Dix Noonan Webb - The historically important 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 - believed to be the first British soldier to be killed in action during the Great War - sold for a hammer price of £17,000 at Dix Noonan Webb in their auction of Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria on August 17.

Estimated to fetch £1,800-2,200, the medal was bought after competitive bidding by a new collector resident in the UK, who is a very keen amateur historian of the Great War. It was part of the Collection of the late Barry Hobbs (25 July 1942 - 3 May 2021), which comprised 215 lots of Great War medals that were 100% sold for a combined total of £172,610.

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Following the sale, Christopher Mellor-Hill, Head of Client Liaison (Associate Director) of Dix, Noonan, Webb, commented: “This is an incredible price achieved for what is a most iconic medal for the First World War and reflects greatly on all those who also lost their loves so tragically during the Great War. We are extremely pleased how much interest it attracted as well as from Military Institutions and educational establishments, and we hope that the successful buyer, who is a keen battlefield enthusiast of The Great War might put it on display so that its importance will be known to future generations.”

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, attested for 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. 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.

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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 sold for a hammer price of £5,500 against an estimate of £2,000-3,000. It was bought by a private collector of interesting awards to British serviceman of both world wars.

Mr Mellor-Hill said: “This group made a spectacular price and is a refection of the daring and equally characterful stories of the early days of those pioneering flyers at the beginning of World War One when they were such a new and novel aspect of warfare.”

Francis Gordon Small was born in Keynsham, Somerset on 7 March 1890. 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. Both A. E. Borton and L. A. Strange were mentioned in the same despatch. Remaining on attachment to the Royal Flying Corps, he was unfit to fly during 1915 and was appointed Commander of No. 47 Squadron (Home Defence) on 21 March 1916. 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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Also of note was a superb Great War D.C.M. and Second Award Bar, M.M. group of five awarded to Second Lieutenant W. A. Tapsell, 2nd Battalion, later 6th (Service) Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment, who was decorated with a trio of awards for gallantry on the Western Front in the summer of 1917. Commissioned in April 1918, he died five months later from wounds received in action with the 1st Battalion during the Second Battle of the Somme on 18 September 1918. Estimated to fetch £5,000-7,000, they sold for £10,000.

Mr. Mellor-Hill noted: “This outstanding ‘Triple Gallantry’ group which were all awarded in 1917 to 2nd Lt Tapsell who was commissioned from the ranks in The Lincolnshire Regt and sold for an exceptional £10,000 to an European collector who lives along The Western Front.”

FORTHCOMING SALES AT DNW

  • THURSDAY, AUGUST 26 – BRITISH, IRISH & WORLD BANKNOTES
  • TUESDAY & WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 7 & 8 – COINS AND HISTORICAL MEDALS
  • TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14 - JEWELLERY, WATCHES & OBJECTS OF VERTU
  • WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 15 - ORDERS, DECORATIONS, MEDALS AND MILITARIA
  • WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 22 - THE MICHAEL GIETZELT COLLECTION OF COINS OF CHARLES I AND THE COMMONWEALTH (1625-1660)
  • THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 30 – WILTSHIRE COINS & PARANUMISMATICA, BRITISH TOKENS, TICKETS & PASSES
  • TUESDAY, OCTOBER 5 - BRITISH COINS FROM THE COLLECTION OF IAN SAWDEN

Free online bidding is available is www.dnw.co.uk

For more information, please call 020 7016 1700

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Dix Noonan Webb – a brief history

In 1991, its first year of trading, the company held three medal auctions and sold 1,200 lots for a total hammer price of £553,000, however 30 years later, DNW is established as the premier medal auctioneer worldwide. Two years later, in 1993, it opened a coin department which also auctions commemorative medals and tokens. In 2015 DNW added jewelry to its sales calendar as well as setting up a stand alone banknotes department and expanding into premises next door. In 2020 DNW achieved a total hammer price of £14,256,060 and the total number of lots sold across all departments was 24,400. To date the company has sold in excess of 350,000 lots totaling over £200 million.

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