Exceptional Naval and Polar Awards from the Collection of RC Witte

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Date of Auction: 13th December 2007

Sold for £8,500

Estimate: £4,000 - £5,000

The Great War D.S.C. group of eleven awarded to Captain J. S. Metcalf, Royal Naval Reserve, who was decorated for his gallant command of one of the Triumph’s picket boats during the Gallipoli landings on 24-25 April 1915, in which operation he was wounded in the arm: having then served at Jutland, and added a Spanish decoration to his accolades between the Wars, he was present at the evacuations of Narvik and St. Nazaire in 1940 and lent good service as a Commodore of Convoys

Distinguished Service Cross
, G.V.R., hallmarks for London 1914, the reverse privately engraved, ‘J. Savile Metcalf, 1915’; 1914-15 Star (Mid. J. S. Metcalfe, D.S.C., R.N.R.); British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf (Lieut. J. S. Metcalfe, R.N.R.); 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; Africa Star; Pacific Star, clasp, Burma; War Medal 1939-45; Royal Naval Reserve Decoration, G.V.R., silver, gilt, hallmarks for London 1922; Spanish Lifeboat Society’s Gallantry Medal, mounted as worn, generally good very fine or better (11) £4000-5000

D.S.C. London Gazette 16 August 1916:

‘In recognition of their services as mentioned in the foregoing despatch’; Vice-Admiral J. M. de Robeck’s despatch for the Gallipoli landings on 24-25 April 1915.


John Savile Metcalf, who was born in December 1895 and educated at Carlisle Grammar School, was apprenticed to the Runciman Line in 1910 and gained appointment as a Third Officer about the time of the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914.

Mobilised in his capacity as a Midshipman in the Royal Naval Reserve, his first seagoing appointment was in the battleship Triumph in the Dardanelles, and it was for his subsequent gallantry in command of one of her picket boats in the landings on 24-25 April, when he received a severe wound in his right forearm, that he was awarded the D.S.C. and a “mention” (London Gazette 16 August 1916).

Metcalf later described his part in the landings in Gallipoli by Eric Bush, and how he shifted the course of his boat as it approached the beaches, a contentious issue given that eventual touch-down was around a mile off target - but knowing as he did the ferocious defences of the intended landing zone just north of Gaba Tepe, he was of the opinion his manoeuvre saved the Anzacs of “No. 2 Tow”, the troops embarked in his picket-boat, and others:

‘My immediate thoughts were that we were too far south. The troops and the boats would be lost by a murderous enfilading fire as we passed, so I hauled away from it to the northwards as much as I dared, without crossing the bows of No. 3 Tow. A few minutes later when the other Tows to port had conformed, it appeared to me that we were still going too near Gaba Tepe, and again I altered course away from it. Eventually we landed south of Ari Burnu, with No. 3 Tow only a few yards away on my port side.’

His exasperated senior, Commander C. C. Dix, R.N., was heard to yell in the eerie silence that followed, “Tell the Colonel that the damn fools have landed us a mile too far to the north!”, yet in truth the reasons behind the wayward landing lay more on the positioning of the supporting battleships; as late as 1964 a Turkish newspaper also related the story of how a British landing-buoy had been moved by ‘three or four good swimmers’, and a cart and mule, and placed back in the sea about a mile to the north.

Metcalf was evacuated to a hospital in Alexandria, in the event a fortuitous move, for a few weeks later the
Triumph was torpedoed and sunk, with significant loss of life. Back home by September 1915, he joined the destroyer Faulknor, and was present in her at Jutland in the following year, not least her close encounter with the S.M.S. Grosser Hurfurst, which ship she engaged with her 4-inch guns after passing down the German line and delivering a torpedo attack. Having then been unable to take up Jellicoe’s personal offer of a commission in the Royal Navy - on account of financial grounds - he served in several more destroyers before the War’s end, among them Saumarez (December 1916 to May 1917), Seal, as “Jimmy the One” (May to October 1917), and Ettrick (March to December 1918). He was demobilised as a Lieutenant in June 1919.

Qualifying for his “Master’s Ticket” in the same year, Metcalf joined the Orient Line, and was still serving in that capacity on the renewal of hostilities. In the interim, he had been awarded the Spanish Lifeboat Society’s Gallantry Medal in 1927, The R.N.R. Decoration in 1928 and been advanced to Commander, R.N.R. in December 1934.

Appointed to the command of the Orient Line’s Ormonde in the Spring of 1940, he was assisted at the evacuation of our troops at Narvik and St. Nazaire in 1940, his ship being repeatedly attacked on the latter occasion - ‘Bu his skilful manoeuvring he dodged the bombs and landed the troops safely in England’. In the following month, the Admiralty appointed him Commodore of East Coast Convoys at Southend, followed by a similar appointment in Lady Blanche at Liverpool. Then in 1942 he was placed in charge of auxiliary patrols at Scapa Flow, in which year he volunteered for “Force X”, a dummy convoy designed to draw Tirpitz away from P.O. 17, but his ships ‘were blanketed in fog which shrouded them so completely from German reconnaissance that their attempts to lure the Tirpitz after them were rendered entirely useless’.

In late 1942, Metcalf was appointed Commodore of Atlantic Convoys at Belfast, and in October 1943 he went to America to take command of the aircraft carrier Ranee, in which ship he sailed for the Indian Ocean in the New Year. Having then handed over the Ranee to Rear-Admiral Sebastian in May 1944, and been advanced to Captain, he attended a net-laying course at Rosyth and took command of the Guardian, and was present in her at the signing of the Japanese surrender in Hong Kong in September 1945.

Released from the Royal Naval Reserve in March 1946, Metcalf was employed at the Admiralty in the 1950s in connection with the Royal Naval Minewatching Service and died in January 1975.

Sold with the recipient’s original letter of appointment to the rank of Commander, R.N.R., dated 1 January 1935; his Admiralty forwarding slip for his 1939-45 campaign awards, and two portrait photographs.