WWI centenary: Missing Victoria Cross turned up at auction
In 1982 an old boy of Batley Grammar decided to trace the soldiers from his school who had lost their lives in World War One.
With some exceptions, Jack Schofield managed to find the regiments they had fought in and some details of the circumstances of their deaths.
The most famous, and the only one to win the Victoria Cross, was Private Horace Waller of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.
Born in Batley Carr on September 23 1896, he lived in Healds Road, Dewsbury, enlisted on May 30 1916 and was killed in action on April 10 1917.
He is buried in the British Cemetery at St Martin sur Cojeul in France.
The inscription on his headstone reads: “Honoured, beloved and mourned.”
The citation for his Victoria Cross reads: “For most conspicuous gallantry when in a bombing section forming a block in the enemy line. A very violent counter attack by the enemy on this point occurred and although five of the small garrison were killed, Pte Waller continued to throw bombs for more than an hour and finally repulsed the attack. In the evening the enemy again counter attacked the post and all the garrison became casualties except Pte Waller who, although wounded later, continued to throw bombs for another half hour until he was killed. Throughout these attacks he showed the utmost valour and it was due to his determination that the attacks on this important post were repulsed. The Victoria Cross was awarded to him posthumously.”
The medal, however, disappeared until it turned up at auction in 1981.
It had been put up for sale by Pte Waller’s brother and it raised £8,000 when it was bought by an anonymous client.
The motive of the brother seems clear, it was now over 60 years since the award had been made, and the sum was a substantial nest egg over 30 years ago. Why not raise some capital rather than leave it lingering in a drawer?
The motive of the buyer is less clear. Was he trying to buy “a piece of history”?
Was he hoping that the value of the medal would increase? Was he a distant member of the family?
Was he an admirer of the military spirit? Was he trying to preserve the memory in mourning for a brave young man?
Was the medal a reminder for him of the courage demanded in war – as the bones of saints are relics of holiness to pilgrims?
We shall probably never know, but we could ask Lord Ashcroft, who owns the largest collection of Victoria Cross medals in the country.