14 July 2006

Mr Lester Watson ( 1889-1959 ), an investment banker from Boston, Massachusetts, started collecting British military medals after his uncle had given him his first one in 1904. He acquired most of his medals during the 1920s, some from US dealers, but most bought from the London firms of Baldwins, Spink and Seaby during his visits to Britain. Watson's collection is remarkable for its systematic representation of gallantry and campaign medals awarded to British servicemen during the period 1791 to c.1930.

Mr Hoyt Watson, the son of Lester Watson, has recently donated the whole of his father's military medal collection to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England.

Included in the medal Collection is the Victoria Cross awarded to Private David Hawkes, 2nd Bn, The Rifle Brigade, for gallant action during the final operations which resulted in the capture of the city of Lucknow in March 1858. The Hawkes' VC was sold by Glendinings on the 25th September 1919 for £78 after which Lester Watson paid £95 for it, probably from Spink or Baldwins, for his collection.

( David Hawkes' Indian Mutiny Medal was sold at auction on 23rd June 2005 by Dix Noonan Webb for a hammer price of £9,200 ).

Many of the Victoria Crosses awarded during the Indian Mutiny were conferred under the second proviso of the Seventh Clause of the 1856 Warrant which gave GOC India the power to confer the VC, subject to confirmation by Queen Victoria. In five cases where GOC India had conferred the VC, and was awaiting confirmation from the Queen, all had died before the VC could be given to the recipient. And all had died before the publication of the award in the London Gazette. David Hawkes was one of these recipients, having died on 14th August 1858, and his award of the VC being announced in the London Gazette of 24 December 1858.

A problem then arose as to who should receive David Hawkes' Victoria Cross. It was decided by the War Office that the VC should be posted to the dead recipient's immediate relative. In Hawkes' case this was his father, William, the VC being posted to him on the 10 February 1859. The delay in posting the VC may indicate the fact that Hawkes' death had not become known to the War Office until after the London Gazette announcement in December 1858.

David Hawkes died on the 14th August 1858, aged 36, in Fyzabad, India, not knowing he had been awarded the Victoria Cross. His exact place of burial is unknown as there is no trace of his death in any of the three Presidency quarterly death or burial returns for 1858 to 1868.

[ London Gazette, 24 December 1858 ], Lucknow, Indian Mutiny, 11 March 1858, Private David Hawkes, 2nd Bn, The Rifle Brigade ( also Captain Henry Wilmot and Sergeant William Nash, both 2nd Bn, The Rifle Brigade )

For conspicuous gallantry at Lucknow on the 11th March 1858. Captain Wilmotís Company was engaged with a large body of the enemy, near the Iron Bridge. That officer found himself at the end of a street with only four of his men, opposed to a considerable body. One of the four was shot through both legs, and became utterly helpless; the two men lifted him up, and although Private Hawkes was severely wounded, he carried him for a considerable distance, exposed to the fire of the enemy, Captain Wilmot firing with the menís rifles, and covering the retreat of the party.

( Despatch of Brigadier-General Walpole CB, dated 20th of March 1858 )


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Iain Stewart, 14 July 2006