Royal Navy VC sells for world-record auction price

One of the most famous and celebrated Victoria Cross medal groups of the 20th century has been sold for £840,000 – a new world record for the auction of a VC and any group of British medals.

The VC was awarded to Vice Admiral Gordon Campbell (1886-1953), who as captain of the Q-Ship Farnborough successfully destroyed German submarine U83 on February 17 1917.

Gordon Campbell’s complete group of 11 medals, also including the DSO with two bars and France’s Légion d’Honneur Chevalier’s badge and Croix de Guerre, 1914-1918, will now stay in the UK on public display having been acquired by his great-nephew Baron Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza.

Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza 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.”

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.

Baron Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza

On what was a highly secret mission, Gordon Campbell deliberately steered his vessel, disguised as a merchant ship, into the direct path of a U-boat torpedo, only changing course very slightly at the last moment to prevent a direct hit on the engine room.

 As soon as the torpedo struck, the British crew went through their well-practised pantomime of panic and the deployment of the lifeboats. Then only when the enemy vessel was almost upon them did Campbell order his guns to open fire in “what maybe regarded as the supreme test of naval discipline”.

A few months later Campbell, while captain of HMS Pargust, deployed the same tactic and duly sunk the submarine UC-29 on June 7.

Then, as commander of HMS Dunraven, he saw action on August 8 1917 with another enemy submarine - SM UC-71. After this action, and despite the sinking of Dunraven, King George V decreed that two Victoria Crosses should be awarded to the ship – to an officer and a rating respectively.

Gordon Campbell’s medals had been consigned for sale by The Fellowship of St John (UK) Trust Association, an Anglican charity working in education and mission.

Proceeds from the sale, at Morton & Eden auctioneers, will be used to support a number of projects which the Trust is currently involved with including an orphanage in Zimbabwe, university scholarships in South Africa, hurricane relief in the West Indies and various charities in the UK.