A Collection of Awards for Burma Operations during the Second World War

Date of Auction: 27th September 2017

Unsold

Estimate: £1,200 - £1,600

A scarce Second War 1944 Burma operations M.C. and Second Award Bar group of five attributed to Major H. R. R. Steele, 5th Maharatta Light Infantry, late Reconnaissance Corps, for gallantry as a company commander at Sangshak, 22 March 1944, and for repeated gallantry and leadership during an abortive attempt at taking a hill position on the Imphal - Tamu Road, before rallying his men to fight an orderly withdrawal against overwhelming numbers

Military Cross, G.VI.R. reverse officially dated ‘1944’, with Second Award Bar, reverse officially dated ‘1944’, and reverse of cross additionally engraved ‘Capt. H. R. R. Steele 5th Mahratta L.I.’; 1939-45 Star; Burma Star; Defence and War Medals 1939-45, mounted court-style, with related mounted miniature awards, all housed in a Spink & Son leather case, generally good very fine (lot) £1200-1600

Footnote

Provenance: DNW, April 2006.

M.C. London Gazette 27 July 1944:

‘At Sangshak on 22 Mar 44 this offr was in comd of a coy. In the morning he was ordered to move out and lay on an ambush for the enemy who could be seen moving up in the direction of Finchs Corner. He carried out this task at short notice with considerable success and returned to Sangshak by 1700hrs. At this juncture the enemy started to move up to the West end of the Sangshak ridge and by sniping and MMG fire was seriously harassing our troops moving into the Sangshak box from the Sheldons Corner area. Capt. Steele was ordered to attack and hold the enemy posn. till our troops were all in. He led his coy. into the attack with great speed and dash and his orders and bearing were a model of brevity and coolness. He held the posn. against fierce enemy attacks till ordered to withdraw and carried out the withdrawal with his tired troops in a most cool and exemplary manner. The successful withdrawal of troops into the box was almost entirely due to his courage resolution and the quickness with which he carried out his orders.’

M.C. Second Award Bar London Gazette 16 November 1944:

‘On 26th July 1944, 4 Mahrattas had been given the task of establishing a road block at about milestone 61 on the Imphal - Tamu Rd. The leading coy. made good the actual road itself while D Coy. Commanded by Major H. R. R. Steele was given the task of taking a hill immediately to the South of the road which commanded the area where the road block was to be established.

As Major Steele advanced he left one section to picquet a minor feature on his left flank to protect him as he advanced. At this time except for about 20 men who had been killed wounded or put to flight by the leading coy. no enemy were to be seen. The coy. only 50 strong advanced in open order up the hill which was covered in long grass which after some 100 yds merged into jungle.

After advancing some 300 yds up the hill the coy. was suddenly fired on by the enemy from well dug-in posns. from very short range and the leading secs were thrown into some confusion. Major Steele re-organised his coy. and attacked the enemy. The posn. was held by about 50 - 60 of the enemy and the approaches were covered by cross L.M.G. fire. The attack failed to drive the enemy out.

Another coy., A Coy., had been sent round the right flank to assist D Coy. in taking the posn., before this attack came in, the enemy counter attacked D Coy. from the left flank in considerable strength with fresh troops from other posns. on the top of feature.

Major Steele again re-organised his coy. and held off the enemy while A Coy withdrew through him and successfully evacuated all his wounded several of whom were stretcher cases. The enemy by this time had killed or wounded the entire sec. picquet on his left flank and had worked round behind him. They had been re-inforced both from the direction of Lokchao by some 100 men and also by troops from the direction of Tamu. Having seen A Coy through and evacuated his wounded Major Steele successfully withdrew his coy. behind the next covering coy.

Within 5 minutes after his rear sec. reached the Bn. boxed posn Major Steele reported his coy. was ready for action and he took over the perimeter.

While digging-in in this posn. his coy. was subjected to continual sniping, mortaring and L.M.G. fire. Seeing his men were rather shaken by the heavy fire Major Steele moved from one Pl. to another encouraging his men. During this period he must have been a very conspicuous target owing to his completely different build and stature from the men.

During a subsequent withdrawal to a hill some 300 yds away from the above mentioned posn. Major Steele with his coy. again covered the Bn. out and for over an hour held off the enemy who were now within 150 yards of his forward troops. During this period the coy. was subject to medium Machine Gun, Mortar and L.M.G. fire as well as being sniped and the enemy on his immediate front were over a hundred strong.

Throughout this action as the only Coy. Comd. (with any experience) left in the Bn. Major Steele was called upon to do much that would normally have been shared by other Coys. and Coy. Comds.

His courage and example had a very heartening effect not only to his own Coy. but to others around him.’

Harmer Richmond Rae Steele was born in Madras on 25 March 1921 and was educated at King’s School, Canterbury. After the outbreak of war he was commissioned into the Reconnaissance Corps, later transferring to the 5th Mahratta Light Infantry. After the war, Steele read Agriculture and Estate Management at King’s College Cambridge and in 1949 joined the Bombay Burmah Corporation. Major Steele died on 13 January 1999.

Sold with newspaper cuttings - announcing his death and his obituary, together with copied research details.

Note: Another M.C. & Bar group with associated material to Major Steele is known.