The Collection of Second World War and Modern Gallantry Awards formed by the late William Oakley

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Date of Auction: 12th December 2012

Sold for £12,000

Estimate: £4,000 - £5,000

A rare Second World War Normandy operations M.C. group of six awarded to Captain W. T. B. “Jimmy” James, Welch Regiment, attached No. 4 Commando - coming ashore on Gold Beach under a heavy fire on D-Day, he was decorated for facing-off an enemy counter-attack just 48 hours later, when ‘he personally accounted for many of the enemy’ with a Bren gun

Military Cross, G.VI.R., the reverse officially dated ‘1944’; 1939-45 Star; France and Germany Star; Defence and War Medals 1939-45; Efficiency Medal, E.II.R., Territorial (Capt. W. T. B. James, M.C., Welch), contact marks, very fine or better (6)
£4000-5000

Footnote

M.C. London Gazette 31 August 1944. The original recommendation states:

‘For courage and leadership displayed during the enemy attack at Hauger on evening of 8 June 1944. The enemy had broken through the position covering the Commando left flank and were advancing up a valley straight towards Commando H.Q. which was being held by only a few men. Lieutenant James realised the danger of the situation and immediately called a few men and started a counter attack. Although the enemy strength was estimated at one platoon he advanced with his small force and held the enemy’s thrust. He personally accounted for many of the enemy by first firing a Bren gun until the ammunition for that gun was expended. He then continued to fire with a rifle until all the ammunition for that weapon was gone and finally he picked up a Garrand Rifle, continued to fire and succeeded in holding the enemy until a force arrived to assist his small party to drive the enemy back. By his prompt and brave action he undoubtedly prevented the enemy overrunning the position and by containing them formed the base for the counter attack which restored the position.’

William Thomas Brinley “Jimmy” James, a native of Barry, Glamorganshire, was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Welch Regiment in May 1941. At which point he joined No. 4 Commando remains unknown, but, as cited above, he was very much part of the team by D-Day, when, as part of No. 1 Special Service Brigade, 6th Airborne Division, he came ashore under a heavy fire on Gold Beach - the Commando having been disembarked from the infantry landing ships Princess Astrid and the Maid of Orleans.

Nor was the run-in to Sword beach, or the actual landing, an uneventful one, No. 4’s M.O. recalling that ‘bullets rattled against the craft and splinters whined overhead ... There was thick smoke over the beach, and the tide low but flooding. There were many bodies in the water; one was hanging round one of the tripod obstacles. The shoals were churned with bursting shells. I saw wounded men among the dead, pinned down by the weight of their equipment’. Another witness recalled seeing ‘bodies lay sprawled all over the beach, some with legs, arms and heads missing, the blood clotting the wet sand’.

These harrowing first scenes were largely the result of the reception afforded the men of the East Yorkshires, who had been sent ahead to clear the beaches of mines and other obstacles before the arrival of Commandos. Nonetheless, at least one enemy pill-box was still very much in action as James and his comrades made their way up to the enemy’s wire, and before too long No. 4 Commando had its own mounting casualties, estimated by this stage to be to the tune of 40 men. Their first task had been to storm the enemy’s battery at Ouistreham, but in the event that “honour” fell to the French Commandos, or certainly the spearhead of the attack, which ended in victory after a ferocious hand-to-hand encounter. Thereafter, the survivors from No. 4 commenced fighting their way inland, in order to link up with the Airborne on the River Orne, an objective achieved after further casualties, that evening, the latter including their C.O.

And it was at the same location, on a ridge near Sallenelles, beside Hauger Chateau, that James won his M.C. 48 hours later, when he so courageously fended off a determined counter-attack and saved D Troop, then commanded by Dieppe V.C. winner Captain “Pat” Porteous.

Originally it had been intended that the Commandos would be withdrawn from the frontline after a few days, but such was the ferocity of the enemy’s resistance that James and his comrades in No. 4 remained on active service in France until early September - by D-Day + 4 alone, the Commando’s strength had been reduced from 455 officers and men to 160; see James Dunning’s The Fighting Fourth and Murdoch McDougall’s Swiftly They Struck, for full details of these operations.

Also described as having onetime been attached to No. 47 (Royal Marine) Commando, it is not known whether James was still with No. 4 at the time of the famous Walcheren landings.

He remained in the Territorial Army after the War and onetime served as a Captain in the South Staffordshire Regiment.