Lot Archive


№ 210


20 October 1993

Hammer Price:

A fine family group comprising a rare G.M., D.S.M. group of seven to Lieutenant James Balsdon, Royal Navy, and the O.B.E. group to Mrs. Rosina Balsdon, St. John Ambulance Brigade

a. GEORGE MEDAL, G.VI.R. (Lt., D.S.M., R.N.); DISTINGUISHED SERVICE MEDAL, G.V.R. (236756, P.O., H.M.S. Cameleon, Patrol Services 1915/6); 1914-15 STAR (P.O., R.N.); BRITISH WAR AND VICTORY MEDALS (Gnr., R.N.); DEFENCE AND WAR MEDALS, mounted court style for display, the first with offi cial corrections, good very fine and better

b. ORDER OF ST. JOHN, Dame of Grace, neck badge and breast star; ORDER OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE, O.B.E. (Civil) 2nd type; DEFENCE MEDAL; JUBILEE 1935; CORONATION 1937; CORONATION 1953; ST. JOHN AMBULANCE BRIGADE SERVICE MEDAL, silver with six additional service bars (14943 L/Cty. Supt., Plymouth, S.W.D. & S.E.C. Area, No. 9 Dis., S.J.A.B. 1936) mounted court style as worn, the last service clasp loose, together with miniature Order of St. John, bronze S.J.A.B. medal, lapel badge and burron,generally good very fine

G.M., London Gazette, 8 July 1941: 'For gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty.'

D.S.M. London Gazette 22 May 1917: 'In recognition of services in the Destroyer Patrol Flotillas and Armed Boarding Steamers during the period which ended on the 30th September 1916.'

Lieutenant James Balsdon of Saltash joined the Royal Navy in 1906 as a Boy 2nd Class, aged 15. He was subsequently promoted Leading Seaman in 1913, Petty Officer in 1916, Warrant Gunner (Torpedo) in 1918, Commissioned Gunner (T.) in 1928, Lieutenant in 1940, and released from the Navy in October 1945.

His award of the D.S.M. (London Gazette, 23 May 1917) appears under a general heading, but an examination of H.M.S. Cameleon's services during the previous year has pin-pointed the circumstances which led to his award. The ship was part of the Second Local Defence Flotilla, based at Plymouth. On 24 October 1916, she was escorting a steamer in the Western Approaches when she sighted a surfaced U-boat which had just torpedoed a collier. The Cameleon increased speed and opened fire at 3000 yards and later claimed to have sunk the submarine with her second round. Balsdon was presumably the gun-layer on this occasion (as usual with D.S.M. awards, the original recommendation has been 'weeded'). Later evidence showed that the U-boat survived the attack, but it had at least been a fine example of aggressive and accurate gunnery. Between the wars he continued to specialise in gunnery, torpedoes and mine warfare, serving at sea and as an Instructor at the shore base H.M.S. Defiance.

At the outbreak of World War II, he was placed in charge of a 'Render Mine Safe Party’ responsible for dealing with mines of every type around the coastline of Devon and his native Cornwall. Apart from the conventional 'horned' mine, the Germans were laying new and unfamiliar types fitted with anti-handling devices. The pioneers in mine disposal, such as Lieutenant Balsdon, needed to learn completely new techniques when dealing with these magnetic and acoustic mines, and several of them were killed in the process. The brevity of the citation for this award of the George Medal reflected the secrecy surrounding much of his work but his recommendation throws a little more light on his activities: 'This officer is in charge of a Render Mine Safe Party and has himself dealt with over seventy mines and many explosive mine cutters. Often the mines have been in inaccessible positions and Lieutenant Balsdon has had to face more than the usual risks of this work, but he has always shown coolness and devotion to duty'. He continued to command the R.M.S. Party in the South West until the end of the war, and must have gone through many dangerous experiences of which no permanent record was kept. An entry in his service record states: 'Commended for great courage, coolness and skill during an operation for the recovery of a German mine on 22nd May 1944'. Accompanying this lot are various original official letters (including his Record of Service from the M.O.D.), several original Admiralty photographs of German mines and their internal mechanisms, and his personal photograph album (H.M.S. Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean, etc.).

Mrs. Rosina Balsdon enrolled in the St. John Ambulance Brigade in 1922 and eventually became County Superintendent. Accompanying her awards is a detailed 'curriculum vitae' which she compiled some time in the 1950's, and this reveals a high level of specialisation in anti-gas and chemical warfare precautions in the 1930's, and all aspects of Civil Defence thereafter (attended Staff College, Sunningdale). It is evident that she was deeply involved in the Plymouth Blitz, and in the handling of Service and Civilian casualties being brought ashore from the Battle of the Atlantic. Her award of the O.B.E. (London Gazette, 4 January 1944) was presumably in recognition of her services in this regard. James and Rosina Balsdon devoted their lives to the Navy and to Plymouth.