JOHN Vincent reports on the world’s most coveted bravery medal – cast in bronze from cannons captured at Sebastopol.
The heroic act in 1916 earns Yorkshireman Donald Bell the Victoria Cross, one of only 1,356 awarded since being introduced by Queen Victoria on January 29, 1856, to honour acts of valour during the Crimean War.
Last year, this VC – the only one ever awarded to a professional footballer – sold for £210, 000, an unheard of price 20 years ago, when £30,000-£40,000 was considered a good result and the world record stood at £126,500.
Since then, the record has increased steadily: £138,000, in 1998, for that of Flying Officer Lloyd Trigg, the only VC awarded solely on the evidence of the enemy; £235,250, in 2004, for one presented to RAF airman Norman Jackson for his role in the Battle of Britain; £348,000 for the VC awarded to Second World War Lancaster bomber pilot Bill Reid (still the highest price for a British recipient); £491,000 in Australia, in 2006, for that of Gallipoli hero Captain Alfred Shout; and, finally, £1m, in 2008, paid by the Imperial War Museum, on behalf of a Trust, for the double-VC of Second World War hero Capt Charles Upham.
The world’s biggest private collection of VCs is owned by Lord Ashcroft, former treasurer and later deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, who last year put them on display at the Imperial War Museum.
The exhibition included the VC awarded to Rorke’s Drift hero Lieut John Chard, immortalised by Stanley Baker in the film Zulu, and Lieut.
But behind every medal, however humble, lies a story... and few more poignant than those of 2nd Lieutenant Christopher Hoare, of Richmond, North Yorkshire, pictured smiling at the head of his platoon just 60 minutes before the start of “Operation Pimlico” in November, 1952 during the Korean War.
Hours later, he was dead, winning a posthumous mention in despatches for his “magnificent example” and inspirational leadership. He was just 21. The young Royal Fusilier’s Korean War pair, along with related research including a full account of “Pimlico” in the Royal Fusiliers Chronicle, sold for £3,600 at the latest auction of specialist auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb in London.
Also sold – for £1,900 – were items relating to the glorious career of Great War VC winner Sergeant William McNally, of The Yorkshire Regiment, including miniature dress medals, a thank-you note from Winston Churchill, citation for the VC, travel pass and other documents..
Back to the VC of Second Lieutenant Donald Simpson Bell, the only professional footballer to win the award and the first to enlist in the Great War. The dazzling turn of foot he displayed for Crystal Palace, Newcastle United and Bradford Park Avenue before the war stood him in good stead when charging into No Man’s Land at the Battle of the Somme.
For his extraordinary courage, Harrogate-born Bell, 25, of The Yorkshire Regiment, was unhesitatingly recommended for the VC. But he was killed repeating his heroics just five days later and the medal was presented to his widow, Rhoda (they had been married for just over a month), by King George V at Buckingham Palace.
At school, Harrogate-born Bell was an outstanding athlete, captain of athletics and in the first team for cricket, rugby, football, hockey and swimming. While still a schoolboy, he could run the 100 yards in 10.6 seconds.