The wartime medals of Sir Anthony Eden have sold at auction in Salisbury for £27,500 in what is believed to be the first sale of medals belonging to a British Prime Minister.
The Great War Military Cross group of medals (lot 32) was awarded to Captain Robert Anthony Eden M.C., King’s Royal Rifle Corps and included the Military Cross (George V), British War Medal 1914-20 (CAPT R.A. EDEN.), Victory Medal with Mention in Despatches emblem (CAPT R.A. EDEN.), Jubilee Medal 1935, Coronation Medal 1937, and the Coronation Medal 1953. The group came under the Hammer at Woolley and Wallis on 22nd June, selling to a private collector for several times the starting price of £7,000.
Robert Anthony Eden went to war in 1916 as a junior officer in the newly formed 21st Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, which was largely made up of volunteers from Northern farming communities. The men were close and Eden’s wartime memoirs make frequent reference to the sense of desolation he felt when death or injury befell the officers and men with whom he served.
He survived periods of intense action, including the later stages of the Battle of the Somme, during which he was made adjutant following catastrophic losses to the battalion. These losses included its commander Lt. Col. The Earl of Fevesham - a family friend of the Edens– at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette.
In 1917 he took part in the infantry advance that followed hard upon the detonation of a massive subterranean mine at St Eloi, in the Battle of Messines Ridge. The attack was a masterpiece of planning and training, and a remarkable success; though Eden was to see much hard fighting in the days that followed. In July 1917 his great aptitude for staff work saw him posted to 2nd Army Headquarters, and in the spring of 1918 he was made Brigade Major to the 198th Infantry Brigade.
Robert Anthony Eden’s Military Cross was gazetted with the Birthday Honours of 1917, and he was presented with it on 14th July 1918. It may be assumed that this was in recognition of his service as a junior officer and very young adjutant under incredibly challenging conditions. He himself makes no mention of it in his memoirs.
Commenting on the sale, Medal specialist, Ned Cowell, said that the group was significant for its recipient. “Whilst the medals in this group are not especially rare, the price clearly reflects the person to whom they were awarded. Very few British Prime Ministers saw active service and, as far as we can ascertain, this is the only medal group from a British PM to appear on the open market, making it extremely rare and desirable to collectors.”
Elsewhere in the sale a group of medals awarded to Dr James Ferguson Lees CBE (lot 29) sold for £8,750, while a further Military Cross group to 2nd Lieutenant William Henry Hearn (lot 35) fetched £5,250. A group of Japanese internee medals from the Second World War (lot 40), awarded to Major Donald Honey Grist, realised £3,500, and a scarce Korean War DFC group of eight to Major Arthur George Ernest (lot 41)sold for £11,250.