War hero’s medals go up for auction

The five medals awarded to Skerton war hero Corporal Harold Ainsworth Holt.They are (from left): Distinguished Conduct Medal, Military Medal, 1914 Star British War Medal, Victory Medal.
The five medals awarded to Skerton war hero Corporal Harold Ainsworth Holt.They are (from left): Distinguished Conduct Medal, Military Medal, 1914 Star British War Medal, Victory Medal.

Five war medals awarded to a Lancaster soldier killed in the First World War go up for aution in London next week, as Dick Barton explains.

The Distinguished Conduct Medal and four other medals awarded to a Skerton soldier – tragically killed in the First World War at the age of 27 after he repeatedly risked his life to rescue wounded colleagues – are set to fetch between £1,700 and £2,200 at an auction next week.

The medals belonged to Lancaster-born Corporal Harold Ainsworth Holt, who was born at Skerton in 1889 and who lived with his parents, Thomas and Hannah Holt, at 12 Earl Street, Skerton.

Corporal Holt enlisted at Lancaster and served with the Royal Army Medical Corps on the Western Front in northern France.

He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal – “for distinguished conduct in the field” – in July 1916.

The citation said it was “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in collecting wounded under very heavy shell fire.

“His bravery and good work cannot be overestimated.”

Just eight weeks earlier,in June 1916, Corporal Holt was given the Military Medal,which was awarded for “acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire.”

But less than a year after the award of these medals, Corporal Holt was dead.

He died of wounds on March 13, 1917, and is buried in the Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension in northern France, 350 miles and a world away from his beloved Skerton.

The cemetery is close to the town of Albert, a key location in the Battle of the Somme, which raged between July 1, 1916 and November 18, 1916 and which was one of the biggest and bloodiest battles of the First World War: more than one million men were killed or wounded in the carnage.

Now, nearly 100 years after Corporal Holt’s death, his medals are up for sale and are expected to sell for between £1,700 and £2 200 at Bonhams in Knightsbridge, London, on October 16.

John Millensted, medals expert at auctioneers Bonhams, told the Lancaster Guardian: “It is hard to imagine the suffering and agony these chaps were going through back then: the primitive conditions and hardship every day, the situation calls upon people to be brave as they are all in the same boat.

“Corporal Holt was clearly one of those brave men, who despite the environment and conditions carried out his tasks regardless to help his fellow men.”

Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, and Corporal Holt first went overseas – possibly to France – 16 days later, on August 20, 1914.

At around at that time – possibly days or weeks before he left Britain – he married his sweetheart, Winifred May Barton, in Birmingham.

At the time of the 1901 Census, Harold Ainsworth Holt and his family were living at 12 Earl Street, Skerton.

Harold’s father, Thomas, was a forgeman at a wagon works.

In the 1891 Census, he was listed as a “steam hammer smith.”

In 1901, Harold’s eldest brother James, 15, was a labourer at an oil cloth works, while his eldest sister, Bessie Ann, 13, was a cotton weaver’s

tenter.

Sometime between 1901 and 1911, the Holt family left Skerton to seek a better life in Saltley, Birmingham.

In 1911 – six years before his death in France - Harold Ainsworth Holt was a draughtsman at a railway carriage works.