Triple WW1 gallantry awards reveal Derby's Captain Disney as one of 'Britain's bravest soldiers'

Herbert Alfred Disney and his gallantry medals
Herbert Alfred Disney and his gallantry medals Credit: Hansons

An extraordinary discovery of triple First World War gallantry awards, has revealed the story behind a man described as one of Britain's "bravest soldiers".

A Military Cross and Bar, Distinguished Conduct Medal, British War Medal and Victory Medal were all awarded to Herbert Alfred Disney from Derby, known as Alfred, for his "conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty".

Experts say the awards would most likely make Alfred one of the most decorated soldiers in his regiment, and his heroics led to him being called "Captain Disney".

His awards are now part of a major collection of memorabilia being auctioned by Hansons in Derbyshire in November.

Who was "Captain Disney" ?

Alfred with his wife Annie Credit: Hansons

Herbert Alfred Disney was born in Barrow-upon-Soar in North Leicestershire in 1889.

He was diagnosed with pleurisy and emphysema at the age of 10, and an operation left visible scarring but that didn't impact on his fitness levels.

He became a Private with the Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment) in 1915.

He transferred to the newly-formed ranks as a gunner in the Machine Gun Corps (MGC) in 1916.

His battalion entered the war in France in March 1916, and he was noticed while part of the 73rd Company, rapidly rising through the ranks.

He was promoted to Corporal in February 1916, acting sergeant in June and Sergeant in August 1916.

Auction experts say family accounts indicate he took part in the Battle of Delville Wood and the Battle of Guillemont.

In 1917, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his leadership skills and composure. The citation read:

"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He has constantly performed good work throughout, and set a splendid example to those under him".

Herbert Alfred Disney's militaria collection Credit: Hansons

Hansons Auctioneers’ militaria consultant Matt Crowson said:

“Alfred, as he was known, rose from humble beginnings and conquered childhood health issues to achieve the ultimate trio of bravery awards.

"After signing up to serve his country in 1915 at the age of 26, he climbed the military ranks in a matter of months.

"By all accounts, he became an inspirational junior officer to the men under his command.”

"He succeeded in personally capturing two enemy machine guns"

Sgt Disney was sent for Officer Cadet training in Grantham, and it's thought he took part in some of the key battles during the spring offensive of 1918.

By July 1918 he had earned the Military Cross. His London Gazette citation read:

"On two occasions he brought up supplies of ammunition and rations though intense artillery barrages.

"Later he personally rescued a gun and tripod, organising a fresh team from stragglers, and with them providing invaluable assistance during a crucial moment of the operations. His exceptional ability and courage were most marked".

He won the bar for his Military Cross after showing exceptional courage on November 4, 1918, during the Battle of Sambre. His citation read:

"For fine courage and good work on 4th November 1918 during the attack on the Forêt de Mormal.

"When in charge of a section of machine guns he observed that the infantry were held up by heavy machine gun fire.

"He succeeded in personally capturing two enemy machine guns with about 12 prisoners.

"He brought one of the guns into action, and effectively silenced the machine gun fire that was holding up the advance’".

Part of Herbert Alfred Disney's militaria collection Credit: Hansons

Mr Crowson said:

“The action at Sambre, only seven days before the Armistice, makes his 2nd Military Cross award one of the latest in the Great War.

The award of the MC and Bar, plus the DCM, would likely make 2nd Lt Disney one of the most highly decorated soldiers in the Machine Gun Corps.

"It’s also know he served as an officer in the Home Guard during the Second World War with his family referring to him as ‘Captain Disney’.

Alfred passed away at the age of 71 in 1960.

By that time he was living in Derby, and he is interred at the Nottingham Road Cemetery in Chaddesden.

His family say his militaria collection has always been together.

Other memorabilia in the auction include:

  • Alfred’s officer’s cap made by Vaughan & Son of Derby

  • identity bracelet

  • trench maps

  • Field Service Book

  • a 1918 book entitled ‘The Employment of Machine Guns’

  • two fob watches

  • WW1-era embroidered postcards

  • a 1915-issued Princess Mary tin with scarce silver-tipped bullet pencil

  • photographs and ephemera from his time in the Machine Gun Corps

The auction is due to take place on the 7th November.