Victoria Cross awarded to army officer who saved three soldiers sold for £223k

A Victoria Cross awarded to an army officer who saved three wounded soldiers by dragging them to safety has been sold for £223,000.

Colonel William Cubitt risked his own life to round up his injured comrades while retreating from a marauding enemy during the Indian Mutiny in 1857.

He lifted one of the men on to his horse then got the two others to cling to his stirrups as they fled the battlefield with mutineers in hot pursuit.

Miraculously, they escaped the enemy who outnumbered them 10 to one.

Col Cubitt delivered the wounded soldiers to the nearest military hospital.

Later, Corporal James Kirby, the man Col Cubitt saved by lifting him on to his horse, wrote to him to tell him "I wish I could crown you with a wreath of laurels for the proud deeds that you have done."

Nearly 30 years later, Col Cubitt, then aged 51, was awarded another bravery medal, the Distinguished Service Order, for successfully capturing the Ruby Mines in Burma.

His fine bravery medals and a portrait of his heroic rescue at Chinhut had remained in the family since his death in 1903.

They were consigned for sale with London auctioneer Spink & Son who described his medals as a ‘unique’ group demonstrating the ‘outstanding courage’ of their recipient.

Lord Ashcroft saw off fierce competition from other collectors to secure the medals for a hammer price of £180,000, with extra fees taking the overall figure paid to £223,000.

His collection of over 180 Victoria Crosses is the largest in the world and accounts for over a tenth of the 1,358 awarded since the highest award for gallantry was introduced by Queen Victoria in 1857.

David Erskine-Hill, medal specialist at Spink & Son, said: “It was extremely exciting to handle the medals of such an extraordinary man, and one with such a long and distinguished military career.

“Anyone who has been awarded a Victoria Cross has shown an outstanding level of courage and selflessness in the face of danger.

“It’s quite amazing to think that Cubbit’s career is bookended by a Victoria Cross at one end and, almost 30 years later, another high decoration with his award of a DSO."

Col Cubitt was born in Calcutta in 1835.

His father was in the 18th Bengal Native Infantry and rose to be major of Calcutta before his death in 1839, when Col Cubitt was just five years old.

The family returned to England to live in Chertsey, Surrey.

Col Cubitt became an ensign in the 13th Bengal Native Infantry in 1853 and set off for India.

When the Indian Mutiny erupted at the beginning of May 1857, his regiment was in the garrison of Lucknow.

On June 30, 1857, the Chief Commissioner of Oude, Sir Henry Lawrence, ordered an attack against the insurgent force based at Chinhut which unbeknownst to him outnumbered the British by about 6,000 men to 600.

Fierce fighting raged on and the rebels soon inflicted heavy casualties on Lawrence’s force.

At a crucial moment, many of Lawrence’s Indian artillerymen betrayed him by going over to the other side, overturning their guns and cutting the traces on the horses.

The British retreated towards the bridge over the Kukrail stream, the only way back to Lucknow, with the mutineers on their tail.

Col Cubitt, however, hung back to rescue three of his wounded comrades before making the dash to safety.

Private Joseph Deolin, another of the men Col Cubitt saved that day, recounted afterwards: “Cubitt saved my life at the risk of his own by stopping behind under a very heavy fire from the enemy who were close to us by making me hold on by his stirrups and by that means enabled me to reach the residency.”

Col Cubitt’s VC citation, in the London Gazette, June 21, 1859, read: “For having on the retreat from Chinhut, on the 30th of June, 1857, saved the lives of three men of the 32nd Regiment, at the risk of his own.”

Col Cubitt then assisted in the resolute defence of Lucknow which was under siege for six months until the British freed it on November 27, 1857, evacuating the survivors.

Between 1886 and 1888, Col Cubitt served during the Third Burma War, where the British sought to remove the Burmese king who had become too friendly with the French and seize power for themselves.

His DSO was awarded for his impressive leadership of the 43rd Goorkha Light Infantry in capturing the Ruby Mines in north Burma which produced the finest rubies in the world.

Following the annexation of Burma, the British seized gold, jewellery and silk and shipped the precious commodities home to be presented as gifts to the royal family and nobility.

After a distinguished 36 year career, Col Cubitt retired in 1889 and moved back to England with his wife to live in Camberley, Cambs, where he died, aged 67, in 1903.

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