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War hero's George Cross fetches record €63,000

Bill Eastman (left) and Jephson Jones.

Bill Eastman (left) and Jephson Jones.

A George Cross group of eight awarded to an army officer who served in Malta during the Second World War broke records when it was sold at an auction last week, fetching £49,450 (€63,124).

The auction of the cross of eight awarded to Brigadier William Eastman on Christmas Eve in 1940 set a new world record for any George Cross auction when it went under the hammer at Dix, Noonan and Webb (DNW) Auctioneers.

The medal had been awarded for 'most conspicuous gallantry in carrying out very hazardous work' during World War II. Brig. Eastman and a fellow officer, Captain Jephson Jones (who also received the medal), rendered safe some 275 unexploded bombs in Malta in 1940 when it was under attack from the Italians.

The cross is in good hands, as it has been bought by the Regimental Museum in Surrey, which is owned by the Queen's Royal Surrey Regiment Association.

Christopher Hill, client services director at DNW, explained how the cross had been jointly left to Mr Eastman's two daughters.

The daughters, who did not wish to be named when contacted yesterday by The Sunday Times, explained that the reason for putting this family heirloom up for auction was that this was a single item and it would be unfair to the one who did not get the cross.

Their mother, who still lives in Malta, wanted them to have that part of their inheritance in her lifetime and they did what they thought to be fair and best.

Brig. Eastman came from a family who worked in the dyeing and dry-cleaning business. He had little relevant training but it was as a result of his knowledge of chemicals drawn from that business that he was recommended for a commission in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps on volunteering shortly before the outbreak of hostilities.

Having then attended the Inspecting Ordnance Officer's course at Bramley, he embarked for Malta in 1940 during the war.

During this period of the war in Malta, no expert Royal Engineer Bomb Disposal units had been formed and the job of attending to unexploded bombs and mines had to be handled by the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.

Brig. Eastman and Capt. Jones had no great special equipment, no trained staff and very little knowledge of the mechanism of German and Italian missiles. They just had to learn as they went along.

"Their courage was beyond all praise and it was a miracle that they both remained alive," the London Gazzette of December 24, 1940, had reported.

Brig. Eastman met his future Maltese wife while in Malta and settled on the island in 1966 when he retired that year. He died in Sliema in April 1980, while Capt. Jones died five years later.

The George Cross is the highest civil decoration of the Commonwealth of Nations. It is the civilian counterpart of the Victoria Cross and the highest gallantry award for civilians as well as for military personnel in actions, which are not in the face of the enemy or for which purely military honours would not normally be granted.

The George Cross was awarded to Malta by King George VI in 1942 to 'bear witness to the heroism and devotion of its people' during the great siege it underwent in the early parts of the war.

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