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Legacy of a Wolverhampton war hero set for auction

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Alfred Sephton

Auctioneer Ben Gamble with the replica
Victoria Cross set for auction

Mr and Mrs Sephton accepting their son’s
posthumous Victoria Cross

Cuttlestones’ auctioneers and valuers new Wolverhampton Sale room will see in its inaugural sale with a lot that reflects the life – and death – of a local wartime hero. The Friday, 4th November Specialist Collectors’ Sale will see the auction of a collection of materials, including a rare replica Victoria Cross medal, that relays the tragic story of Wolverhampton-raised Alfred Sephton.


Sephton was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces, following the actions that ultimately led to his death during World War II.


Born in Warrington in 1911 but raised in Wolverhampton from the age of 1, Sephton always had a fascination with sailing and his sister recalled many hours as children when she would take him to West Park in Wolverhampton to see the boats on the lake. A member of the choir at Wolverhampton’s St John’s Church, he was eventually to sign up with the Royal Navy.


It was as a 30-year-old petty officer serving on the HMS Coventry that Sephton showed the gallantry that would secure his place in history. On May 17th 1941, the Coventry was patrolling with another cruiser, the Pheobe, when an SOS was received from a hospital ship called Aba and a large group of bombers attacked all three ships. The Coventry sank, killing 67 men. During the attack a bullet passed through Sephton before hitting another man and, though bleeding heavily and partially blinded, he carried on his duties as director-layer until he collapsed on deck, only to die from his wounds the next day.


Sephton was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross in recognition of his selfless bravery; but here the tale takes a further tragic twist – in 1971 his sister presented the medal to Coventry Cathedral, from where it was stolen whilst on display in 1990. The medal was never recovered, although a replica was issued to the family.


The collection that is consigned for sale at the Clarence Street sale room on Friday, 4th November includes said replica and a miniature version of the medal, alongside correspondence from one Brig. N Barclay regarding the issue of a replacement medal following the theft. Only a replica was allowed on this occasion as replacement VCs are issued only when the person awarded the cross has it stolen or it is lost as a result of enemy action. Other ephemera within the lot includes photographs of HMS Coventry, a signed service of thanksgiving for the centenary of the institution of the cross, a book on HMS Coventry, an HMS Coventry Tally badge, a press photograph of Alfred’s parents, Mr & Mrs Sephton, with his Victoria Cross and a photograph of Alfred Sephton himself in uniform.


MD and Head Auctioneer at Cuttlestones, Ben Gamble, explains what makes this lot so very special:


The rarity of the Victoria Cross makes it the ultimate prize for collectors – only 1356 have been awarded in 155 years – so it’s little wonder that examples have achieved in excess of £400,000 when sold at auction. While the absence of the original medal will, no doubt, affect the value of this collection it will remain of great interest to collectors of medals and military ephemera and, as such, we’re confident it will command a significant sum. There is a great amount of detail surrounding not only the awarding of the medal but its subsequent theft, so this lot has huge provenance and is a genuinely unique collection in its own right.


The lot is set to come under the hammer at Cuttlestones’ Friday, 4th November 2011 Specialist Collectors’ Sale; which also marks the first auction to be held at the company’s new Wolverhampton Sale Rooms on Clarence Street, just off Waterloo Road. The full catalogue will be available online at from Friday, 29th October while viewing will take place on Thursday, 3rd November between 10am and 7pm.


Commission, telephone and live internet bidding services will be available for those unable to attend on sale day. For further information visit or call 01785 714905.

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