The Collection of Medals to Great War Casualties formed by Tim Parsons

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Date of Auction: 2nd April 2004

Sold for £1,900

Estimate: £1,200 - £1,500

Six: Major A. Gardiner, Royal Engineers, attached Lahore Division, Indian Corps, who was killed in action at Givenchy on 20 December 1914: ‘No braver or better soldier fought for England and so nobly died’

The Order of St. John, Serving Brother’s breast badge, silver and enamel, the edge privately engraved, ‘Major A. Gardiner’; Queen’s Sudan 1896-98 (Lt., R.E.); 1914 Star, with clasp (Major, R.E.); British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf (Major); Khedive’s Sudan 1896-1908, no clasp (Ltt., R.E., P.W. Dept.), contemporary engraved naming in running script, with related Memorial Plaque (Alec Gardiner); together with a mounted group of 3 dress miniatures, comprising O. St. J., Queen’s and Khedive’s Sudan Medals, the Sudan pair very fine, the remainder extremely fine and a very rare combination to a Great War casualty (9) £1200-1500


Alec Gardiner was born in June 1873, the son of a Lieutenant-Colonel, R.E. and the grandson of a Major-General, R.A., and was educated privately and at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich.

Gazetted as a 2nd Lieutenant to the R.E. in July 1891, he sailed for India in October 1893, where he was attached to the Railway Branch of the Indian Public Works Department, and was appointed an Assistant Engineer for duty with the North-Western Railway early in the following year.

Early in 1896 the British Government decided that an Indian Brigade should be sent to the Sudan for active service with the Dongola Expeditionary Force, and Gardiner was duly selected for duty with the Indian Contingent, attached Military Works Department. He thereupon proceeded to Suakin and served as an Assistant Field Engineer until the conclusion of the campaign.

Back in India, Gardiner enjoyed steady advancement in the Indian Railway, in addition to promotion to Major, R.E., and, in September 1913, he was invested by H.E. the Viceroy at Simla with the insignia of a Serving Brother of the Order of St. John: this latter reward reflected his ‘conspicuous part in the work of the Indian Branch of the St. John of Jerusalem Ambulance Association, and particularly in connection with the training in first aid of the members of the Oudh and Rohilkund Railway Volunteer Rifles’ (Institute of Civil Engineers Roll of Honour, 1914-19, refers).

An Officiating Agent of the Oude and Rohilkund Railway by the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, Gardiner’s services were immediately placed at the disposal of the Military Department of the Government of India and he was ordered to Flanders. On arrival, he was appointed a Field Engineer in the Lahore Division and participated in the bitter fighting around Messines and Festubert. A glimpse of him at work, driving forward a communication trench as a newly appointed C.O. of the 20th Company, Sappers and Miners, on 19 December 1914, is to be found in the official history of the Indian Corps. But on the following day he was posted missing:

‘ ... An intense fire was directed by the German artillery and trench mortars against the trenches held by his and the Meerut Division. Later, German infantry advanced against the section of line between La Quinque Rue-Givenchy and with a considerable force, particularly in the neighbourhood of Givenchy, where he was employed on that day [the 20th]. About 9 a.m., the Germans exploded a series of mines along the whole front of the Sirhind Brigade, which was defending the line just east of Givenchy, having succeeded in driving their tunnels under the front of the Indian Corps without being detected. As soon as the mines were sprung, the enemy advanced in heavy masses; these met with a stubborn resistance, but the Indian troops were now outnumbered and outbombed. At 1 p.m. a retirement was ordered; as the troops began to pass through Givenchy, another explosion took place, destroying several lengths of trenches and the defenders of the same. The fighting in this neighbourhood was exceedingly desperate; so desperate, indeed, that 12 prisoners alone were taken. The Germans succeeded on 20 December 1914 in breaking through the line held by the Indian troops; on the same evening, he was reported missing. Six months later the fact was definitely established that he fell in action, owing to the circumstance that his grave was disturbed by an enemy shell; his body being exposed to view, it was recognized by the identification marks still remaining upon it ...’ (Institute of Civil Engineers Roll of Honour, 1914-19, refers).

Gardiner, who left behind a widow and three children, was posthumously mentioned in despatches by Sir John French (London Gazette 22 June 1915); and a fellow officer wrote, ‘No braver or better soldier fought for England and so nobly died’.