Captain Gordon Campbell

Sold! World Auction Record For Royal Navy VC Hero's Medals

Captain Gordon Campbell

An impressive collection of military decorations has been sold for an outstanding £840,000, breaking the world auction record for a Victoria Cross and any group of British medals.

The 11 medals belonged to Gordon Campbell, one of the Royal Navy's greatest U-boat killers, and were expected to fetch only around £300,000.

Instead, they were sold for almost three times the price by a London auction house.

They will stay in the UK on display, having been bought by his great-nephew Baron Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza. He said:

"These medals have enormous historic value for the UK, as well as personal value to me and my family."

"Behind every medal is a human story, and an example to generations to come. Gordon Campbell was an old-fashioned hero who was recognised for conspicuous gallantry, consummate coolness, and skill in his command of 'Q' Mystery Ships, decoys for German U boats.

"I am offering the medals for display in a UK museum, where I hope as many people as possible will have the opportunity to learn about Gordon and his incredible story."

Proceeds from the sale of the medals will be used to support a number of projects including an orphanage in Zimbabwe, university scholarships in South Africa, hurricane relief in the West Indies and various charities in the UK.

Captain Gordon Campbell medals
His 11 medals included the Victoria Cross and a Distinguished Service Order with two bars.

Campbell, who went on to become a vice admiral, lured three German submarines to their death in the Great War and was sunk trying to destroy a fourth.

At the age of 29, the Croydon-born officer was given command of HMS Farnborough, a specially-converted collier dispatched to hunt down U-boats.

Disguised as ordinary steamers, the ships would typically wait until a submarine surfaced and was preparing to sink its prey before uncovering their guns, raising the White Ensign and attacking.

Campbell sank U-68 in March 1916, earning the DSO, then in February 1917, allowed the Farnborough to be torpedoed - though not in a critical location - pretended to abandon ship, then turned the tables on his attacker when it surfaced and dispatching U-83 to a watery grave.

The action resulted in Campbell receiving the nation's highest decoration.

He repeated his 'sinking ship' trick a few months later in another disguised vessel, or 'Q ship', HMS Pargust, with UC-29 the victim. Two of his crew earned the VC by ballot.

Campbell's luck ran out the third time he tried to spring his trap.

Patrolling the Bay of Biscay in HMS Dunraven, he came under attack from UC-71 and lost the ensuing duel in what he described as "a fair and honest fight".

HMS Dunraven
HMS Dunraven under attack from UC-71

His officers proposed a second VC for their skipper, but he said the men should be recognised; the decoration went to his deputy and a petty officer gunlayer.

All of these actions were shrouded in mystery at the time; the existence of Q ships was kept secret from the British public as well as the enemy, which means Gordon Campbell isn't a name as widely known as other WW1 VC winners.

A century later, however, David Kirk of specialist medal auctioneers Morton and Eden, believes Gordon Campbell's actions make him:

"One of, if not the single greatest Naval VCs of the 20th Century and is without doubt of the highest national importance."

"The fact that Campbell was nominated by his fellow officers for a second Victoria Cross, but out of modesty declined, places him amongst the very greatest names in British military history."

After the war, Campbell commanded the 100-strong Guard of Honour of VC winners which assembled for the Burial of the Unknown Warrior, was in charge of the battle-cruiser HMS Tiger, served as Naval aide de camp to George V, wrote a best-selling memoir of his Q ship exploits, and served for four years as the MP for Burnley.

He died in 1953 with his 11 medals eventually being passed down via his son David to the Fellowship of St John Trust Association.

More: HMS Diamond Aborts Mission After "Breaking Down"

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