Victoria Cross won by World War One Lieutenant Colonel who was killed while ‘leading his men from the front’ and hailed as ‘one of Britain’s bravest soldiers’ by his General is set to sell for £250,000 at auction
- Lieutenant Colonel Bertram Best-Dunkley survived the Battle of the Somme
- In July 1917 he led his men during a counter attack against German troops
- He was mortally wounded by a British shell that fell short at Pilckem Ridge
- He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross following his brave actions
The Victoria Cross won by one of ‘Britain’s bravest soldiers’ who was mortally wounded by friendly fire while waist deep in a flooded trench is tipped to sell for £250,000.
Lieutenant Colonel Bertram Best-Dunkley was a survivor of both the Somme and the first mustard gas attack in the First World War at Ypres.
His fateful heroics in the hell of the Battle of Passchendaele came just days after his wife gave birth to the baby son he never got to meet.
On July 30, 1917 at Pilckem Ridge in Belgium he watched as dozens of men and officers were cut down by enemy machine gun fire from positions believed to have been in British hands.
Medals awarded to the late Lieutenant Colonel Betram Best-Dunkley
Best-Dunkley was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery in action in a counter attack against German forces in Belgium in July 1917 before he was mortally wounded by a British shell which fell short of enemy lines
Realising all of the officers in the advance had been knocked out, Lt Col Best-Dunkley stepped forward to lead what was left of the unit into the murderous onslaught.
Not only did he and the men retake the positions, they launched a successful attack on the German lines.
The next day, he commanded his unit in repelling a fierce German counter attack from a trench filled with rain water.
It was against the hellish backdrop of bodies of men and horses strewn across the muddy and flooded battlefield Lt Col Best-Dunkley was struck by a shell from a British gun that fell short of its target.
Although he survived the impact and was taken to a hospital clearing station he died from his wounds five days later.
On his deathbed, he told the battalion padre how he hoped his general was not too disappointed with his efforts.
A note of reply came back from Major General Hugh Jeudwine which read: ‘Disappointed? Indeed, I am more proud of having you and your battalion under my command than anything that has ever happened to me.
‘It was a magnificent fight, and your officers and men behaved splendidly, fighting with their heads as with the most superb pluck and determination.’
At his burial service, the Maj Gen Jeudwine said: ‘We are burying one of Britain’s bravest soldiers.’
On his deathbed, he told the battalion padre how he hoped his general was not too disappointed with his efforts
Lt Col Best-Dunkley was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery at Pilckhem Ridge – Britain’s highest award for valour in the face of the enemy
Lt Col Best-Dunkley was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery at Pilckhem Ridge – Britain’s highest award for valour in the face of the enemy.
Now over 100 years later his medals are being sold by auctioneers Spink & Son of London for £250,000.
Marcus Budgeon, a medal specialist at Spink & Son, said: ‘When you think of a commanding officer being killed in action during the Great War, you quite probably think of a man doing his job and being unlucky in losing his life.
‘But not so with Lt Col Best-Dunkley. He was right in the thick of it, leading his men from the front.
‘His is a story of tragedy and heroism that has got everything. A survivor of the Somme, he had only just discovered his new wife back at home had given birth to a son just a few days before he died.
‘The official account of the action in which he suffered his mortal injuries brushed over what actually happened. When you look into it you realise that it was a British shell that fell short that did for him.
‘Passchendaele is known for being a horrific battle, with the ground littered with the bodies of men and horses, trees reduced to stumps and shell holes filled with water.
‘It was against this hellish backdrop that Lt Col Best-Dunkley showed his true colours and where he ultimately met his end.
‘It is an incredible Victoria Cross group and one of the best groups we have ever seen.
‘The market for these medals has changed massively in recent years and the prices they command reflect this.
‘There is a whole new generation of collectors who want to own a unique piece of British military history.’
Lt Col Best-Dunkley was born in York in 1890 and attended a military school in Germany before he was commissioned into the British army.
He left the military to work as a school teacher in Ireland and then a school master in China.
When war broke out he returned home to answer the call to arms and joined the Lancashire Fusiliers as an officer.
Of the 593 men of Lt Col Best-Dunkley’s battalion that went into action, a staggering 473 of them became casualties
He arrived on the Western Front in July 1915 and was appointed captain a year later and went through the horrors of four Somme battles.
Due to shell shock at the Somme he developed a customary squint and twitch of the nose.
Thomas Hope Floyd, a junior officer who served under Lt Col Best-Dunkley, described him as a ‘budding Napoleon’ who ‘nobody ever anticipated for a moment would win the VC.’
On July 12, 1917, the battalion came under a mustard gas attack at Ypres which accounted for over 3,000 British casualties.
Three weeks later at the start of the Third Battle of Ypres, known as the Battle of Passchendaele, thousands of Allied soldiers went over the top to take ridges above the city of Ypres.
Thomas Floyd wrote in his account of how the men of the C Company of the 5th Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers were
He wrote: ‘Suddenly we were rained with bullets from rifles and machine-guns.. Men were being hit everywhere.
‘It was impossible to recognise anything in this chaos when the inevitable happened. I felt a sharp sting through my leg. I was hit by a bullet.
‘My platoon seemed to have vanished just before I was hit.
Spotting that all the officers of ‘C’ Company had become casualties, Best-Dunkley rushed forward in his VC-winning action.
Floyd wrote: ‘About a hundred yards on my right, I saw Colonel Best-Dunkley complacently advancing, with a walking stick in his hand, as calmly as if he were walking across a parade ground.
‘I afterwards heard that when all ‘C’ Company officers were knocked out he took command in person.’
Lt Col Best-Dunkley led the men through intense enemy fire to clear German soldiers from their positions on two different lines.
The officer consolidated his battalion’s position ahead of the expected enemy counter attack the next day.
Floyd wrote: ‘…at that time also rain came down in torrents and continued; shell holes filled with water; mud became slime; the conditions were completely discouraging.’
Another soldier, S.F Rothwell, later wrote: ‘Col. Best-Dunkley and myself held the front trench whilst Jones and Andrews held the rear. Andrews came on forward to speak to the Colonel and was killed.
‘Later in the afternoon Colonel Best-Dunkley was hit very badly. We were up to our waists in water and it was not very comfortable.’
Another witness to Lt Col Best-Dunkley’s actions was Capt J.F Jones. He wrote: ‘I heard that he was wounded and wanted me. I ran across and had almost arrived at his position when I was blown head over heels into a little trench and wounded in several places in the thigh.
‘Unfortunately both Col. Dunkley and myself were hit by our own gunners.’
Of the 593 men of Lt Col Best-Dunkley’s battalion that went into action, a staggering 473 of them became casualties.
After he died he was buried at the Mendinghem Military Cemetery, Belgium.
The Lancashire Fusiliers were the most decorated regiment during the First World War, earning a combined 18 VCs.
Lt Col Best-Dunkley’s VC medal group will be sold on November 24.