A Collection of Medals for the Russian Intervention 1918-20
Date of Auction: 8th May 2019
Sold for £11,000
Estimate: £3,000 - £4,000
Distinguished Service Cross, G.V.R., with Second Award Bar, unnamed as issued, silver (hallmarks for London 1917); 1914-15 Star (Lieut. E. W. King. R.N.R.); British War and Victory Medals (Lieut. E. W. King. R.N.R.); Mercantile Marine War Medal (Ernest W. King); France, Third Republic, Croix de Guerre, bronze, reverse dated 1914-1917, with bronze palm on riband, mounted court-style for display purposes in this order, light contact marks, generally very fine or better and a unique combination of awards (6) £3,000-£4,000
FootnoteProvenance: R. C. Witte Collection, Dix Noonan Webb, September 2012.
Only 91 D.S.C. and Second Award Bars were awarded during the Great War, 28 of these to officers of the Royal Naval Reserve.
D.S.C. London Gazette 6 April 1918:
‘For services in vessels of the Auxiliary Patrol between 1 January and 31 December 1917.’
D.S.C. Second Award Bar London Gazette 11 November 1919:
‘For distinguished services in command of H.M. Paddle Minesweeper Walton Belle at Onega on the 1 October 1919, when he handled his ship with great skill and courage under very trying circumstances.’
French Croix de Guerre London Gazette 17 May 1918.
Ernest William King was born in Portsmouth in January 1886 and gained his Master’s Certificate in August 1912. Appointed to the temporary rank of Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve in July 1915, he was borne on the books of Actaeon for additional duties, namely employment in the paddle minesweeper Walton Belle, in which capacity he was awarded the D.S.C. in April 1918 and the French Croix de Guerre that May, for services on the occasion of the Belle's sweeping of a “T” Type German mine in the Thames Estuary on 8 September 1917, the only mine of its type found in British waters and thereafter referred to as the ‘Walton Belle Mine’.
In May 1919, the Walton Belle was converted for use as a hospital tender, and King was placed in command and ordered to sail her to the White Sea, a voyage undertaken in 20 days.
On 1 August 1919 (and not 1 October as mentioned in the citation for the Second Award Bar to his D.S.C.), the Walton Belle, accompanied by H.M. Monitors M.24 and M.26, the tug Alku, and the barge Keret, took part in an amphibious assault on the White Sea coastal town of Onega which had been handed over to the Bolsheviks on 20 July after a mutiny by the White Russian garrison. Whilst M.24 and M.26 provided covering fire, Alku landed a naval landing party under Lieutenant Robert McNair, whilst Keret landed a handful of gunners from 443rd Battery, Royal Field Artillery and a mixed platoon of 45th and 46th Royal Fusiliers, whilst the Walton Belle landed a force of White Russian troops under Russian Colonel Danilov. The attack failed, in no small part due to the failure of the White Russian troops to attack, the British and Russian troops withdrawing back to the docks where they re-embarked their respective vessels. As the Walton Belle was returning to Archangel an attempt was made by the White Russian troops to take over the ship.
Bolos and Barishynas. The North Dvina 1919 gives the following account:
‘The Walton Belle before the fateful year of 1914 was a paddle-steamer at Margate. Eventually she arrived in the Dvina, and in an emergency was used to convey supposedly loyal Russian troops to deal with a difficult situation at Onega. The vessel was manned by unarmed mercantile marine ratings. The Russian troops were thoroughly equipped, and armed with rifles and Lewis guns.
On arriving at Onega, at that time in the hands of the Bolshevik mutineers, the First Lieutenant, with two men, went ashore, and with a Lewis gun cleared the village in the vicinity of the docks. The loyal Russians, armed to the teeth, could not be induced to follow. Belaying pins and other persuasive weapons finally resulted in a few going ashore. The First Lieutenant, being then in possession of several Bolshevik prisoners, finding the Russians unwilling to follow, abandoned his attack. He realised, and very wisely, that it was hardly possible to capture the town with two other ratings.
The Bolsheviks, having now recovered from their first alarms, counter-attacked, and the Walton Belle escaped from Onega under heavy shell and machine gun fire. On the voyage back to Archangel the four or five Bolo prisoners succeeded in disarming their guard, threw a bomb at the Captain [King], and proceeded to clean up the ship. They completely subdued the 200 heavily armed Russians. The situation was entirely in favour of the Bolsheviks till it was taken in hand by one of the mercantile marine ratings, who appeared on deck with a shot-gun and blew the heads off two of the mutineers, one with the right barrel and the other with the left. This subdued the state of turmoil till the port was reached. Considerable excitement was created by her arrival. S.O.S. signals were being fired, and Lewis guns and rifles were being discharged on the unfortunate paddle-steamer. A boarding party from H.M.S. Fox finally subdued the excited and mutinous Russians, and it is not to be wondered at that the men from the Fox did not discriminate in the meting out of punishment to to both the Bolshevik and the so-called loyal Russian.’
Surgeon Lieutenant W. F. Castle (awarded a D.S.C. for treating wounded under fire during the raid) was the Senior Medical Officer on board Walton Belle at the time of the mutiny and wrote in his report of the incident:
‘The Captain of Walton Belle [King] was warned of a mutiny planned by Russians (about 30 Russian troops left on board). Posted S.B.A. Bristow with rifle in chart house to guard rifles with orders to shoot at once. Other S.B.A. on bridge with rifle. Told Chief Engineer who armed stokers. Took a revolver and went onto bridge. Mutiny started opposite Cyclops - S.B.A. Bristow killing one man who was attempting to take rifles from chart house. He then shot another who was running towards the bridge with a Mills bomb. Several rifles were fired. Three Russians killed, two wounded. One Walton Belle A.B. was shot through the abdomen.’
For his command and leadership during the attempted mutiny, Ernest King was awarded a Second Award Bar to his D.S.C.. He subsequently returned to his career in the Mercantile Marine until his untimely death in March 1923 after an accident.
A full account of the amphibious attack on Onega can be found in Churchill’s Secret War with Lenin by Damien Wright, in which King is mentioned.