A Fine Collection of Medals to the South Wales Borderers

Date of Auction: 17th September 2020

Sold for £1,900

Estimate: £1,600 - £2,000

A fine Great War 1917 ‘Battle of Pilckem Ridge’ M.C., and 1918 ‘Trench Raid’ Second Award Bar group of four awarded to Captain H. Cottam, 10th (Service) Battalion, South Wales Borderers (1st Gwent), who was severely wounded during the first day of the Battle of Pilckem Ridge, 31 July 1917

Military Cross, G.V.R., with Second Award Bar; 1914-15 Star (2. Lieut. H. Cottam. S. Wales. Bord.); British War and Victory Medals (Capt. H. Cottam.) generally good very fine (4) £1,600-£2,000

Footnote

M.C. London Gazette 26 September 1917 (Citation appearing in London Gazette 9 January 1918):

‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When ordered to reinforce another unit against an unexpected counter-attack, he took command of all the troops in the vicinity, reorganised them under intense hostile bombardment, and consolidated the position. Although severely wounded, he refused to go to the dressing station until he had seen that his work was completed in every detail.’

M.C. Second Award Bar London Gazette 22 June 1918:

‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. During a raid on the enemy trenches he showed great coolness and fine leadership, and kept his various parties well in hand under difficult circumstances. His gallantry and initiative were largely responsible for the success of the enterprise.’

Harry Cottam served during the Great War with the 10th (Service) Battalion, South Wales Borderers (1st Gwent) in the French theatre of war from 3 December 1915. He was one of the original officers to proceed overseas with the Battalion, and he distinguished himself on the first day of the Battle of Pilckem Ridge, Ypres, 31 July 1917:

‘The arrival about 5pm of D Company of the 10th under Lieutenant Cottam was therefore very welcome. This company had been sent forward to reinforce shortly after its battalion had reached Iron Cross Ridge, to which the 10th had just moved up, while the other companies started digging in 300 yards in front of the road running S.E. from Iron Cross, thus forming a support line behind that held by the 11th along Steenbeek. Touch had by now been established with the artillery and a second counter-attack was greeted by an excellent barrage. The enemy had collected for this in shell holes in front of Langemarck but could make but little progress in face of the barrage and of the rifle and Lewis gun fire. Lieutenant Cottam did splendid work in repulsing this counter-attack, taking command of men who had lost their officers, reorganising them and directing their fire. Though badly wounded he refused to go back until he had established a well-consolidated line. Rain had set in during the afternoon, and was falling heavily so that mud soon made it difficult to keep rifles and Lewis guns in action.’ (The Regimental History refers)

Cottam, despite being wounded, stayed with his men at their position overnight and into the next day. The weather continued to worsen as did the German shelling on his position. The Battalion was relieved on 2 August 1917, having suffered casualties of 6 officers and 159 other ranks wounded, and 41 other ranks killed during the action. Cottam received 1 of 5 M.C.s awarded to the Battalion for the action. Cottam’s battalion had been fighting alongside the 11th Battalion, South Wales Borderers - and Sergeant Ivor Rees of that Battalion was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry at Pilckem Ridge, 31 July 1917.

Cottam advanced to Captain and earned the Second Award Bar to his M.C. for leading a raid from the Wez Macquart sector, 28 March 1918:

‘However, a successful raid by B and D Companies in the early hours of March 28th did a good deal to redress the balance. Admirably led by Captain Cottam they assaulted and carried Include Trench which faced a salient in our lines. Second Lieutenant A. Morgan was well to the fore; forcing his way through the wire despite heavy fire from machine guns, he rushed a post, killing five of the garrison and taking two prisoners. He then pushed on to a dug-out and bombed and killed its occupants. Sergeant Hughes and Lance Corporal Lane were also to the fore and the net result of the raid was the capture of six prisoners and the killing of some 25 more enemy at a cost of eight wounded.’ (Ibid)

Morgan was awarded the M.C., and the two N.C.O.’s were both awarded the D.C.M. for the trench raid.