Auction News

World War One Victoria Cross set for £220,000 auction


A Victoria Cross and Distinguished Service Order awarded to Lieutenant-Commander Edgar Christopher Cookson in 1915
Image courtesy of Noonan's

A Victoria Cross and a Distinguished Service Order awarded to a Royal Navy officer killed in action in 1915 are being auctioned and could realise more than £200,000.

Lieutenant-Commander Edgar Christopher Cookson was killed while attempting to cut wires holding a boat-barrier across a river at Kut-el-Amara in modern Iraq.

Cookson, according to the VC citation in the London Gazette published on January 21, 1916, jumped from HMS Comet onto the dhow armed with an axe after attempts to sink it with gunfire had failed. He was immediately shot and died within 10 minutes.

Cookson was said to have exhibited suicidal courage.

His courage was described as “suicidal”, attempting an action he knew would fail and thus could not order another man to attempt. His last words were said to be: “I am done. It is a failure. Return at full speed.”

Kut-el-Amara was a major battle front between the British Empire and the Ottoman Empire during World War One.

In September 1915, British forces attacked the Ottoman garrison in the town and expelled them. They were in turn besieged and defeated with heavy losses. The British retook the city (which was almost completely destroyed by continuous fighting) in 1917.

Cookson’s awards are being sold by Noonan’s of Mayfair and carry an estimate of £180,000 to £220,000.

The VC was handed to his mother, his only surviving close relative, by King Edward VII in 1916. Cookson himself was buried in Amara War Cemetery.

Merseyside-born Cookson had served in the Royal Navy from 1897.

He was awarded a Distinguished Service Order for extracting his craft from danger under heavy fire in the same campaign in 1915.

Mark Quayle, Medal Specialist at Noonan’s who are hosting the sale, said: “Cookson’s repeated acts of gallantry, in the harshest of environments, led to him making the ultimate sacrifice for both duty and for those who meant the most to him – the men under his command.

“Leading a ‘cavalry charge’ on water in a desperate attempt to force his way through the enemy position ultimately proved futile, but his act was one of cold, calculated bravery in the face of certain death. Alas, he rolled the dice one too many times.”

The medal was sold by Cookson’s descendants in 1977.

Medals and military decorations are extremely collectible, and can be valuable; the more heroic the circumstances of the medal’s awarding the better. A VC – the first awarded to a civilian – sold for just under £1 million last year.

Just 1,358 Victoria Crosses have been awarded since the decoration was inaugurated during the Crimea War in 1856.

Around 300 have been auctioned, and date-corrected prices value most of these sales in the hundreds of thousands of pounds range.

Many in museum collections – the Imperial War Museum has the largest collection – are in private hands and are on loan.

Sales are rare, always attract attention, and often very high prices. The next most valuable lot in this auction, on March 13, is a set of 10 naval medals, including a Scott Antarctic expedition medal, that carry an estimate of £30,000 to £40,000.

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