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Auction: 24001 - Orders, Decorations and Medals
Lot: 123

The impressive Baltic 1919 operations D.S.O., 1914 Peterhead Royal Humane Society Bronze Medal group of eleven awarded to Master J. Wales, Merchant Navy, late Lieutenant-Commander, Royal Naval Reserve

A long-served seaman, Wales almost immediately made an impression upon having been commissioned, attempting a gallant rescue off Peterhead on Boxing Day 1914, taking the R.H.S. Bronze Medal, besides the Certificate and £10 prize from the Carnegie Hero Fund

He then closed out the Great War as a minesweeping specialist, taking the M.I.D. - and probably the Granton Medal for Zeal - for discovering a minefield off the Firth of Forth, thence adding a D.S.O. for his command of the Baltic Flotilla and a notable commendation along the way; Wales would be tragically killed during the Second World War whilst Master of the S.S. Wayfarer
, when she was torpedoed off the coast of East Africa in 1944

Distinguished Service Order, G.V.R., silver-gilt and enamel, unnamed as issued, in its original Garrard & Co. Ltd. fitted case of issue; 1914-15 Star (Lieut. J. Wales, R.N.R.); British War and Victory Medals, with M.I.D. oak leaves (Lieut. J. Wales. R.N.R.); 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; Africa Star; Pacific Star; War Medal 1939-45; Royal Humane Society, small bronze Medal (Sub Lieut John Wales. R.N.R. 26th Dec. 1914), in its original Elkington & Co. Ltd. fitted case of issue; Granton Naval Base Medal 'For Zeal' (Lt. J. Wales R.N.R. 21.4.16 C.E.), silver, 4mm including ring suspension, hallmarks for Birmingham 1915, fitted cases of first two somewhat worn with light damage, otherwise good very fine (11)

D.S.O. London Gazette 8 March 1920:

'For distinguished services in command of the Eleventh Fleet Sweeping Flotilla.'

The original Recommendation, from the Senior Naval Officer (Baltic) states:

'Has for a period of six months commanded the 11th Fleet Sweeping Flotilla in the Baltic - and has never failed to successfully carry out any minesweeping operation I have required of him - which owing to the foul ground, indifferent charting ad shallowness with which many Russian mines are laid has been exceptionally arduous.'

Royal Humane Society, Case No. 41338:

'On the 26th December 1914, the lifeboat which had put out to the wreck of a trawler at Peterhead was dashed on the rocks, all the crew being thrown into the sea, which was running high. Wales plunged into the surf and caught one man, but the sea tore him away and he was drowned.'

John Wales was born at Carnarvon on 21 October 1888 and having entered the Merchant Navy, took his Master's Certificate on 24 April 1914. With the outbreak of the Great War, he was appointed to the Peterhead Minesweeping Flotilla in late 1914 and soon displayed great gallantry in attempting the rescue of the wreck of the Tom Tit, which had wrecked in the harbour entrance. The RNLI launched the Alexander Tulloch but tragically itself got into trouble. Wales went to attempt to save their lives but sadly, Thomas Adams, David Murray Strachan and James Geddes lost their lives just 100 yards offshore. The Royal Humane Society rewarded Lieutenant C. N. Ebden-Curry, Royal Navy with the Silver Medal and Wales with the Bronze Medal. Besides that, Wales was also voted and rewarded with a Certificate & £10 reward from the Carnegie Hero Fund (Aberdeen Press & Journal 2 March 1915, refers).

It was in 2014, that the Peterhead Station held a Memorial Service to their memories, with a plaque being raised and a wreath given to the sea at the spot of the tragic events.

It was no surprise that Wales was advanced Lieutenant on the Stephen Furness on 19 January 1915. He gained further expertise in the treacherous work of minesweeping and was placed in command of an armed trawler in Auxiliary Patrol Area VII from March 1916. It was not long before he was commended for the discovery of '...a hostile enemy minefield in the approaches to the Firth of Forth on 18 April 1916', which no doubt contributed to his being 'mentioned' (London Gazette 1 January 1917, refers).

That work is also perhaps why Wales was an early recipient of the Granton Medal for Zeal. Instituted personally in May 1916 by Commodore Sir James Startin, commanding HM.M.S. Gunner, the naval base established at Granton harbour, near Edinburgh. The base was home to an assortment of minesweeping and anti-submarine vessels (including decoy Q-ships) whose activities ranged from the North Sea to the Bay of Biscay. The Medal was awarded selectively to officers and men whose services might otherwise have gone unrecognised, and was usually presented by visiting dignitaries at special parades held at Granton. The visitors are known to have included the King, the Duke of Connaught, Prime Ministers Asquith and Lloyd George, and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

He was appointed Acting Lieutenant-Commander in December 1918. It was then for his fine work in the Baltic campaign in command of the Banbury after the close of the Great War that Wales added the D.S.O. to his laurels, for his work during the campaign in command of the Fleet Sweeping Flotilla. During the period his ship was itself mined and salved. This also saw his being commended having '...performed excellent work as Senior Officer Minesweeping most capable & reliable', this coming from Captain Naismith (himself CO Seventh Submarine Flotilla and later Admiral Sir Martin Eric Dunbar-Nasmith, V.C., K.C.B., K.C.M.G.) in September 1919.

Demobilised as Lieutenant-Commander, Wales answered the call to the Merchant Navy at the outbreak of the Second World War, at that time being in his mid-fifties. He was made Master of the unescorted 5,000tn steam merchant Wayfarer and was taking a cargo of 3,000tn of copper and 2,000tn of coal from Colombo to Port Said, via Beira and Aden. It was on the evening on 19 August 1944 that she was spotted by Korvettenkapitän Heinrich Timm's U-862. She had been launched in June 1943 and by August 1944, Timm had sent six Allied vessels to the bottom. His submarine was also the only U-Boat to conduct a patrol in the Pacific Ocean during the Second World War.

She spotted the Wayfarer some 150 miles off Mozambique and had fired two torpedoes at her - both of which missed - and then stalked the ziggzagging merchant vessel for a full 90 minutes. The coup de grâce was delivered and hit on the port side, between No. 4 & 5 holds. Wales, 44 of his crew, 5 Gunners and one passenger were lost. On 30 August, 9 crew and 2 Gunners made landfall on an uninhabited island in the Mozambique Channel, were rescued by a dhow and landed at Palfa, Portuguese East Africa.

Wales is commemorated upon the Tower Hill Memorial; sold together with his framed Memorial Scroll in the name of 'J. Wales, Master. Merchant Navy.'

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