THE VICTORIA CROSS AWARDED TO RIFLEMAN WILLIAM MARINER, KING'S ROYAL RIFLE CORPS, HAS BEEN SOLD AT AUCTION BY SPINK OF LONDON.
23 November 2006


( select to enlarge )

Medal entitlement of Rifleman William Mariner,
2nd Bn, King's Royal Rifle Corps

  • Victoria Cross
  • 1914 - 15 Star
  • British War Medal ( 1914-20 )
  • Victory Medal ( 1914-19 )

The Victoria Cross awarded to Private William Mariner, King's Royal Rifle Corps, has been sold at auction today, 23rd November 2006, by Spink of London for a hammer price of £105,000. The identity of the purchaser of the Mariner VC remains unknown. Unfortunately the whereabouts of Mariner's First World War Trio of campaign medals is not known.


On the 22nd May 1915, less than a mile away from where the battle of Festubert was being fought, the 2nd KRRC was holding the front line in the Cuinchy / Cambrin sector, south of the La Bassée Canal. A violent thunderstorm was in progress during the night when Private William Mariner volunteered to try and silence an enemy machine gun which had been responsible for many casualties to working parties.

Mariner's citation in the London Gazette sums up exactly the action he carried out to earn the Victoria Cross. Additionally, an eyewitness account by another soldier, Jack Laister, who accompanied Mariner on part of his suicidal mission, has recently been discovered. Writing in 1991, when he was 94, Mr Laister described the night he slithered into the mud of no man's land with William Mariner.

"Mariner told me he needed two bandoliers of Mills bombs and said 'I can't drag a box over no man's land'. He shook my hand and told me to crawl up to the German wire with him, cut it, and then 'for God's sake get back'.

It was a pitch black night although we had to tuck ourselves into the ground when the Very Lights went up.

We reached the wire and I started to cut, all the time being afraid that if the Germans heard me it would mean certain death. Then Mariner took off his tunic and shirt so they didn't catch on the wire and whispered 'now get the hell out of it' and I remember thinking, I'll never see him again.

I crawled back and had only got half way when all hell was let loose. I never saw anything like it: standing on top of the German front-line trench was Mariner and by the light of the Very Lights I could see him hurling bomb after bomb into the German trench. Again I thought, that's the last I'll see of him because the Germans had opened up with every gun they had.

I managed to get back to our line and after dropping onto the fire-step, myself and my mates kept our heads down waiting for a counter-attack. A while later we heard German voices and then two Germans were pushed over the parapet dropping onto the fire-step followed by Mariner carrying part of a German machine-gun."


[ London Gazette, 23 June 1915 ], Cambrai, France, 22 May 1915, Private ( Rifleman ) William Mariner, 2nd Bn, King's Royal Rifle Corps

During a violent thunderstorm on the night of 22nd May 1915, he left his trench near Cambria, and crept out through the German wire entanglements till he reached the emplacement of a German machine gun which had been damaging our parapets and hindering our working parties.

After climbing on the top of the German parapet he threw a bomb in under the roof of the gun emplacement and heard some groaning and the enemy running away. After about a quarter of an hour he heard some of them coming back again, and climbed up on the other side of the emplacement and threw another bomb among them left-handed. He then lay still while the Germans opened a heavy fire on the wire entanglement behind him, and it was only after about an hour that he was able to crawl back to his own trench.

Before starting out he had requested a serjeant to open fire on the enemy’s trenches as soon as he had thrown his bombs. Rifleman Mariner was out alone for one and a half hours carrying out this gallant work.

William Mariner was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 12th August 1915.


After speaking at various recruiting rallies, mainly in the Salford disrict, Mariner returned to France but was wounded and sent back to England on 24th August 1915. He did not return to France until 12th October. Before this a newspaper report covered his appearance in court at Clerkenwell, London, where he had been arrested for overstaying his leave after some high jinks in London. He wore his VC in court and received a severe ticking off from the judge.

In June 1916 the 2nd KRRC were in the front line of an attack on the Railway Triangle, south of Loos and took part in the diversionary attack on 30th June 1916, the eve of the Somme offensive. Comrades reported that Mariner seemed to lose control during a heavy bombardment, ran down an enemy trench and was last seen bayoneting a German as a shell exploded on him, blowing him to pieces.

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Iain Stewart, 23 November 2006