British WW2 Irish Guards Officer's Sword, Lt Col Henry Steuart Phillpotts MC, Battle of the Netherlands
Straight spear-pointed blade with central fuller. Pierced steel hilt of ‘Gothic’ style with inset regimental badge of the Irish Guards, a shamrock on a St Andrew’s cross surrounded by the regimental motto ‘Quis Seperabit' within an eight-pointed rayed faceted star. Steel ferrule, chequered backstrap and oval pommel cap. Wire-bound shagreen grip. Bullion sword knot. Steel parade scabbard with two hanging rings. All metal parts nickel-plated. Blade 32¼ inches, 38½ inches overall.
The blade is etched on both sides, featuring the royal crown and cypher of George V, the badge of the Irish Guards, the battle honours of the Irish Guards within scrollwork, from Retreat from Mons to Hindenburg Line, the retailer’s name and badge ‘Wilkinson Sword Co Ltd London’ and the owner’s initials ‘H. S. P.’, indicating Henry Steuart Phillpotts.
It has a hexagonal brass proof slug: the hexagonal slug was used from 1905 onwards to denote Wilkinson’s best quality blades. The spine of the blade is etched with ‘Made in England’ and stamped with the serial number ‘63059’, indicating manufacture in 1931.
Henry Steuart Phillpotts was born in 1910 in County Carlow, Ireland. His father was Brigadier-General Louis Murray Phillpotts, who served in the Royal Artillery in the Boer War and WW1 until he was killed in action in France in 1916. His mother was Amy Steuart Duckett, from a wealthy family of Anglo-Irish landowners.
Henry gained his Army commission as a university candidate in 1930, joining the 2nd Battalion, Irish Guards. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1933, and was seconded for service on the Staff as an Aide-de-camp in 1938, during which time he was promoted Captain. On the outbreak of war in 1939 he relinquished his staff appointment and returned to his regiment as Adjutant for the 2nd Battalion. He was awarded the Military Cross in December 1940 for bravery under fire.
The recommendation made for his MC by Lt-Col. Haydon reads as follows:
Captain H.S. Phillpotts was Adjutant to the Battalion throughout the operations at the Hook of Holland on May 13th and 14th, 1940. During the air bombing which took place on the evening of the 14th May this officer was wounded. However, though in considerable pain he neither reported the fact that he had been hit nor did he go to the Regimental Aid Post for treatment because at that time the Medical Officer was already very occupied dealing with the other wounded. It was not until the pallor of his face caused questions to be asked that he admitted he had been hit, and even then it required a direct order before he would go to receive treatment.
On the following morning when the decision was taken to evacuate the force at short notice Captain Phillpotts despite the pain and discomfort he was suffering and had suffered through the night volunteered to carry the orders for the move to the forward Companies. He took the quickest routes across completely open ground and would have been at the mercy of and enemy aeroplane that came over. Captain Phillpotts by the courage, endurance and self-sacrifice set the most inspiring example to all ranks and was instrumental in getting very urgent orders to their destination in time for them to be acted upon.
His services throughout the operations were invaluable both to his Commanding Officer and to the Battalion.
During the war Henry was made a substantive Major. In 1946 he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. He divorced his wife (married Feb 1940) in 1949, with one daughter from the marriage. After his retirement ‘Colonel Phillpotts’ was known locally for his generosity, giving away Harrods hampers to those with whom he stayed. His inherited home in County Carlow, Russelstown Park House, was compulsorily purchased and demolished by the Land Commission in the mid-1950s, prompting him to move to England. He died in Winchester in 1978.
The action of the Irish Guards referred to in Henry’s MC citation was part of the broader Battle of the Netherlands after its invasion by Nazi Germany in May 1940. The 2nd Battalion Irish Guards under Lt-Col. Haydon was sent into Holland on the 12th May, aboard two ferries escorted by HMS Hereward and other destroyers, disembarking at Walcheren. Their mission had been assigned at midnight on the 11th, such short notice that around a quarter of the 2nd Battalion’s men were still on leave – a company of 200 Welsh Guards was drafted to replace them.
Designated ‘Harpoon Force’ this composite unit’s objective was to secure Walcheren and the route from its seaport to the Hague, creating an evacuation corridor for British diplomats and citizens, valuable material assets, the Dutch Royal Family and Dutch Government ministers. Harpoon Force was ordered to act defensively, not taking part in any fighting unless its objectives were challenged. It was lightly armed, but had artillery support from the docked destroyers and other Royal Navy vessels off the coast.
Upon arriving, Haydon learned that the Dutch were still holding the Hague, but Walcheren was under air attack by Stukas and he chose not to risk of trying to force his way to the capital. Trucks arrived from Amsterdam carrying diamonds, and at 12pm on the 13th an armoured bank car brought Queen Wilhelmina to the Hereward. The Dutch government and diplomatic corps then arrived at 6pm. The 2nd Battalion dug in and held position into the next day to allow evacuation of a steady stream of refugees, but came under increasing pressure from the Luftwaffe and was forced to withdraw on HMS Whitshed, at the loss of seven Guardsmen killed and 23 wounded.
Only six days later the 2nd Battalion was deployed to Boulogne to cover another British evacuation, where it fought off sustained attacks from the Second Panzer Division. Although Boulogne was lost the battalion’s efforts significantly delayed the German advance towards Dunkirk. It returned to Europe in the Normandy Campaign in 1944, after which it participated in Operation Market Garden and the Rhineland Campaign, where Guardsman Edward Charlton of the 2nd Battalion earned the last Victoria Cross awarded in the European Theater.
The blade is bright with only a few small spots of light patination, not impacting the etching. The nickel plating of the hilt is largely intact but with some surface distortion and minor flaking in high-wear areas. The scabbard has a few small dents. Very little nickel plating remains on the scabbard, but the exposed steel appears to have been polished, with some polishing marks and areas of remaining patination. The wire binding of the grip is tight with no movement, the shagreen of the grip has only light handling wear. The leather washer has been Blancoed for parade. The knot is structurally strong and flexible, with some minor fray to the wires of the acorn.