Thursday, 7th April 2005

( select to enlarge )

Medal entitlement of Private James Towers,
2nd Bn, The Cameronians ( Scottish Rifles )

  • Victoria Cross
  • British War Medal ( 1914-20 )
  • Victory Medal ( 1914-19 )
  • King George VI Coronation Medal ( 1937 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal ( 1953 )

The Victoria Cross and campaign medals awarded to Private James Towers, of the Cameronians, were sold at auction on Thursday, 7th April 2005 by Noble Numismatics of Sydney, Australia. The group was sold to an anonymous Australian buyer for a hammer price of A$220,000 ( £90,000 ).

At the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 James Towers was 16 years of age. In June of the following year, while still 17, he volunteered for the West Lancashire Artillery but was soon discharged after his true age was revealed. In August 1916 he joined the 5th Dragoon Guards before moving on to the 2nd Bn, The Cameronians ( Scottish Rifles ) in December 1916.

By the final autumn offensives of 1918 Towers was a seasoned veteran of the trenches. On the 6th October 1918 the 2nd Battalion was engaged in a holding action of a Railway embankment at mericourt near Lens. As a result of German pressure the order was made to retire. However, one company found itself isolated between the first and second lines of the German advance. As the fighting intensified the need to withdraw became more apparent, creating a dilema as the isolated company could not be abandoned. The only means of sending orders to withdraw was by runner communication.

Volunteer runners were called upon to send the order to the surrounded company. Five volunteers came forward and each was killed in succession by enemy fire. By this stage the situation had reached crisis point. Private James Towers then decided to volunteer, making the sixth attempt. Through heavy cross fire, Towers sped his way across no man's land, making use of natural cover and applying the skills learned at his father's farm to jump the dykes and fences. Crawling through barbed wire entanglements and across shell craters he came across the body his best friend Private Frank Dunlop, who had been the Company messenger. When Towers was trapped beneath a guarded embankment he made the decision to surprise the enemy by leaping over it and was immediately confronted - several yards distant - by a fully manned yet startled German machine gun nest.

Making a hasty escape Towers managed to conceal himself in the mist and avoided machine gun fire. Eventually Towers reached the trapped Company and dug in with the remaining soldiers overnight. The following morning he led the Company back through the mist to relative safety, recovering numerous fallen comrades along the way.

[ London Gazette, 6 January 1919 ], Mericourt, France, 6 October 1918, Private James Towers, 2nd Bn, The Cameronians ( Scottish Rifles ).

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty at Mericourt on 6 October 1918 when under heavy fire, five runners having failed to deliver an important message, Private Towers, well aware of the fate of the runners who had already attempted the task, volunteered for the duty. In spite of heavy fire opened on him as soon as he moved, he went straight through from cover to cover and eventually delivered the message. His valour, determination, and utter disregard of danger were an inspiring example to all.

James Towers was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 8th May 1919.

James Towers was demobilized in January 1919 and died on the 24th January 1977 at the Preston General Hospital. He was cremated at Preston Crematorium.


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Iain Stewart, 7 April 2005