Exceptional Naval and Polar Awards from the Collection of RC Witte

Date of Auction: 13th December 2007

Sold for £6,500

Estimate: £2,500 - £3,000

The Great War D.S.O. group of five awarded to Vice-Admiral C. Seymour, Royal Navy, whose period of command in the destroyer Colne in the Dardanelles 1915-16 witnessed many engagements with the enemy: having lent valuable assistance at the landings in “Anzac Cove”, where ‘the shots were hitting the steel bows of the destroyers with a sound like hail on an iron roof’, the Colne won high praise for her close support of the hard-pressed New Zealanders ashore - so much so that they renamed her H.M.S. Nursie

Distinguished Service Order
, G.V.R., silver-gilt and enamel; 1914-15 Star (Commr. C. Seymour, R.N.); British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf (Capt. C. Seymour, R.N.); Coronation 1911, good very fine and better (5) £2500-3000

Footnote

D.S.O. London Gazette 14 March 1916:

‘All officers of the Destroyer Flotilla and specially recommended for the good services they have performed.’

Claude Seymour was born at Barrett Heath, Southampton in January 1876 and entered the Royal Navy as a Naval Cadet in Britannia in January 1891, and was appointed a Midshipman on joining H.M.S. Blake on the North America Station in February 1892. Advanced to Lieutenant in April 1898 and to Commander in June 1910, he was serving as captain of the destroyer Colne, on the China station, on the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, and was quickly employed on active service against the German settlement at Tsing-Tao, which was occupied by our allies, the Japanese. But it was for his part in the Dardanelles operations 1915-16 that Seymour won his D.S.O., a busy tour of duty that encompassed the bombardment of 18 March 1915, the “Anzac Cove” landings 25-26 April, and protracted stints of providing close support to the hard pressed military ashore.

On 18 March 1915, during the aforementioned bombardment, Colne was on hand to witness the mining of the Irresistible and the Ocean, and, in spite of the ‘terrific fire’ being poured onto the crippled ships from both sides of the Straits, steamed to their assistance - ‘Commended for services in the Dardanelles operations prior to 25-26 April 1915, for saving lives from Ocean on 18 March 1915’ (his service record refers).

In the following month, in the landings at “Anzac Cove”, Colne, in company with her fellow destroyers, approached close to the shore to disembark her boats, laden with New Zealanders:

‘The delay seemed ages long. Men were being hit on the destroyers’ decks by the gradually increasing rifle fire from the shore. The machine-guns had the range accurately, and the shots were hitting the steel bows of the destroyers with a sound like hail on an iron roof. The water through which the boats pulled to shore was ripped with bullets, man after man in the boats being killed or wounded ... The coxswain of one destroyer received a bullet which passed through both cheeks, removed two teeth on either side, and then killed a signalman alongside him. Bleeding, and spitting out the remains of his teeth, with, one expects, the inevitable nautical ejaculations, the Petty Officer remained at his post of duty ... ’ (Taffrail’s Endless Story refers).

For his leadership and bravery amidst the carnage of the landings at “Anzac Cove”, Seymour was duly ‘Mentioned by Vice-Admiral Eastern Mediterranean for good services assisting in disembarkation at Gapa Tepe on 25-26 April 1915’ (his service record refers). One week later, with her consort Usk, the Colne embarked 50 men of the New Zealand Divison for a raid on an enemy observation post on Nibrunesi Point - landing at dawn, they surprised the Turks asleep in their trenches, killed three of them and embarked the remainder as prisoners.

Yet it was for her subsequent part in providing support fire to the troops ashore that she won the highest of praise, Major Cecil Paddon of the Otago Mounted Rifles crediting Seymour’s command with saving many lives in his regiment - indeed henceforth the New Zealanders affectionately nicknamed Colne H.M.S. “Nursie”. And by way of illustrating the point, Paddon later wrote of her part, and her consorts, in saving a scouting patrol which had stayed out in No Man’s Land on the night of 9-10 June:

‘They delayed their return until dawn, and were pinned down to the sandhills at the mouth of the Aghul Dere, about 1300 yards to the north of our position in No. 3 post. One of our officers, Captain Twisleton, and a small party, by clever use of the sandhills, got to them, but they were held up. We got through to H.Q. at Anzac, and in very short time Colne, Chelmer and Rattlesnake came up at full speed. Then the fun began. They opened fire, and pinned the Turks down whenever they showed themselves, which allowed our isolated party near the Aghul Dere to begin retiring on No. 3.

In the meantime, the Turks on another hillock overlooking the scene lined their trenches and had sitters at our people as they bolted from sandhill to sandhill. This encouraged still more Turks. Things got hotter and hotter. We managed to keep down some of the fire; but what really finished it was the
Colne, Chelmer and Rattlesnake solemnly coming in line ahead, well within rifle range, and shepherding the patrol and its relief home at the patrol’s own walking pace. It looked outrageous, the Turk evidently thought so too, and fairly plastered the three destroyers as they came slowly along. But the 4-inch and 12-pounders were too much for Abdul ... ’

Endless Story continues with a short description of the ongoing fighting at Anzac, as seen through the eyes of a destroyer man:

‘One of the most successful ruses we carried out was the shelling of No. 3 post and Table Top on the left flank at the same time each night for some weeks before 6 August, so that both these positions were taken by the New Zealanders with hardly any loss when they advanced out of Anzac on that night. No. 3 post was near the beach, and had changed hands pretty frequently during May, June and July. Our wheeze was to get the Turks used to the shelling, so that the New Zealanders, when they attacked, would find them empty. So far as I remember, we used to switch on the searchlight and start in on No. 3 post at 9 p.m. with slow, deliberate fire until 9.25, then a rapid burst at 9.30. At 9.30 we shifted to Table Top, which was above No. 3 post, and literally a table top, with a cliff face towards the New Zealanders. We fired deliberate rounds from 9.30 to 9.55 and then five minutes rapid until 10.00 p.m. The Chelmer and Colne did this every night for about six weeks before 6 August, and on that night the same routine was carried out. The result was excellent. Both positions were evacuated. The trenches were empty, and Turkish officers were found in their dug-outs on the side of the positions in their pyjamas!’

Seymour, who transferred his command to the Beagle in October 1915, as a recently promoted Captain, was present in her at the subsequent evacuation of the peninsula, and was awarded the D.S.O. Returning home to an appointment in the anti-submarine section at the Admiralty in early 1916, he regained his sea legs with command of the Southern Patrol Force in the summer of 1918. Then in the following year, having taken command of the cruiser Calypso, he served in the Black Sea 1919-20, where he was present at the bombardment of Bolsheviks at Novorossisk on 26 March 1920, and afterwards at the evacuation of the British Military Mission from Batoum, work that gained him the approbation of the Foreign Office and the Russian Order of St. Vladimir, 4th class, ‘with swords and bow’ (his service record refers).

Having then acted as C.O. of the Signal School at Portsmouth 1922-25, he was given command of the battleship Royal Oak, in which capacity he served until 1926, the same year in which he was advanced to Rear-Admiral and placed on the Retired List. Subsequently promoted to Vice-Admiral (Retired) in April 1931, he died in December 1941, having volunteered for A.R.P. duties on the renewal of hostilities.