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WW1 Naval hero's VC sold for £220k

Lt Cdr Cookson's VC which sold for £220k
14 March 2024
A Victoria Cross posthumously awarded to a Great War Royal Navy hero was bought at auction yesterday for £220,000.

For only the second time in more than a century the decoration, won by Lieutenant Commander Edgar Cookson in 1915, came on the market at auction.

 

And as in 1977, when it was last auctioned, it was snapped up by a private collector who paid the maximum fee London auctioneers Noonans, who expected the medal to fetch between £180,000 and £220,000.

 

Mark Quayle, Noonans’ medal specialist and associate director was not surprised.

 

“The rarity of the award, and the repeated acts of gallantry, are all reflected in the price achieved on the day," he said.

 

Of the four dozen Victoria Cross recipients in the Royal Navy in the Great War, neither the name Cookson nor his deeds are as well known as household names such as Jack Cornwell at Jutland or submarine Edward Boyle, or actions such as the Gallipoli landings or Zeebrugge Raid.

 

They deserve to be.

 

In September 1915 the 31-year-old officer, originally from Tranmere in present-day Merseyside, led a force of gunboats up the River Tigris as part of an effort to support British troops grappling with the Ottoman Empire in Mesopotamia (today Iraq).

 

By the end of the month, British soldiers were bearing down on the town of Kut-al-Amara – just 100 miles southeast of Baghdad.

The British drive on what is today the capital of Iraq relied on supplies via the Tigris, but Turkish forces had thrown a series of barriers across the river to block any traffic.

 

On September 28, Cookson in HMS Comet was sent to reconnoitre – and, if he could, destroy – one such obstruction near Kut.

 

As the gunboat flotilla approached the barrier, it came under ferocious rifle and machine-gun fire from both banks.

 

When the first attempt to sink a dhow in the middle of the flow was thwarted by defensive fire, Cookson ordered the Comet to be placed alongside the vessel.

He then jumped on to the dhow with an axe and tried to cut the wire hawsers connecting it with the two other craft forming the obstruction.

 

His action drew intense Turkish fire and Edgar Cookson was cut down – one fellow officer said “there were more bullet holes in him than they cared to count”.

Cookson’s selfless actions earned him Britain’s highest decoration, presented to his mother in November 1916 by George V.

 

Her son was buried in Amara War Cemetery, but the grave was subsequently destroyed, and his name is now among those listed on the cemetery wall. He is also commemorated in the UK with a plaque in Whitechurch Canonicorum in Dorset.

There were more bullet holes in him than they cared to count.

Eyewitness of Edgar Cookson's VC-winning action

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