Preston war hero’s Victoria Cross to be auctioned off

A PRESTON hero’s Victoria Cross will go under the hammer later this month.

Sunday, 8th March 2015, 9:15 am
Photography Jan Starnes© Dix Noonan Webb Ltd The Victoria Cross and other medals awarded to Private James Towers of The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)

The First World War Victoria Cross was awarded to Private James Towers who, in an act of bravery, volunteered to take a message to a stranded platoon, despite having seen five previous messengers killed. It be auctioned off in London by Dix Noonan Webb, alongside other medals belonging to James Towers, and is expected to fetch £130,000 to £160,000.

He served with the 2nd Battalion The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), and was awarded his Victoria Cross at Mericourt in France on October 6 1918.

The Cameronians were holding a railway embankment but were ordered to retire as they came under heavy attack.

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However, one platoon had become cut off and did not receive the order.

A volunteer was called for to take a message to them but the man who stepped forward was killed, as were four more who tried to get through.

Despite having seen five of his comrades shot down, James volunteered for the mission.

He darted from shell-hole to shell-hole and crawled through wire entanglements.

On the way he came across the body of one of the previous messengers, Private Frank Dunlop, who had been one of his best friends. Leaping over an embankment, he found himself within yards of a German machine gun nest but sprinted away before the startled enemy could react.

Finding the lost platoon, he gave them the message and the following day led them back to the British lines.

The citation for his VC reads: “His valour, determination, and utter disregard of danger were an inspiring example to all.”

David Erskine-Hill, auctioneer at Dix Noonan Webb, said: “James Towers had watched five comrades die as they tried to get through to the lost platoon, yet he still volunteered to take the message. This was cool, calculated courage from a man prepared to risk his own life to stop his fellow soldiers from being cut off. Through a combination of athletic prowess and sheer good luck he got away with it. His is a great story of gallantry and survival.”

Towers was born in Preston in 1897. At the time his father was working as a cotton loomer but later took up farming at Broughton.

Young James helped on the farm after attending Emmanuel Boys School.

He enlisted in the Royal Artillery in 1915 when underage but was discovered. The following year he joined up again, this time in the 5th Dragoon Guards, before transferring to the infantry.

He found himself serving in the ranks of the 2nd Battalion The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) - one of Scotland’s most famous regiments.

Shortly after his demobilisation in 1919, Towers was presented with his VC by George V at Buckingham Palace. He was later one of 74 holders of Britain’s highest gallantry award who formed a special Guard of Honour for the burial of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey on November 11 1920.

After the war, he returned to his father’s dairy farm in Broughton, and later set up on his own, running a poultry farm and a milk distribution business.

He died at the Royal Infirmary, Preston, in January 1977 aged 79.

The medals consist of the Victoria Cross, the British War Medal, the Victory Medal, the George VI Coronation Medal and the Elizabeth II Coronation Medal. They are being sold by a private collector. The auction will take place on March 25.