Superb WW2 'Dunkirk 1940' D.C.M. (Immediate) and Korea M.I.D. Medal Group of Ten - Regimental Sergeant-Major W. J. 'Bill' Gilchrist, Irish Guards (later Norfolk Regiment)
- Product Code: MM-4461
- Regiment: Irish Guards and Norfolk Regiment
- Era: WW2 onwards Availability: Out of Stock
A superb second world war 'Dunkirk 1940' immediate DCM group of ten awarded to 2717907 Sergeant / Warrant Officer Cl.1 William John 'Bill' Gilchrist, Irish Guards (later Norfolk Regt).
George VI Distinguished Conduct Medal named to 2717907 Sgt. W. J. Gilchrist. I.G.
1939-45 Star unnamed as issued
France and Germany Star unnamed as issued
WW2 Defence Medal unnamed as issued
War Medal 1939-45 unnamed as issued
Queen's Korea Medal (with M.I.D. oak leaf emblem) named to 2717907 W.O.Cl.1. W. J. Gilchrist. R. Norfolk.
U.N. Korea Medal unnamed as issued
General Service Medal (Clasp - Cyprus) named to 2717907 W.O.Cl.1. W. J. Gilchrist. D.C.M. R. Norfolk.
1953 Coronation Medal unnamed as issued
Elizabeth II Army Long Service & Good Conduct Medal named to 2717907 W.O.Cl.1. W. J. Gilchrist. D.C.M. R. Norfolk.
The Queen's Korea medal has a minor official correction to the number, otherwise the medals are in god condition and are swing mounted as worn.
Comes with original documents, photos, correspondence and research as well as a mounted group of ten commemorative medals, proudly worn by the recipient and a number with their relevant certificates, comprising:
Dunkirk 1940 Medal
Confederation of Europe Medal
Normandy Campaign Medal
Battle for Britain Medal
1939 Frontline Medal
Korean War 40th Anniversary Medal
Korean President's Medal
A pre-war soldier, Gilchrist was first on hand to serve with 'Harpoon Force', the quickly-assembled commando force that took the Dutch Royal Family, besides crates of gold and diamonds off just days before the country fell into German hands.
He then distinguished himself in a fine action that held off the German advance to Dunkirk and resulted in the knocking out of an enemy tank - even refusing to leave his post having being wounded by three bullets that tore through his helmet and left him blind for three months.
Recovered from his wounds, he then fought on 'Hellfire Corner' at the time of the Battle of Britain, before later fighting through Normandy, notably in sharing the Irish Guards famous stands on the 'Bridge too Far' at Nijmegen.
Enlisting for more action with the Norfolk Regiment, Gilchrist won himself further laurels in Korea, escorted the Colours at the 1953 Coronation and acted coolly as a Troop Sergeant-Major during the loss of the Empire Tide in 1954.
D.C.M. London Gazette, 22 October 1940.
The original Recommendation - for an Immediate award - states:
'Boulogne 23rd May 1940.
Sgt Gilchrist was in personal charge of an anti-tank rifle which protected the rear of the Battalion during its withdrawal into Boulogne on the 23rd May. For two hours this NCO with a few men, succeeded in holding their post at a street corner, thus enabling the remainder of the Battalion to move on unmolested.
Although under extremely heavy machine gun fire he showed the greatest contempt of danger and continued to keep his anti-tank gun in action. He was instrumental in hitting and setting on fire an enemy tank, thus blocking a street down which the enemy was trying to move. Later in the action he himself was wounded but refused to leave his anti-tank rifle until it, and the Bren supporting it became jammed from over firing. Throughout the whole action Sgt Gilchrist showed courage and bravery of a very high order and set the finest example to the remainder of his platoon.'
William John Gilchrist was born in Ireland on 15 August 1915 and enlisted in the Irish Guards at Amagh on 16 January 1934. Having served at home and trained in Egypt, he crossed paths with Alexander of Tunis, serving as his Batman at one point. The onset of the Second World War would soon throw Gilchrist into the heat of the battle.
As the German blitzkrieg ravaged across Europe, old Kingdoms were been swept aside with impunity by the German army. The Dutch Royal family were next on the list and by late April 1940 their situation was on the brink. A 'Commando' style withdrawal was required. Major Haydon, Officer Commanding 2nd Battalion, Irish Guards was called to arms in order to raise a small combined force to bring the Royal Family to Britain so they might rule in exile.
Harpoon Force left off from Dover aboard Hereward. The invasion had taken everyone by surprise, so about a quarter of the men were on leave and couldn’t be reached through phone or telegram. With the landing planned for Walcheren the wider aims were:
1. Secure it for use of the Royal Navy.
2. Rescue the Royal family.
3. Evacuate embassy staff and other British citizens.
4. Cover the escape route from The Hague to Walcheren.
Besides this the troops already in Holland were to try and secure any gold or diamonds and destroy as much as possible to damage anything the Germans might soon 'inherit'.
They reached the Hook of Holland at dawn on 13 May to find the place in flames and had just docked when Stukas began bombing their ship and strafing them for good measure. They also found that it wasn’t just the enemy who were shooting at them. Some of the locals supported the invasion and began taking potshots at the battalion from several houses, forcing them to take cover.
The 'Micks' had to get to The Hague to escort the Dutch royal family, but it was hard going even when members of the Dutch resistance came to their aid. The Dutch also warned them not to accept candy or cigarettes from any local because they were likely poisoned by Nazi-sympathizers.
Since Haydon was given some leeway in his orders, he chose not to sacrifice anyone to The Hague. Walcheren was under siege, so securing it was hard enough. Besides the ship’s guns, all his battalion had were a few 3-inch mortar guns, the standard issue Bren guns, some anti-tank guns, and two signal trucks.
By late morning, trucks began arriving from Amsterdam, but none carried the Royal Family. They instead brought diamond-filled crates which the sailors loaded onto the Hereward. To make room for more, they began unloading the ship’s stores for the use of the resistance.
With the Germans still strafing them and still not a Dutch Royal in sight, Haydon finally gave the order to secure the roads between Walcheren and the docks. They hoped that some British nationals might make it out. Shortly after noon, a fleet of cars finally made it to the docks – the Royals were fashionably late! Haydon thus passed the work to Captain Thomas Halsey, of the Malcolm, but he came back with bad news:
'Nonsense! She left yesterday!.
Crossed wires meant that Queen Wilhelmina and her party were left standing on the dock, barred from boarding. It finally transpired that Princess Juliana had been evacuated the previous evening, so they eventually were given a berth. The problem was the Queen simply refused that the ship left. She was not going to leave her people without the Government, who finally arrived at 6pm that evening. The Germans had spent the afternoon taking pot-shots and bombing the docks to keep themselves amused. Harpoon Force finally weighed anchor and took their precious cargo off. It cost the lives of some 36 Guardsmen.
Going blind - D.C.M.
With Holland falling just two days after they returned home, the 2nd Battalion were soon sent off to France to attempt to stem the tide. Posted to Boulogne, Gilchrist was part of an important 6-man team that attempted to hold off the German attack. He displayed true character whilst winning his D.C.M. and suffered when three bullets ripped through his helmet. Having stayed at his post until the very last, Gilchrist was pulled from his gun and evacuated home. By the time he reached England, he had gone blind and spent some three months in a blind hospital learning braile, before waking one day to find his vision restored.
Further campaigns - A Bridge too Far
Returned to front-line action just three weeks later, Gilchrist found himself dug in on the Cliffs of Dover during the height of the Battle of Britain - he found home on 'Hellfire Corner'. With his award being Gazetted in late October, he was soon promoted to Regimental Sergeant-Major, a promotion that left him with the nickname 'That Bastard Mick'.
Gilchrist was of course present in the famous actions for the Irish Guards in Normandy and at the Lommell Bridge, Nijmegen - 'A Bridge too Far' - during September 1944. He served alongside the legendary Brigadier 'Joe' Vandeleur and clearly made quite an impression, for the pair corresponded for the rest of their lives. He most likely shared in the hair-raising action of 21 April 1945 that earned Guardsman Charlton the final Victoria Cross of the European War. A fellow 'Mick', Bill Ashley takes up the story:
'At around 06-00 our crew has finished breakfast but others had not when we heard those dreadful Moaning Minnies start up in the distance and we new that they were for us. We jumped into our tank in quick time and closed the hatches and waited. We were soon under a heavy barrage including artillery shells and our troop opened up on them and although our gunners were on target they put us under great pressure. The tank stank of cordite, but we were running short of ammunition and called for urgent supplies. Fortunately there was a lull, although the troop near Wistedt were up against elite German troops who were pressing home their advantage.
From one tank which got knocked out Guardsman Charlton took the Browning from the tank and faced the advancing German troops single handed and although he inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy he was severely wounded but moved his position and carried on shooting again inflicting many more losses on the enemy. He was removed by his mates and taken into a house for cover but was soon surrounded by the German troops and all were taken prisoner.
We were right down on ammo and to our surprise we saw three Bedford three tonners coming over the bridge and they turned into the orchard. They were from RASC transport. They were amazed when we told them that they had just come through Jerry lines and said that they had not been this close before. We soon had our ammunition on board and straight away Jerry who had managed to get up to the church started to let us have it. They had set up a machine gun post in the church and were creating havoc, but a well placed shot from our tank put a stop to that. Up until now we had been on the receiving end of the battle and you could see by the expressions on the faces of our men that the heavy bombardment we were under was causing some trouble both to ourselves and our infantry. However luck was on our side for the weather started to change and we could see blue sky appearing.
Next moment the wireless operator was calling "Charley 1, Charley 1 could we have the our ‘feathered friends‘ at map reference ‘bla bla bla‘, Charley 1 over and out." All of a sudden the shelling stopped and we knew that the Typhoon’s were about so we opened our hatches and looking up to the rear there they were. With the targets located they peeled off from their formation into a steep dive and we saw the rockets leave the planes. When they had finished their job it was our turn and when the order to advance came we set off past the church and saw that there were many casualties from both sides lying all around.
As we were leaving the village a lady came out in front of us with two children, she was very frightened and had a note in her hand which she was determined that we should see. My troop officer told me to see what she wanted and I got out to look at the note which had been written by one of my mates who had been taken prisoner with Guardsman Charlton and asked that we look after the this family as the lady had done everything possible to dress Charltons wounds and make him as comfortable as possible. She also insisted that I go inside the house where I found the badly wounded body of a German soldier and I assured her that everything would be all right.
We then pressed on while the 53rd Welsh Division took up our old positions. It was two days before we caught up with our pals who had been captured only to be told that Guardsman Charlton had died of his wounds.'
This was to be the final action of the War for the Irish Guards and Gilchrist was discharged in May 1946. He waited just a few months and re-enlisted in the Royal Norfolk Regiment on 22 October 1946.
Too many hills
Having been reduced to Corporal having changed 'arms' in the Army, Gilchrist was soon off to Germany with the Norfolks and had risen the rank of Regimental Sergeant-Major, 1st Battalion, by the end of the decade. By the time of the Korean War he again found himself in the thick of the action, but was re-united with an old friend when Alexander paid a visit to the field in June 1952. The Sunday Dispatch takes up the story:
'As he went from hilltop to hilltop, Lord Alexander saw hundreds of men from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom stripped to the waist in the hot sun. On one position he met an old friend, R.S.M. W. G. Gilchrist, D.C.M., of Stafford Avenue, Norwich, formerly of the Irish Guards - the Field Marshal's old regiment - and now serving with the Norfolks. Lord Alexander asked the R.S.M. two questions:
"What do you think of National Servicemen?" and "How do you like Korea?"
The R.S.M. replied:
"National Servicemen are No.1, Sir. They are terrific. Korea? - Too many hills, Sir.'
Having reached the peak of plenty of hills by the end of that conflict, Gilchrist added a mention to his laurels for the period 1 July-31 December 1952 (London Gazette 24 April 1953, refers).
Queen and Country First!
Posted to Hong Kong and now with a young family in toe, Gilchrist found himself with the honour of taking the Regimental Colour back to Britain for the Coronation in 1953. He made it back in one piece but soon after fell very ill, with a Doctor at one point suggesting he might have just two weeks to live. Having sent this news back to Hong Kong, he got a reply that perhaps he got himself back to see his family to be with them. A typical R.S.M.'s reply followed by Telegram:
'No! Queen and Country First!!!'
Thankfully he pulled through and did his duty.
1954 called for another move for the family, to return to Britain from Hong Kong. They found themselves loaded onto the Empire Windrush, with Gilchrist appointed Troopdeck Sergeant-Major. The vessel had famously previously carried so many families from the Caribbean to a new life in 1948. Untold Lives by the British Museum takes up the story:
'In March 1954, the Empire Windrush was bringing 1,276 men, women and children back to the UK from Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Suez. Many were National Servicemen returning home to be demobbed.
On the morning of 28 March the ship was 20 miles off Algiers. At about 6.15am officers on the bridge heard a 'whoof' of air and, turning round, saw oily, black smoke pouring out of one of the ship’s funnels. Then ten foot high flames appeared. There was a fire in the engine room. Since the alarm bell system failed to work, stewards and catering staff were sent to arouse crew and passengers.
Some of the military officers thought it was a practical joke when they were awoken by stewards bursting into their cabins shouting ‘Get quickly to your emergency station!'. Captain Anderson turned over in his bunk and continued to wait for his morning cup of tea, but then became aware of a smell of burning. He threw on his overcoat and rushed on deck. Hot paint from the top of the funnel was setting light to the wooden decks. The ship’s power failed and there was no light, water, or telephone.
Evacuation procedures swung into action. Lifeboats and rafts were launched and ships were sent from Algiers. Everything proceeded in a disciplined manner. Within twenty minutes of the order to abandon ship, all 250 women and children had been placed in lifeboats, as well as 500 of the servicemen and the ship’s cat Tibby. One boat was damaged as it was being launched and later sank when full of survivors. Some of these were in the sea for two hours before being rescued. As the fire spread, the order was finally given – every man for himself. At about 7.15 am the last men left the ship, including the Captain.'
Gilchrist and his family were picked up by a large oil tanker and dropped at Algiers.
Two quiet years followed in England, before an attachment to the King's African Rifles (1957-58) gave Gilchrist two interesting subordinates during his time in Uganda - namely one Idi Amin and a young Crown Prince (later King) Hussein of Jordan. He received his L.S. & G.C. from Lieutenant-General Sir Roger Bower whilst on active service in Cyprus in May 1960 and retired on 30 April 1961. Looking back on his army life he said:
'I have no regrets. I'd do it all over again if I could.'
Retired to Australia, Gilchrist settled in Brisbane and set up a car business. Appointed a Magistrate of Queensland in August 1966, he donned uniform for the final time as a Security Officer during the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games. Gilchrist returned to Korea upon the invitation of the South Korean President in 2000 and attended a Garden Party in honour of Korean Veterans, being presented to The Queen. Engaging in conversation with HM, it is said she endured the longest handshake of her reign. Gilchrist died in Brisbane just months later in September 2000 and his ashes were returned to Ireland to be interred at Castlederg.
A truly outstanding group!
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