Special Collections

Sold on 12 December 2012

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The Collection of Second World War and Modern Gallantry Awards formed by the late William Oakley

William Raymond Oakley

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№ 625


13 December 2012

Hammer Price:

An outstanding Second World War London Blitz mine disposal G.M. group of eleven awarded to Acting Leading Electrical Mechanic R. E. A. Pearson, Royal Navy

George Medal, G.VI.R., 1st issue (A.B. Reginald Ernest Alfred Pearson, P/JX. 131423); Naval General Service 1915-62, 1 clasp, Palestine 1936-39 (JX. 131423 R. E. B. Pearson, A.B., R.N.A.B., R.N.); 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star, clasp, France and Germany; Africa Star, clasp, North Africa 1942-43; Burma Star; Italy Star; War Medal 1939-45; Korea 1950-53 (P/MX. 803532 R. F. A. Pearson, G.M., A./L.E.M., R.N.), note differing middle initial; U.N. Korea 1950-54; Royal Navy L.S. & G.C., G.VI.R., 1st issue (JX. 131423 R. E. A. Pearson, A.B., H.M.S. Diadem), mounted as worn, good very fine or better (11) £5000-6000

G.M. London Gazette 14 January 1941:

‘For gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty.’

Reginald Ernest Alfred Pearson was decorated for rendering safe a mine at Gillman & Spencer’s warehouse at Rotherhithe, London, on 17 October 1940, an incident best described in J. F. Turner’s Service Most Silent:

‘Back in London, the blitz went on. Edward Woolley, Lieutenant, sat in the Admiralty at 17.45 one afternoon in October. “Oh Woolley,” called Captain Currey, “come in a second will you? There’s a tricky one for you near the Thames. Here are the whereabouts. Some wharf or other down by the docks. Not much more I can tell you about it. You know enough by now, anyway, to be telling me the job. Good luck, Woolley.”

Little did Currey know that Woolley was to need it.

The Lieutenant reached the spot, in company with Able Seaman Pearson. An A.R.P. officer pointed up to the third storey of a flour store. “That’s where it dropped, sir, and there’s been not a murmur from it since.”

“Thanks. We’ll shin up somehow and have a look at it.”

The whole store and surrounding buildings were evacuated. Bags of flour lay piled high on all sides. But no sound. In the half-light Woolley shivered involuntarily. They were alone. And it was chilly, eerie. They groped their way to the third floor, looked round, saw only more sacks. Then right at the end the sky showed through a ragged hole in the roof. Carrying his gaze downward, Woolley saw the mine, dark against the fawn of the sacks. He looked more closely. Still the light was poor. He could not do the job in the gloom. Windows were conspicuous by their absence. Then he saw the doors overlooking the river. He moved carefully round the mine. Neither of them spoke. The ancient floorboards sagged with each step. A rat ran across his path. Softly Woolley undid the latch, pushed the doors wide, and the cool evening air floated in. Plus a little light. Through these doors the sacks were lowered at high tide into barges below. But now it was low water. No barges lingered there. All he saw fifty feet below was the slimy mud of the river-bed, glistening in the sunset.

He turned his back on the scene, strode over to the mine, tapped the securing-ring slightly to try to unscrew it - and the bomb-fuse started to run. So did they.

Panic for a second. No way out through the store. It would all come down on them. Twenty-three seconds to live - or less. It may have already run off part. They rushed over to the only outlet - the doors on to the river. Woolley stripped off his coat, looked down. Cold, oozing mud glowered at him. He turned, ten yards from the mine ... paused ... stood ... each leg pulling in a different direction. The clockwork stopped ticking. Everything inside him stopped for a second with it.

“Thank God,’’ he breathed to Pearson.

All was peace again. A gull hovered by the flapping doors, then wheeled off.

They went back to the mine. Woolley tapped the ring again. It gave a little. Then the tell-tale whirr. A second time they tore over to the doors, quicker this time. They leant over to plunge ... stopped. Woolley glanced up at Pearson. The sailor shook his head. No. Not that. Anything rather than that awful mess below. Both their brains pounded. Seconds passed. Then the whirr stopped again. The mechanism jammed, as it had done before. A technical hitch. The decision was made for them. They returned to the mine. Next time it was all right. No more whirring. No more decisions. It was safe - and so were they.’

Also see Lot 624 for the G.M. and Bar to Lieutenant E. D. Woolley, R.N.V.R.