An extremely rare Chinese Civil War incident D.S.M. group of seven awarded to Chief Petty Officer J. Baldock, Royal Navy, among those who boarded the captured steamer Wanhsien amidst ‘a hurricane of bullets’ in September 1926
Distinguished Service Medal, G.V.R. (J. 108966 J. Baldock. Ord. H.M.S. Kiawo. Wanhsien. 5.9.26); 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; Africa Star; Defence and War Medals 1939-45; Royal Navy L.S. & G.C., G.VI.R., 1st issue (J. 108966 J. Baldock. P.O. H.M.S. Manchester City) the first with edge bruising and heavily polished, thus fine, the remainder good very fine or better
Pair: Private J. Baldock, Hampshire Regiment British War and Victory Medals (31593 Pte. J. Baldock, Hamps. R.)good very fine (9)
Provenance: R. C. Witte Collection, Dix Noonan Webb, September 2012. One of just 10 inter-war awards of the Distinguished Service Medal.
D.S.M. London Gazette 16 May 1927: ‘The King has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the following decorations and medals to officers and men of H.M. Navy and the Mercantile Marine, in recognition of their services at Wanhsien, Yangtze River, China, on 5 September 1926, and the connected events.
To receive the Distinguished Service Medal: ‘Ordinary Seaman Joseph Baldock, O.N. J. 108966 (Po.), H.M.S. Kiawo ... [one of] the remaining surviving members of the boarding party, who acted with courage and resource in extremely trying circumstances.’
Joseph Baldock was born in Portsmouth on 23 April 1908, the son of Private J. Baldock, Hampshire Regiment, and entered the Royal Navy as a Boy 2nd Class on 16 November 1923. Joining the cruiser Despatch in the Far East in January 1925, and following his advancement to Ordinary Seaman, he was among those subsequently transferred to the Kiawo for the rescue operations on the Yangtze in September 1926.
The Steamer Wanliu, owned by Messrs. Butterfield & Swire, ran into difficulties with General Yang's soldiers at Yunyang when the Chinese claimed that two sampans were capsized by the ship’s wash and several of their soldiers drowned, in addition to claiming the loss of many thousands of dollars which had been on board. Wanliu’s captain denied this account of the incident and stated that his ship was boarded by armed soldiers and had been fired on whilst endeavouring to escape. As a reprisal General Yang - one of Wu Pei Fu’s supporters - seized the two Butterfield & Wire ships Wanhsien and Wantung at the port of Wanhsien, placing 300 soldiers aboard the vessels, and confining the officers in their quarters.
As a result, in early September 1926, the Royal Navy mounted a rescue mission with the gunboats Cockchafer and Widgeon, and the steamer Kiawo, the latter owned by Messrs. Jardine Matheson & Co., but taken over by the Royal Navy and manned by four officers and 60 men, most of them drawn from the crew of the cruiser Despatch. Initially placed under the command of Lieutenant-Commander H. D. C. Stanistreet, D.S.O., R.N., by the time of the action Kiawo was actually under Commander F. C. Darley, R.N., the S.N.O. Armed With Stings, The Saga of a Gunboat Flotilla, by A. Cecil Hampshire, takes up the story:
‘In accordance with instructions, Stanistreet had prepared the vessel for her task to the best of his ability in the short time available ... sheets of steel plating and barricades of coal bags had been erected to provide cover for the boarding-parties, and some Lewis guns from the Mantis mounted on board. The ship had also been hurriedly painted to alter her appearance, her normally red funnel being painted black and her upperworks bright red. Darley had brought with him a number of Maxim guns, and for heavier armament the Scarab’s 2-pounder was transferred to the Kiawo and mounted aft on her saloon deck. The sailors carried rifles and unfixed bayonets and wooden truncheons. For communication purposes the expedition had been provided with a short-range wireless set, but in the event this proved completely useless ... ’
Cecil Hampshire continues: ‘In broad outline the plan was to run alongside the starboard, or mid-stream, side of the Wanhsien and disembark a special party of bluejackets to rush the steamer’s bridge and rescue the British officers barricaded there. Other parties of sailors would board simultaneously through the Kiawo’s baggage ports, secure the ship, disarm the Chinese troops, drive them forward and keep them under guard. The same procedure would then be repeated in the Wantung.’
In the event, the Kiawo and her consorts faced fierce competition long before they even reached their quarry. Cecil Hampshire continues:
‘Unknown to them no fewer than eleven field guns were now covering the warships. In his yamen Yang was gleefully anticipating the humiliating rebuff he was about to administer to the British.
Then suddenly round the bend of the river appeared the Kiawo, the black smoke gushing from her funnel and the creaming bow wave piled up at her forefoot as she stemmed the 8-knot current giving the impression of high speed. The time was 6.15 p.m. As she foamed up river towards the waiting city and the warships and merchantmen anchored off its waterfront the Red Ensign was hauled down from her jackstaff and two White Ensigns broke out and billowed her yardarms. There was no need for further deception: she was a unit of the British Fleet on His Majesty’s Service.
But even before she revealed her true identity sporadic rifle fire broke out from the river banks and bullets began zipping around her. Making no attempt at retaliation she steamed past the Cockchafer and, skilfully handled, nosed alongside the Wanhsien. On the latter’s fore deck a group of Chinese squatted around a cooking pot, to all intents and purposes peacefully eating their evening meal. As the bugler on board the Kiawo sounded the twos Gs to signal the grapnel party to secure alongside, one of the Chinese put down his bowl and began to help with the grappling-irons. To Darley gazing down from the bridge it seemed that the operation would indeed be a walkover. The bugler sounded the “Charge”, and the British sailors began swarming aboard the Wanhsien.
But the moment the first British bluejacket set foot on her deck all hell broke loose. From machine-guns set up within the cover of the companionways, from riflemen hidden in deckhouses, cabins and behind barricades of sandbags a hurricane of bullets blasted the sailors to death. Along both banks of the river and from prepared positions on the waterfront rifles, machine-guns and field batteries opened fire on the Kiawo and the two warships ... In the Wanhsien the Kiawo’s men had accomplished part of their task. But with her tiers of decks, numerous passages and doorways the Wanhsien was a difficult ship to board. Despite the murderous fire of the Chinese defenders the bridge party had managed to attain their objective, and Thomson and his officers and five of the steamer’s crew were safely transferred to the Kiawo. But the naval casualties were severe ... ’
In fact three officers and four men were killed, and one officer and eight men wounded. Among the former was the S.N.O., Commander F. C. Darley, R.N.:
‘Lieutenant Fogg-Elliott had gone aft in the Kiawo to direct the fire of the pom-pom gun’s crew when Commander Darley decided to board the Wanhsien and see how the battle was going. Hardly had he stepped aboard than he was shot dead. Hand-to-hand fighting was raging round the decks, in the cabins and passages. Chinese soldiers crouching behind sandbags in the after saloon were keeping up a hot fire on the Kiawo, whose anti-boarding party were replying with interest. Lieutenant Peterson and the remnants of his section, fighting like tigers, had managed to clear part of the after deck of the Wanhsien, but it was obvious to Fogg-Elliott that they would never be able to recapture the ship. Bleeding from a bullet wound sustained in his hurried reconnaissance he made his way back to the bridge to report the hopelessness of the situation to Darley. When he learned the Commander was dead he decided to cast off and make an effort to rescue the officers of the Wantung. The bodies of all but three of the British dead - Darley and two seamen - were recovered from the bloodstained deck of the Wanhsien, and under fire from all sides the Kiawo slipped her grapnels and steamed up river.’
Amazingly, having then rescued Captain Bates from the Wantung, the Kiawo returned to the Wanhsien in another attempt to recover the bodies of Captain Darley and the two bluejackets, all the while under continuing heavy fire. But they were not to be found and at length she steamed off down river.
Two D.S.Cs, two C.G.Ms and four D.S.Ms were awarded for the action, all but one of the D.S.Cs and one of the D.S.Ms to the gallant crew of the Kiawo. In the words of one correspondent, ‘It was Zeebrugge on a small scale, a manifestation of the same splendid spirit that animated the greater deed.’
Baldock enjoyed a number of seagoing appointments over the coming years and had just returned to the U.K. from Hong Kong in the acting rank of Petty Officer when hostilities commenced in September 1939. Initially employed ashore, Baldock served in the minelaying base ship Manchester City from March 1940 to December 1941, in which period he was awarded his L.S. & G.C. Medal, and aboard the auxiliary anti-aircraft ship Alynbank from March 1942 until January 1943, in which period he would have served on the Arctic run and out in the Mediterranean.
A series of shore appointments then ensued, including time at the Southampton base Shrapnel in mid-to-late 1943, but he returned to sea in the newly launched destroyer Wakeful in the period February-July 1944, prior to ending the War in the old harbour ship Cormorant.
Confirmed in the rank of Chief Petty Officer in December 1945, Baldock was still serving at the end of the decade.
Sold with the recipient’s original Certificate of Service and Gunnery History Sheets, in addition to an old newspaper cutting announcing awards for the Wanhsien incident and other research and some original group photos etc.