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Leicestershire Soldier’s WW1 Gallantry Medals Spark Major Auction Battle

A scarce and extraordinary First World War triple gallantry medal group awarded to a Leicestershire soldier, has sold for thousands of pounds at auction on the anniversary of his death.

Phone and internet bidders battled to own a militaria collection which included a Military Cross & Bar, Distinguished Conduct Medal, British War Medal and Victory Medal awarded to Herbert Alfred Disney for ‘conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty’.

Leicester Time: Leicestershire Soldier's WW1 Gallantry Medals Spark Major Auction Battle
Pictures: Hanson’s Auctioneers

The awards, which would have made him one of the most decorated soldiers in his regiment, sold for £5,510 (with buyer’s premium) in Hansons Auctioneers’ November 7 WW1 Auction. Disney passed away 63 years ago on November 7, 1960 at the age of 71.

Matt Crowson, Head of Militaria at Hansons, said: “This was an impressive result for a hugely important medal collection honouring an exemplary WW1 soldier. It seems particularly timely to honour him on the anniversary of his death just before Remembrance Day. His story reminds us all of the sacrifices and bravery of our armed forces through the generations.

“Alfred, as he was known, rose from humble beginnings and conquered childhood health issues to achieve the ultimate trio of bravery awards. After signing up to serve his country in 1915 at the age of 26, he climbed the military ranks in months. By all accounts, he became an inspirational junior officer to the men under his command.”

Born in Barrow-upon-Soar, in 1889, Alfred had a challenging start to life. He was diagnosed with pleurisy and emphysema at the age of 10. An operation left visible scarring but this in no way impacted on his fitness level. He was rated A1 when he enlisted in 1915.

He became a Private with the Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby Regiment) on August 12, 1915. The Machine Gun Corps (MGC) was formed in October 1915 and he transferred to their ranks as as a gunner in 1916.

His battalion entered the war in France in March 1916 and, while part of the 73rd Company, he got noticed. He rapidly rose through the ranks. He was promoted to corporal in February 1916, acting sergeant in June and sergeant in August 1916. Family accounts suggest he took part in the Battle of Delville Wood and the Battle of Guillemont.

His leadership skills and composure were noted as, by June 4, 1917, he was awarded the DCM. The citation reads as follows: ‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He has constantly performed good work throughout, and set a splendid example to those under him’.

Sgt Disney was sent for Officer Cadet (MGC) training in Grantham and received his commission as a temporary 2nd lieutenant in September 1917. He would have almost certainly taken part in some of the most important battles during the spring offensive of 1918, and by July 1918 he had earned the Military Cross.

His London Gazette citation reads:

‘On two occasions he brought up supplies of ammunition and rations though intense artillery barrages. Later he personally rescued a gun and tripod, organising a fresh team from stragglers, and with them providing invaluable assistance during a crucial moment of the operations. He exceptional ability and courage were most marked’.

He again demonstrated exceptional courage when on November 4, 1918, during the Battle of Sambre, he won the bar for his Military Cross. His citation for the MC Bar reads: 

‘For fine courage and good work on 4th November 1918 during the attack on the Forêt de Mormal. When in charge of a section of machine guns he observed that the infantry were held up by heavy machine gun fire. He succeeded in personally capturing two enemy machine guns with about 12 prisoners. He brought one of the guns into action, and effectively silenced the machine gun fire that was holding up the advance’.

Leicester Time: Leicestershire Soldier's WW1 Gallantry Medals Spark Major Auction Battle

Mr Crowson said: “The action at Sambre, only seven  days before the Armistice, makes his 2nd Military Cross award one of the latest in the Great War. The award of the MC and Bar, plus the DCM, would likely make 2nd Lt Disney one of the most highly decorated soldiers in the Machine Gun Corps. It’s also know he served as an officer in the Home Guard during the Second World War with his family referring to him as ‘Captain Disney’.

“He is interred at Nottingham Road Cemetery,  Chaddesden, Derby. The medal group and  associated period items came directly from his family and have always been together.”

Other memorabilia included Alfred’s officer’s cap made by Vaughan & Son of Derby, identity bracelet, trench maps, Field Service Book, a 1918 book entitled ‘The Employment of Machine Guns’, two fob watches, WW1-era embroidered postcards,  a 1915-issued Princess Mary tin with scarce silver-tipped bullet pencil, photographs and ephemera relating to his time in the Machine Gun Corps.