The discovery of a wonderful collection of medals and memorabilia has prompted Dee Atkinson & Harrison auctioneer Graham Paddison to investigate the remarkable career of a now almost forgotten East Riding sporting champion, a Captain of England, Walter McCloud ...
I have to admit that I had never heard the name Walter McCloud until the morning when an elderly lady walked into the saleroom at Driffield with a bulging shopping bag.
Shooting is today a minority sport, a toff’s pastime that attracts very little public attention . . . unless of course one of our lads takes the gold medal.
But things were almost unimaginably different back in the first half of the 20th century.
With an eye to what was happening in the world, successive Governments did everything they could to encourage the sport. Shooting clubs sprang up in towns all over the country, thousands of ordinary working class chaps took part and major competitions attracted large attendances, as well as extensive media coverage.
Throw in a couple world wars and by the late 1940s there were millions of men who had been trained to shoot. So to be a champion marksman at that time, indeed to be the
England team captain, required a rather unusual talent.
Walter McCloud was not a toff, he started work at British Oil and Cake Mills in Hull as a messenger boy at the age of 14, and it was not on the grouse moors of Derbyshire or the Highlands that he learned to shoot but in the trenches in France in the last year of the First World War.
He returned home to Hull and BOCM unscathed but it would be a decade before he picked up a gun again. Understandable perhaps but a pity, given that when he did start shooting competitively, as a member of the works team, he would prove to be an exceptional marksman.
Mac’s first major national success came in 1934 when he won the ‘Inexpert Championship’ at Bisley. That was also the year that he became the secretary of the East Yorkshire Rifle Association and the year that he was elected to the executive of the Yorkshire Small-bore Rifle Association.
From this point onwards the awards would come thick and fast: Countless local championships, the Yorkshire Championship (four times), international honours (England and Great Britain) and competitions as far away as the United States.
The Second World War, in which Mac served as an instructor in the Home Guard, put a stop to sporting activity for the duration but within 12 months it was back to business and over the next decade he would actually reach his peak as a marksman. He was a member of the English team that beat Scotland in the first post-war international shooting match in Edinburgh in June 1946 and he would be a fixture in the squad over the next few years, serving as captain in 1953.
His status as a marksman was put beyond any possible debate when he won the Bell Trophy at Cardiff in 1948, an open competition for the whole of Great Britain. It was one of the most highly rated contests of the day so far as serious riflemen were concerned.
By the time that he died, at the sadly early age of 54, in 1954, an entire wall at his home in Willerby Square was taken up by a huge glass case housing the silverware and trophies that he had won. He was still working at BOCM, although now part of the management team (Deputy Head of the Cake Forwarding Department) and still the reigning champion of East Yorkshire.
Which brings me back to the morning that a rather elderly lady walked into the saleroom at Driffield with that bulging shopping bag. She was Walter McCloud’s daughter and inside the bag was a treasure trove: Three gold medals, 32 hallmarked silver medals, 56 bronze, white and yellow metal medals, England and Great Britain International team medals, medals of office, not to mention a mass of memorabilia and ephemera.
The collection has simply been stored away for many years and, with no-one to pass it on to, she has decided that now is the time to let it go to a collector who will treasure it.
The McCloud Collection is expected to be one of the star lots in a specialist auction of Militaria, Collectable Toys & Sporting Memorabilia that is to take place at the rooms on October 20.
The auction will also include the set of medals awarded to Private Robert Baxter of the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders who took part in one of the most iconic actions in British military history, The Thin Red Line, in which the Highlanders, supported by a small force of Royal Marines, halted a full Russian cavalry charge during the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War.
The set includes the Crimea Medal with Alma, Balaklava and Sebastopol bars, plus an Indian Mutiny Medal with Lucknow and Relief of Lucknow bars, as well as Turkish Crimea, Long Service and Good Conduct medals.
With the exception of medals awarded to the men involved in the Charge of the Light Brigade, this is about as interesting as it gets so far as collectors are concerned and the sale of this set is expected to attract international interest.
The pre-sale estimate is £1,500 to £2,000, which could turn out to be pretty conservative.