A rare set of World War I medals, including a Victoria Cross, has been sold at auction for a record-breaking £840,000 – almost three-times the lower pre-sale estimate of £300,000. The medals, awarded to Vice Admiral Gordon Campbell, were bequeathed by his son, Father David Campbell, to the Fellowship of St John (UK) Trust Association, which administers the charities of the former British monastic community, the Society of St John the Evangelist (SSJE). Father Campbell was a former Superior of the SSJE. After auction fees have been taken off, the Trust will receive a windfall of up to £7000,000.
The medals included the Victoria Cross – Britain’s highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy – awarded to Campbell for the sinking of a German submarine, U.83, in February 1917 even though his own ship, HMS Q5, or Farnborough, had been torpedoed. Later in the war he had been nominated for a second VC but turned it down, suggesting instead that his crew be allowed to nominate a different member of the ship’s company to receive it.
The medals were purchased by Baron Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza – a great-nephew of Campbell – the chairman of Monaco-based Thyssen petroleum. He intends to offer the medals to a museum in the UK for public display.
“These medals have enormous historic value for the UK, as well as personal value to me and my family,” he said after the sale. “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.”
The auction was conducted yesterday at Sotheby’s London sale-house by specialist auctioneers Morton and Eden. The company’s David Kirk told the Daily Mail that they were “absolutely delighted” with the sale.
“We thought it would exceed its pre-sale estimate but never expected to make what it has,” he said. “Gordon Campbell was both a national hero and a true ‘celebrity’ of the Great War. In our opinion this historic VC group is one of, if not the single greatest naval VC group of the 20th century and is without doubt of the highest national importance.”