Hong Kong's second world war history

High price, high honour: Hong Kong hero’s George Cross medal sold for HK$1.94 million at London auction

It’s the second-highest amount ever paid for the top UK medal honouring soldiers in non-combat situations and civilians

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 July, 2016, 5:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 July, 2016, 11:07pm

A bravery medal bestowed upon a Hong Kong-based British colonial officer and civil servant beheaded during the Japanese occupation of the city was snapped up for a near-record price by a billionaire politician at auction in London on Friday.

Stanley prisoner-of-war camp hero John Alexander “Jock” Fraser’s George Cross – the top UK honour awarded to soldiers in non-combat situations and civilians – fetched £190,000, or HK$1.94 million. It was the second-highest amount ever paid for a George Cross medal.

The amount easily surpassed the HK$1.5 million the medal had been estimated to fetch.

British billionaire Michael Ashcroft, a Conservative Party politician, philanthropist and supporter of armed forces personnel and military veterans, confirmed to the Post he bought Fraser’s medal.

The purchase was expected to join the world’s largest collection of Victoria Crosses and George Crosses displayed at the Imperial War Museums in London and all donated by Ashcroft.

Will Bennett, a spokesman for Dix Noonan Webb, the auction house responsible for the sale, called the price paid for the medal “very strong” and reflective of its emotional story.

Beheaded Hong Kong prisoner of war hero’s George Cross bravery medal set to fetch HK$1.5 million at London auction

He added: “Fraser’s bravery was a remarkable chapter in the history of Hong Kong.”

Fraser served in Hong Kong’s colonial government as defence secretary and assistant attorney general. The Scotsman was among 33 people beheaded by the Japanese in 1943. He was accused of planning an escape from Stanley and maintaining communications with allied forces.

The highest amount ever paid for a George Cross was for one awarded to Violette Szabo, a French-born British spy tortured and executed by the Nazis in the second world war. Her medal fetched HK$2.6 million (HK$3.2 million with buyer’s commission) at the same auction house in July last year.

Combining the buyer’s commission with the HK$1.94 million hammer price, the total price tag for Fraser’s medal is HK$2.32 million.

The auction on Friday followed the wishes of Fraser’s grandchildren. Fraser is one of 161 recipients of the George Cross since the honour was instituted in 1940. Recipients of similar awards that have been phased out, including the Albert Medal for Lifesaving and the Edward medal, have exchanged their medals for a George Cross in recent decades, bringing the total number of honorees to 410.

What the Japanese were doing in Hong Kong before second world war invasion

Military historian and former local resident Mark Sellar hoped future auctioned Hong Kong medals could somehow be brought back to the city.

He said he would like to see at least some of the medals be purchased by a Hong Kong museum or otherwise owned by an interested local resident “who can best appreciate what these medals represent” in the city’s history.

Other medals for sale

Several other Hong Kong honours connected to the Japanese occupation and the Battle for Hong Kong also went under the hammer in London on Friday.

Esmond Clifford’s medals were unsold. A decorated veteran of the first world war, Clifford was the Chief Engineer of the British Army in the Far East, having been appointed Chief Engineer China Command in 1940. He was later captured and held as a prisoner of war in Kowloon.

The medals of Reginald Walker, valued at HK$32,500, sold for HK$24,000. Walker joined the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps and later became the Director of War Supplies. He was severely wounded in both legs during the Battle for Hong Kong while leading a unit of volunteers into battle at Wong Nai Chung Gap. Later captured, he was a POW at Argyle Street Camp.

Gerald Harrison’s honours sold at the top estimate of HK$16,000. A doctor, he managed the clandestine supply of medicines and supplies for Bowen Road Military Hospital throughout the Japanese occupation. His heroics allowed more people to survive and recover than would otherwise have died.

The Japanese occupation of Hong Kong began on Christmas Day 1941 and lasted for three and a half years. During that period, many Hongkongers endured hardship, including rape and torture, and thousands died.