence the propellers again took water at 4.30 pm. and the ship got under way slowly, doing about 3 knots to start with, which increased to 5 or 6 as her stern settled down. A course was set for Fastnet. She was yawning badly but did not zig-zag. At 5.30 pm. a S/M was sighted at a distance of 7 miles, 1 point on the port quarter and fire was opened from the 4.7” gun. At 7.25 am. on 26th May, the ship was attacked by two torpedoes which exploded in the Stokehold and cross bunker. 2 rounds from the Howitzers were fired in the direction of the wake of the torpedoes. The ship took a heavy list to port and her engines were rendered useless. She was then left by the crew. Nothing was seen of the S/M at this time. The U.S.S. “McCall” arrived within the hour and proceeded to search for the S/M. While doing so she was attacked unsuccessfully by two torpedoes. The rescue tug “Cartmell” arrived about 9 am. The Master, Chief Officer, Chief Engineer and others then reboarded the ship and made an inspection. Soon afterwards, the “McCall” was attacked again by 2 torpedoes and proceeded to drop depth charges. The rescue tug “Flying Spray” then arrived and ship (Rathlin Head) was taken in tow. She was beached in safety at Berehaven (His Majesty's Naval Base at Berehaven, County Cork, Ireland) late on the night of 27th May. 3 Firemen were killed by the second explosion and 1 injured.

Captain Campbell received the D.S.C. at an investiture held at Buckingham Palace on 31 July 1918.

Sold with two original letters from “Head” Line Steamers, of Belfast and Dublin, to Captain Campbell, the first, in September 1918, advising him of the grant of £100 to himself, and of other awards to the crew, ‘For gallantry and good seamanship on the occasion of the torpedoing of our “Rathlin Head” on the 25th May 1918’; the second, in October 1918, advising Campbell of the receipt of a letter from the Secretary of Lloyd’s intimating that the Committee have awarded him the Lloyd’s Silver Medal for Meritorious Service, and also the sum of Fifty Pounds; together with instructions concerning the investiture of the D.S.C., and a report with statements concerning the actions of the S.S. Carrigan Head, of which Campbell was the Master, upon receiving a wireless S.O.S. from the S.S. Maine in March 1920, and the subsequent towing of the S.S. Maine to safety in heavy seas over the course of nearly four days; a photograph of Campbell and his wife following his investiture at Buckingham Palace, and another of him with his wife, daughter and sister-in-law; two news clippings announcing his death, and a “Melmore Head” Xmas dinner menu for 1929, of which vessel he was the Master.

Captain Campbell, of the steamship Carrigan Head, died without a moment’s warning on board ship whilst the vessel was passing through an icefield (undated news cuttings refer).