25 August 2015

( select to enlarge )
Medal entitlement of Sergeant Thomas Byrne,
21st Lancers ( Empress of India's )

  • Victoria Cross ( copy )
  • Queen's Sudan Medal ( 1896-1897 )
  • Queen's South Africa Medal ( 1899-1902 )
    • 3 clasps:
    • "Cape Colony" - "Orange Free State" - "Transvaal"
  • King George VI Coronation Medal ( 1937 )
  • Army Long Service & Good Conduct Medal
  • Khedive's Sudan Medal ( 1896-1908 )
    • 1 clasp:
    • "Khartoum"

The campaign medals, accompanied by a 'copy' Victoria Cross, awarded to Sergeant Thomas Byrne, 21st Lancers, have been sold at auction by the Penzance Auction House of David Lay FRICS, in the county of Cornwall. The sale estimate was between £10,000 and £15,000.

The sale of the campaign medals took place at a Collectors' sale on Tuesday, 25th August 2015 and realised a sale hammer price of £40,000. The identity of the purchaser has not been revealed.

Following Thomas Byrne's death in 1944 his Victoria Cross was inherited by his son Edward who subsequently had it stolen from him whilst serving in East Africa in 1949. A Nairobi police report confirms the theft. Edward Byrne kept the VC pinned to the inside of his jacket and whilst working as a military policeman in Nairobi his room was burgled and the jacket stolen. The Victoria Cross was never recovered.

In 1976 Thomas Byrne's grandson applied for an 'official replacement' Victoria Cross and this was granted by HM Queen Elizabeth II and Hancocks was instructed to issue a replacement VC fitted in an official case.

Two years later, on the 27 September 1978, the official replacement Victoria Cross was placed at a Sotheby's auction and was sold for a sale hammer price of £700. Upon learning of the sale HM Queen Elizabeth II was definitly not amused and stated She would never again approve of an official replacement Victoria Cross.

The Thomas Byrne official replacement VC was subsequently listed for £2,850 at a Charles Lusted auction on 1st January 1979, but remained unsold. It was last sold at a Spink auction for £6,500 on the 12th March 1996, to an anonymous buyer.

The British Light Cavalry regiment, the 21st Lancers, was sent ahead of the main British force to clear the plain to Omdurman, a small town near Khartoum. The 400-strong regiment attacked what they thought were a few hundred dervishes, but in fact there were 2,500 hidden behind a depression.

For the award of the Victoria Cross

[ London Gazette, 15 November 1899 ], Battle of Omdurman, Sudan, 2 September 1898, Private Thomas Byrne, 21st Lancers ( Empress of India's ).

At the Battle of Khartoum on the 2nd September 1898, Private Byrne turned back in the middle of the charge of the 21st Lancers and went to the assistance of Lieutenant the Honourable R.F. Molyneux, Royal Horse Guards, who was wounded, dismounted, disarmed, and being attacked by several Dervishes. Private Byrne, already severely wounded, attacked those dervishes, received a second severe wound, and, by his gallant conduct, enabled Lieutenant Molyneux to escape.

Thomas Byrne was invested with his Victoria Cross by Queen Victoria at Osborne House, Isle of Wight, on the 6th January 1899.

Thomas Byrne died on the 17th February 1944 and was buried in the West Gate Cemetery, Canterbury, in the county of Kent.

Four Victoria Crosses were awarded for the Battle of Omdurman in the Sudan on the 2nd September 1898.

  • Lieutenant The Hon Raymond de Montmorency - 21st Lancers
  • Captain Paul Kenna - 21st Lancers
  • Private Thomas Byrne - 21st Lancers
  • Captain Neville Smyth - The Queen's Bays ( 2nd Dragoon Guards )


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Iain Stewart, 25 August 2015