Exceptional Naval and Polar Awards from the Collection of RC Witte

Date of Auction: 13th December 2007

Sold for £1,500

Estimate: £1,800 - £2,200

The Second World War O.B.E., Great War D.S.M. group of ten awarded to Lieutenant-Commander J. Corby, Royal Navy, who, having been decorated for bravery under fire in the Anzac landings, added an O.B.E. to his accolades in the 1939-45 War, which latter conflict witnessed him making clandestine ordnance trips to Portugal

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire
, O.B.E. (Military) Officer’s 2nd type breast badge; Distinguished Service Medal, G.V.R. (225290 J. Corby, P.O., Gallipoli Opns. 1915-16); Naval General Service 1915-62, 1 clasp, Persian Gulf 1909-1914 (225290 J. Corby, Lg. Sean., H.M.S. Perseus); 1914-15 Star (225290 J. Corby, P.O., R.N.); British War and Victory Medals (Gnr. J. Corby, R.N.); 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; Defence and War Medals, generally good very fine (10) £1800-2200

O.B.E. London Gazette 1 January 1946.

London Gazette 15 May 1916:
‘The following awards have been approved in recognition of services rendered by Petty Officers and Men of the Eastern Mediterannean Squadron between the time of the landing in the Gallipoli Peninsula in April 1915 and the evacuation in December 1915 and January 1916.’
The original recommendation states: ‘Performed good service on the beach at Anzac, always in the forefront when it was necessary to work under fire - showing an excellent example.’


John Corby was born in Newcastle in March 1887 and entered the Royal Navy as a Boy 2nd Class in March 1905. Advanced to Able Seaman in January 1907, he served in the Persian Gulf in the cruiser Perseus from November 1909 to July 1911, and was advanced to Leading Seman in the same period.

By the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, Corby was serving as a Petty Officer in the cruiser Bacchante, in which ship he was quickly in action at Heligoland Bight, prior to her adding “Dardanelles 1915-16” to her battle honours. And it was in this theatre of war, at the Anzac landings in April, that he won his D.S.M. for working under fire. Indeed it would be interesting to speculate whether he was in fact in the same picquet boat as 15 year old Midshipman Eric Bush, also of the Bacchante, who won a D.S.C. on the same occasion - to which he added three D.S.Os in the 1939-45 War.

Returning home to a shore appointment in
Pembroke I in early 1916, where he was advanced to Chief Petty Officer, he was selected for a commission in early 1918, and was appointed an Acting Gunner, R.N., that September. Remaining a regular after the War, he gained further advancement to Commissioned Gunner in June 1928 and was placed on the Retired List in 1937.

However, by the renewal of hostilities, he had already been recalled and was serving as a gunnery officer in the Manchester, in which capacity he would have seen action off Norway and in the Mediterranean, prior to taking up an appointment in the Royal Navy Ordnance Department in October 1941. This, then, the period in which he is believed to have been involved in the clandestine shipment of ordnance to Portugal, an aspect of his career discussed in the Evening Chronicle of 24 July 1969:
‘Behind the bar of the Three Horseshoes public house in Horton, near Blyth, is a magnificant piece of silver plate which never fails to excite curiosity in the casual visitor. The beautifully worked salver is inscribed “Do Ministeria da Guerra de Portugal. Ad 1. Tenete J. Corby D.S.M. da Marinha Real Inglesa” and was presented to Mr. Cutter's uncle, Lieutenant-Commander John Corby, by the Portuguese Government in appreciation of work that was a closely guarded secret ... Commander Corby, who joined the Royal Navy as a boy of 16 and trained in the old wooden Training Ship
Wellesley on the Tyne, rose to become one of Britain’s leading naval gunnery experts. At a time when it was feared that the German armies might sweep through France and into Spain and Portugal, he was sent to Lisbon to supervise the assembly and installation of pieces of ordnance at strategic points in Portugal as a precaution against invasion. “The guns went out in bits. They were carried in planes and trawlers, and the whole thing was a real cloak and dagger affair. My uncle got an O.B.E. for his part in the operation to add to the D.S.M. he had won in the 1914-18 War for landing troops at Gallipoli,” said Mr Cutter.’

In March 1942, Corby joined King Alfred, the R.N.V.R. Officers’ Training Establishment in Hove, as a Gunnery Instructor. Advanced to Acting Lieutenant-Commander in October of the same year, he was confirmed in that rank in 1945, and was still serving at King Alfred at the time of his sudden death from natural causes in 1946. The New Year’s Honours List of the same year announced the award of his O.B.E., an award that was posted to his sister Mrs M. J. Cutter that October.

Sold with an original copy of a Christmas booklet published by the Cadet Training Ship Wellesley, in which appears a photograph of the recipient. as a young rating, shortly after he had been cited for gallant deeds in the Gallipoli operations; together with the newspaper cutting quoted above.