Orders, Decorations and Medals (22 September 2006)

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Date of Auction: 22nd September 2006

Sold for £3,400

Estimate: £800 - £1,200

The Great War escaper’s M.M. group of six awarded to Lance-Corporal J. A. Scott, 8/Canadian Infantry (“The Little Black Devils”), late Scots Greys, who afterwards wrote extensive accounts of his experiences in the Boer War and of his successful bid for freedom as a P.O.W. in 1917

Military Medal
, G.V.R. (10 Pte. J. A. Scott, 8/Can. Inf.); Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902, 4 clasps, Relief of Kimberley, Paardeberg, Driefontein, Transvaal (4409 Pte. J. A. Scott, 2-Dns.); King’s South Africa 1901-02, 2 clasps, South Africa 1901, South Africa 1902 (4409 Pte. J. A. Scott, 2-Dns.); 1914-15 Star (10 L. Cpl. J. A. Scott, 8/Can. Inf.); British War and Victory Medals (10 L. Cpl. J. A. Scott, 8-Can. Inf.), the Boer War awards official replacement issues, probably of the Great War era, generally good very fine (6) £800-1200


M.M. London Gazette 30 January 1920:

‘In recognition of gallant conduct and determination displayed in escaping or attempting to escape from captivity, which services have been brought to notice in accordance with the terms of Army Order 193 of 1919.’

John Armstrong Scott was born in Perth, Scotland in June 1880 and enlisted in the Scots Greys in December 1897. He subsequently witnessed two stints of active service out in South Africa, firstly from November 1899 until May 1900, and again from September 1900 until the end of hostilities, in which period he would appear to have been among a hand-picked party of scouts employed in Major Allenby’s column in early 1901, or certainly if the stories related in his memoir, Accounts of the Boer War, are a reliable guide:

‘Allenby conceived the idea of having a small band of picked men, good riders and expert shots of known courage and resourcefulness, that could be available at any hour of the day or night to go where a large body of troops could not, to glean information, conduct raids and do anything that the fertiles brain of the leader might suggest ... The men thus selected were formed into a body of Scouts, who, under the leadership of Captain Fitzpatrick, soon made a most enviable name for themselves, and who, for the period of eleven months, rendered invaluable aid to the Brigade. From the troops they received the nickname of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”, and some of the adventures of their exciting career form the subject of the following narrative ... ’

There follow three very entertaining episodes related under the chapter titles “Ermelo”, “The Massacre” and “Trapped”, the detail of which would strongly suggest Scott was present in one form or another at all of them.

Discharged from the Scots Greys in June 1904, he sometime thereafter made his way to Canada, and was working as a teamster by the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914. Enlisting in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force at Valcartier, Quebec in the following month, he was embarked for the U.K. and posted to the 8th (“Little Black Devils”) Battalion, Canadian Infantry in France in February 1915. That April, in the Ypres salient, following a gas attack, he was wounded and taken P.O.W., an episode described in detail in his Great War memoir,
Behind the German Wire:

‘It was just after daybreak [on 24 April 1915] and as we gazed toward the enemy trenches we saw little jets of white smoke rising from the ground. Soon they merged and formed a dense, white cloud which rolled towards us. As the wind drove it nearer, it turned into a dirty yellow and pretty soon it smothered our trenches and soon we were enveloped in one of the foulest and most destructive weapons of war ... the effect of the gas was fearful; it seemed as if my lungs were filled up with some heavy susbstance. At times I could scarcely draw breath. Men were dropping everywhere and a good many died where they fell ... Men were turning green and our uniforms and equipment were the same colour. Even the ground had a greenish look and the dead were piled in heaps ... I was just going to talk to Captain Watson when a shell burst about ten feet above my head and I knew that something had gone wrong. I had a shrapnel wound in the mouth, another through my left lung and a third in my right thigh. I was bleeding pretty badly and tore out my first-aid bandage ... ’

Seeking refuge in a ruined cellar, Scott’s ordeal was not yet over, for he was shot through the left arm when the Germans arrived. He and his comrades were then ‘knocked about’ with rifle butts and bayonets until an officer arrived at the scene, following which he was carted off to an enemy first-aid station where he was searched and stripped of his belongings. A ‘nightmare’ journey by rail to Cologne ensued, during the course of which two of his comrades died, following which he was moved to Paderborn Hospital.

Nor did he fare much better during his subsequent incarceration in several camps, assorted chapter headings in his memoir charting a sorry saga indeed - “Minden Punishment Camp”, “A Hell on Earth” and “Slavery and Starvation” among them. But in November 1917, in the company of a fellow Canadian serviceman, he broke away from a working party under cover of fog, and the pair of them, partially sustained by rations saved from Red Cross parcels, and guided by Scott’s compass, made it to the Dutch border. Having then been de-briefed at the War Office back in London,he visited his mother in Scotland prior to returning to Canada in March 1918. There, in June - after giving one or two talks to fellow servicemen and citizens about his experiences - he was discharged as physically unfit for further service. Scott briefly served in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police 1919-20, but soon afterwards moved to San Jose, California. He died at Long Beach, Califonia in March 1954.

Sold with the following original documentation and artefacts:

(i) The recipient’s typed manuscript,
Accounts of the Boer War, approximately 55pp., and divided into three separate stories.

(ii) The recipient’s typed manuscript and Great war memoir,
Behind the German Wire, 203pp., together with copies of The Saturday Evening Post magazine, 8 June and 15 June 1918 editions, in which appear extensive articles by Scott recounting his experiences as a P.O.W. and his escape, with artist’s impressions, the text in places being identical to the aforementioned memoir.

(iii) Assorted letters to his mother from Germany 1915-16 (5), including his first letter home after capture, dated at Paderborn Hospital, 7 May 1915 (‘I got hit four times in as many seconds and I consider myself lucky that I am alive at all ... ’), and another from ‘Camp 20, Senne III, Sennelager’, dated 15 October 1915, first page only (‘I am a whole lot better and am out of danger now ... ’).

(iv) The compass used by Scott in his memorable escape and to which his account refers on several occasions.

(v) Buckingham Palace letter for returning P.O.Ws, and two theatre tickets to talks given by Scott in Canada, one titled “Personally Conducted Tour of the German Prison Camps by Private John Scott, Two Years and Six Months a Prisoner”, the Lyceum Theatre, 15 April 1918, and the other “Thirty Months in Hell”, the Gwinn Club House, 29 April 1918.

(vi) Assorted career photographs (8), including a portrait in the uniform of the Scots Greys, a group photograph of the recipient and fellow escaped P.O.Ws in Canada on a lecture tour in 1918, and other images from his time with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

(vii) Assorted badges (7) and buttons (3), the former including a numbered “For Service at the Front” lapel badge.