A Collection of Medals to Members of the Nobility and The Royal Household

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Date of Auction: 8th December 2016

Sold for £1,700

Estimate: £1,600 - £2,000

The historically interesting Great War ‘Salonika’ M.C. group of six awarded to Major E. G. M. Phillips, Black Watch, Comptroller to H.R.H. the Duke of Windsor throughout the Second World War, when he aided the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s evacuation from France in June 1940, met Churchill at Downing Street, caused a stir by using a Royal postcard to write to a friend in Fascist Italy, and reported the murder of Sir Harry Oakes in the Bahamas

Military Cross, G.V.R., unnamed as issued; 1914-15 Star (2. Lieut. E. G. M. Phillips. R. Highrs.); British War and Victory Medals (Capt. E. G. M. Phillips.); Defence and War Medals 1939-45, good very fine (6) £1600-2000

Footnote

M.C. London Gazette 1 January 1918.

Edwin Gray Moneylaws Phillips was born at Kirklington, Southwell, Nottinghamshire, on 11 October 1884, and was educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford. Commissioned into the Black Watch in December 1914, he served with the 10th Battalion in France and Salonika during the Great War. Promoted Lieutenant on 7 June 1916, he commanded twenty-five men of “A” Company in a raid on P5, Salonika, on 9 October 1916, and later led them on an attack at lake Dorian, Salonika, on 8 May 1917, actions which contributed towards the award of his Military Cross. Promoted Captain on 1 July 1917, he was appointed Adjutant on 15 October 1917 and was presented with his Military Cross by the General Officer Commanding Sir George Milne at Karsoulie on 20 March 1918. He returned to France with his Battalion in July 1918 and was transferred to the 8th Battalion in October 1918. Between the Wars he became well known to the Prince of Wales (later Duke of Windsor), and was sometime Comptroller to the Duke of Sutherland. Granted a Regular Army Emergency Commission as a Second Lieutenant on 18 October 1939, he was appointed by the Palace to serve as Aide and Comptroller to H.R.H. the Duke of Windsor who, though serving with the British Military Mission in France, remained firmly ‘on the outside’ as far as the Establishment was concerned.

Comptroller to the Duke of Windsor
‘Major Gray Phillips, impeccably dressed in the uniform of the Black Watch, hesitated a third time in front of the royal bedroom. He was the Duke's equerry; and his friendship and unofficial service reached back past the frustrated beginnings of World War Two, through the humiliations of the post abdication years, into the senselessly precipitated abdication crisis itself, the truncated ten-month reign as King and the faded brilliance of the Prince of Wales era. At seven in the morning, Phillips knew that His Royal Highness and the Duchess would still be sound asleep. Never early risers, they would resent being disturbed regardless of the provocation, even though the dazzling Caribbean sun was already far along in its orbit, and a cooling breeze following the night's violent storm had cleared air and sky and sea to blend all into a startling blue. Major Phillips reluctantly brought his clenched fist against the bedroom door, first cautiously and then with sufficient strength to be heard. The muted grumblings from behind the door came soon; and some minutes after the royal aide identified himself, the Duke, attired in white silk robe, the Royal British Coat of Arms embroidered in azure, red, silver and gold on the pocket, his brownish hair in total disarray, opened the door.’ (The Duke of Windsor’s War by Michael Bloch refers). The news which prompted Gray Phillips to wake his royal master at Government House, Nassau, on the morning of 8 July 1943 was the discovery of the battered and charred body of the Bahamas' number one citizen, Sir Harry Oakes, reputedly the richest Baronet in the British Empire. The Duke of Windsor was seized with the thought that he must take principal charge of the investigation. On this occasion, as on others during his wartime exile, he was to prove a loose cannon. In order to try and give himself time to think he ordered Phillips to call the local radio station and Sir Etienne Dupuch, publisher of the Nassan Tribune, at home, and slap an embargo on the news. The news leaked out anyhow. Next, he called in the Miami Police, believing the local constabulary was entirely unequal to such a crisis. Thirdly, and worst of all, he made up his mind who had committed the murder before the investigation began, pointing the finger at Oakes' son-in-law, Alfred de Marigny, who had been less than respectful towards the Royal Governor. The jury acquitted De Marigny without hesitation. The murder of Sir Harry Oakes remains a mystery despite a plethora of theories, some convincing, some grotesque. What remains is the less than impressive role played by the Duke. It was one of several witnessed first hand by Major Gray Phillips as Comptroller to His Royal Highness.
Gray Phillips was six and a half feet tall and had beautiful manners. He was something of a frustrated aesthete and intellectual, and had been a brilliant classical scholar at Eton. He was charming, resourceful, witty, and kind; everyone liked him. A bachelor with a strong artistic streak, crucially he got on marvellously well with the Duchess of Windsor. In late May 1940 as the German armies swept across France, Gray Phillips and “Fruity" Metcalfe were in Paris holding the fort at the Duke's residence in the Boulevard Suchet, while their royal master, having stripped the house of all articles of value including all the cars, had attached himself to the French Command on the Cote d'Azur. Metcalfe, the Duke's trusted friend for twenty years, was disgusted and left for England. Gray Phillips complained of nothing except a faltering electricity supply and that 'no ice could be found for his drink'. When the Germans burst through the Weygrand Line in early June, he set out on a long and difficult journey to rejoin the Duke and Duchess at La Cröe in Antibes which he reached 'after four terrible days hitch-hiking from Angers'. 'As he fell upon food and drink', he recounted 'the amazing chaos he had seen and the total collapse of French resistance'. With the Germans barely 200 miles away to the north, the Duke asked members of the British Embassy, encamped at Bordeaux, if he and the Duchess were to be evacuated by the Royal Navy, but, in spite of the dramatic consequences of the Duke falling into Nazi hands, no vessel could be spared. On the 18th, British officials remaining in France agreed it was definitely time the Duke left and in the continuing absence of any ships, it was decided that the Windsors, together with Gray Phillips, an equerry, Captain Wood, and his wife, Rosa, should join two members of the British Consulate at Nice who were about to evacuate their posts and cross into Spain. However the Consuls could not obtain visas for them and there was a risk that they might not be admitted or that once admitted the Duke, Phillips and Wood might be arrested as members of the British forces on neutral soil. On the 19th, the Duchess' birthday, the party reached Perpignan, where Gray Phillips remained at an hotel with the Duchess and Rosa Wood, while the Duke and Wood went on to obtain visas. During the afternoon, however, Phillips, the Duchess, and Rosa Wood were evicted when the hotel was suddenly requisitioned by the French Government which planned to move there in the event of the armistice talks breaking down. Meanwhile the Duke was informed that only he and the Duchess would be given visas. The Duke declared that it was to be all or none of them, and finally the Spanish Ambassador to France, who was contacted with considerable difficulty by telephone, secured the necessary paperwork. It was several days before the British Government or Court found time to reflect on the embarrassment of the Duke being abandoned in Europe, and to decide on how next he might be best kept out of the way. In early July, amid Nazi attempts to suggest that the Duke's presence in Spain was indicative of a split with the Churchill Government, the Ducal party was urged to leave for Portugal, where several increasingly desperate plots were to be hatched by the German Secret Intelligence Service to subvert the Windsors. On 4 July the Duke accepted the Governorship of the Bahamas and next day at Churchill's suggestion, Gray Phillips was flown to London by R.A.F. flying boat to collect the Duke's Colonial Office briefing and obtain the answers to the numerous question of protocol which arose from the unique situation of appointing a member of the Royal Family to a small Governorship. The Duke, fretting that it would be "a serious handicap" to start in his new appointment with a new valet, wired instruction to Phillips to arrange an interview with the Prime Minister, no less, and arrange for the release of his valet, Piper Alistair Fletcher, from the Army. Despite the fact that the country stood on the brink of invasion and the Battle of Britain had just been joined overhead, the Prime Minister made time to meet Phillips and apparently discuss solely the question of a valet to look after the former King-Emperor's clothes. Churchill refused to release the soldier, but there the matter did not rest. British Intelligence intercepted a telegram from the Duchess to Gray Phillips at the Bath Club expressing her alarm at what she perceived to be the Government's obstinacy over the matter, which caused Lord Hardinge, ever suspicious of her loyalty, to comment: "This is not the first time that the lady has come under suspicion for her anti-British activity, and long as we never forget the power on him in her efforts to avenge herself on this country, we shall be alright". On 23 July, by the time the telegrams to and from Major Phillips were assuming fantastic absurdity in time of war, Phillips sent the following cable to the Duchess: 'Have choice of two maids one hundred pounds. One nine years Lady Duncan, seven Countess Vitetti. Recommendations excellent. Other five years Clare Beck, since then dressmaking four years, appearance distinctly plain. Either could leave Sunday with me'. Interestingly the names of the maids were not disclosed. On the 31st German Intelligence reported that the Duchesses new maid, Evelyn Fryth, had arrived in Lisbon from England by flying boat, and that Miss Fryth was a British Secret Intelligence Service agent.
A major difficulty then arose over the route to be taken to the Bahamas. The normal route from Europe was via New York, where "it was feared that the Duke, ever popular in the United States, might contact isolationists and appeasers”. The Duke claimed he merely wanted to go shopping, and repeatedly instructed Gray Phillips to press for a New York visit as the Duchess needed to see her doctors (regarding a nose job). But this, as Gray Phillips reported, was at once vetoed in Whitehall as it was thought that the publicity in Britain which would accompany such a visit would be 'of an icy character and will have a most unfortunate effect at the present Juncture.’ The Duke was furious and threatened to withdraw from the Governorship and thereby give rise to yet greater problems. Churchill saw that the Duke was serious and felt that a small concession might achieve the required result. Accordingly he sweetened the pill of the ban on New York, by ordering the release of Piper Fletcher. On the night of the 27th, Phillips, Fletcher and the Windsors' friend, Sir Walter Monckton, were flown to Lisbon by Squadron Leader Edward Fielden of the King's Flight. Monckton was warmly received by the Windsors who remained ignorant of his mission to "deactivate" them and to ensure that they left the country aboard the American ship
Excalibur which had been re-routed at considerable expense to the British Treasury.
The Duke by this time had been approached by a pro-Nazi friend and given the firm impression that Germany would co-operate with him and the Duchess in the event of 'any future alliance' with Britain. The Duke was also warned that Churchill intended to keep him and the Duchess permanent prisoners in the Bahamas. The Duke expressed his admiration for Hitler's desire for peace but was reluctant to openly respond to the German design at that moment. This led Wiater Schellenberg, the head of the German Secret Intelligence Service, to adopt a yet more stupid and drastic plan to keep the Windsors in Europe by intimating that their lives were in danger from British lntelligence officers and others. Schellenberg thus arranged for Gray Phillips to receive
Excalibur's passenger list on which the names of the Jews on board were marked, suggesting that the danger might come from them, and for a German agent posing as an assassin to be arrested on board the ship. In spite of Schellenberg's efforts, and the Windsors' dubious request that the Excalibur be held for a week of their convenience, they sailed on schedule on 1 August 1940, with 'Major Gray Phillips, the mysterious Evelyn Fryth, Captain and Mrs. George Wood and [Detective Sergeant] Harold Holder [of Scotland Yard, who was shortly to be investigated for anti-British sentiments]. All were accommodated in the veranda suite of cabins'. When the Windsors reached the Bahamas they found it far from glamorous, as the Duchess confirmed privately when she wrote to her aunt, Bessie Merryman. 'Where did you stay when you came to this dump and why did you come here?' And, later, 'We both hate it and the locals are petty-minded, the visitors common and uninteresting'. On 16 September 1940, Gray Phillips moved into Government House at Nassau where at first, according to the visitors' book, there were only three house guests in as many months, his own name being above theirs. Nevertheless it was not long before the Duchess asserted herself over local society and a friendship was formed with the flamboyant and rugged Sir Harry Oakes, the bungled handling of whose unsolved murder was to remain the most vivid public memory of the Duke's tenure of office in the Bahamas.
In 1941, Gray Phillips committed an act which is nothing if not curious. British Intelligence intercepted an envelope posted before Pearl Harbour in California addressed to an Italian in Rome. The letter within, which seemed to be entirely innocent, transpired to be the work of a close friend of the Duchess, Mona Williams, who was later to become Countess Bismarck. Attached to it, however, was a further envelope addressed to Prince Rodolfo del Drago, which was found to contain a picture posted of Government House, Nassau, of a type which was reserved for the use of the Duke and Duchess and their house guests. The message on the card [still classified] was signed "Grigio". British security was thrown into a flurry of activity. 'Who was Grigio! How did he know Rodolfo? Why Nassau' Where did the Duke come in?' ... Copies of the compromising missives were made and circulated to London, Washington and New York; in New York they engaged the attention of the legendary spy-master "Intrepid"; at the Colonial Office they were scrutinized by the new Secretary of State, Lord Cranborne. Weeks passed, and the identity of Grigio remained elusive; and in April 1942 it was finally decided to write to the Duke enclosing the documents in the case, pointing out that while there seemed to be 'no harm in the letter itself, it nonetheless might amount to 'an attempt to evade the censorship and to communicate through an unauthorized intermediary with persons in enemy territory' ... The Duke knew perfectly well who Grigio might be. As he wrote to a senior British official: ' ... I am writing to inform you that I have established the identity of GRIGIO as being Major E. Gray Phillips, a member of my personal staff in Nassau. Major Phillips has made a full confession of his blatant infringement of the regulations ... the seriousness of which is aggravated by the fact ... my name should become connected with the incident ... For my part, I am entirely satisfied with his explanation of this incident and that his endeavour to communicate with an Italian was in no way prompted by any sinister motive ... Having known Major Phillips for twenty years, the last three of which he has held an important position of trust as my Comptroller, I can vouch for his integrity. I hope, therefore, that under the circumstances British Security Co-ordination will ... overlook the serious breach of security regulations which he has unfortunately committed'. The Windsors returned to La Cröe in April 1946 and Major Gray Phillips was released from service in the December following, after which he practiced at the Bar. He died on 26 January 1973 at Melton Court, Old Brompton Road, London.