Fascinating single owner collection of Great War medals to be sold at Dix Noonan Webb

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Fascinating single owner collection of Great War medals to be sold at Dix Noonan Webb
Comprising 215 lots of medals from the Great War, the fascinating collection was amassed by the late Barry Hobbs (25 July 1942 - 3 May 2021), who had an interest in the rare and the unusual.

LONDON.- Including medals awarded to the first British soldier to be killed in action during the Great War through to the first Royal Flying Corps airman to shoot down an enemy aircraft with a machine-gun; the Collection of the late Barry Hobbs is to be offered by Dix Noonan Webb in their auction of Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria on Tuesday, August 17, 2021.

Comprising 215 lots of medals from the Great War, the fascinating collection was amassed by the late Barry Hobbs (25 July 1942 - 3 May 2021), who had an interest in the rare and the unusual. Born in Norfolk where his mother Amy had been evacuated during the Second World War in order to escape the heavy bombing of London’s East End. They returned to East London when the war ended. In the early 1960s, shortly before he got married, Barry followed his father into the Docks, an East End tradition and he remained working for the Port of London Authority until 1990 when he was forced to take early retirement following a severe industrial injury. Sheer determination got him back on his feet and he used his compensation money to finance an old farmhouse in northern France near to several Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemeteries.

As Oliver Pepys, Associate Director and Medal Auctioneer at Dix Noonan Webb commented: “Following his accident, Barry turned his long held interest in medals and military history into a business. His interest in the subject had first been sparked by his late brother Jack, who like Barry also worked at Woolwich Docks. In the 1970’s Barry and Jack were regulars at Petticoat Lane Market in East London and a good number of the medals in his collection emanated from his days trawling the London markets at this time. Many years later Barry would himself become a market trader, with a regular stall at Camden Passage, as well as attending numerous medal fairs. Many people will remember his regular pitch on the stage at the Britannia Medal Fair, with his trestle table packed full of medals and badges.”

He continues: “While Barry’s wide ranging trading stock could be described as eclectic (he would probably have preferred the word ‘exotic’), his personal interest had always been in the Great War and particularly 1914, a subject in which he became extremely knowledgable. Barry took great pleasure in seeing youngsters taking an interest in the subject and was always happy to help them and to impart his enthusiasm and knowledge.”

One of the most important medals in the collection was bought by Mr Hobbs for a small amount of money and he then discovered it was awarded to the first soldier killed in the Great War. The 1914 Star awarded to Private J. Parr, 4th Battalion, Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment), who was killed in action near Mons on 21 August 1914 and is believed to be the first British soldier to be killed in action during the Great War is estimated at £1,800-2,200. John Parr was born in 1897 at Finchley, Middlesex, the son of Edward and Alice Parr and, having left his job as a caddie at North Middlesex Golf Club, he joined the Middlesex Regiment in 1912, aged 15 years. Following the outbreak of the Great War, still aged just 17, he embarked for France with the 4th Battalion of his regiment as part of the 8th Brigade in the 3rd Division, arriving in France among the first units of the British Expeditionary Force on 14 August 1914. On 21 August, as the forward units of the British Army approached Mons and suspected some proximity to the advancing Germans, Parr, in his role as a reconnaissance cyclist, together with another cyclist, was sent forward towards the village of Obourg, north-east of Mons, to locate the German positions. It is thought that Parr and his fellow cyclist then encountered an Uhlan patrol from the German First Army and that Parr was killed in an exchange of fire whilst holding off the enemy in an attempt to allow his companion to return and report their findings. The precise circumstances of Parr’s death are not entirely clear; however, he is considered to be, and recorded as, the first British Army soldier to have been killed in action during the Great War. On 23 August, as the British Army began its long retreat following the Battle of Mons, Parr’s body was left behind and his death was not to be confirmed by the British War Office until much later. His body was buried by the Germans in a battlefield grave which was subsequently located by the Imperial War Graves Commission and he now lies buried in St. Symphorien Military Cemetery, near Mons, Belgium. Symbolically, his grave is opposite that of George Edwin Ellison, 5th Royal Irish Lancers, who was killed in action on 11 November 1918, and is thought to be the last British soldier to be killed in action during the Great War.

As Mr. Pepys, noted: “We expect this historically important 1914 Star to attract considerable interest.”

Elsewhere in the sale an important early aviator’s Great War group of three awarded to Major F. G. ‘Freddy’ Small, Connaught Rangers, attached Royal Flying Corps: a member of the original British Expeditionary Force, on 26 August 1914 he delivered a message to Haig’s H.Q. by audaciously landing between the lines of I Corps and the pursuing Germans, and was the first Royal Flying Corps airman to shoot down an enemy aircraft with a machine-gun, is estimated at £2,000-3,000. Francis Gordon Small was born in Keynsham, Somerset on 7 March 1890. He was commissioned Second Lieutenant in the Connaught Rangers on 20 April 1910 and was promoted Lieutenant in December 1911. Having obtained his Royal Aero Club Aviators’ Certificate on 22 October 1912, he was appointed Flying Officer in the Royal Flying Corps, Military Wing, on 17 April 1913 - less than a year after its formation - and was posted to No. 5 Squadron. On 14 August 1914, following the outbreak of the Great War, Small left Southampton bound for Maubeuge, France - 13 miles south of Mons. Here 2, 3, 4 and 5 Squadrons all gathered at the R.F.C.’s forward base for the purposes of conducting their principal role of reconnaissance. Less than 2 weeks later, on 26 August, as the British Expeditionary Force was in full retreat from the advancing Germans, Lieutenant Small and Lieutenant Borton were lucky to escape after being forced to land their plane between the lines of I Corps and the pursuing Germans on the far side of the Sambre.

As Mr. Pepys, explains: “Although there are competing claims for the title of ‘first R.F.C. airman to shoot down an enemy aircraft’, with Lieutenant C. E. C. Rabagliati often credited, the R.A.F. Museum maintains that this honour belongs to Lieutenant Strange and his gunner Lieutenant F. G. Small. In any case, it appears beyond doubt that Strange and Small were the first to use a machine-gun to bring down an aerial opponent.” ‘22 November - The first enemy aircraft is shot down by a British aircraft. Lieutenants L. A. Strange and F. G. Small in an Avro biplane of No. 5 Squadron engaged a German Albatros. The Avro was fitted with a machine gun in spite of orders for Strange to desist from machine-gun experiments. Two drums were emptied into the enemy aircraft, which made a forced landing behind Allied lines near Neuve-Église. The two German crew members were uninjured and were captured by the British aviators who landed nearby. The Albatros had been hit 20 times by the British fire.’ (rafmuseum.org.uk)

Lieutenant Small was wounded a second time on 6 December 1914 and was mentioned in Sir John French’s Despatch of 14 January 1915. He took up duties as an instructor in July 1916 and was advanced Temporary Major in May 1917, being confirmed in the rank on 5 June 1919. He relinquished his commission in 1923 and died in 1970.

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