WHEN people talk of Sir Anthony Eden, it is usually about how he was the Prime Minister who took the “great” out of Great Britain during the national embarrassment of the Suez Crisis in the 1950s.

But another side of his character is to be shown next year when his First World War medals, including a Military Cross awarded to him for gallantry, are auctioned.

The medals, believed to be the first set belonging to a former Prime Minister to come under the hammer, are expected to fetch between £3,000 and £5,000 at a sale in Salisbury on May 6.

Eden was born in 1897 in Windlestone Hall, the mansion near Ferryhill which is now exceedingly controversial. It was his boyhood home, and he was privately educated there before going on to Eton.

In his last year at the college, war broke out. His eldest brother, John, was immediately killed in France; his second brother, Timothy, was captured in Germany and held prisoner for two years, and his youngest brother, Nicholas, was killed aged only 16 during the Battle of Jutland in the North Sea.

Anthony himself went to war with the 21st Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifles, a battalion he helped to raise from volunteers from the farming community of Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland. They trained at Duncombe Park at Helmsley which was owned by Lord Feversham, a family friend of the Edens.

In May 1916, Eden and the Rifles were plunged into battle at Ploegsteert, in Flanders, where they fought for a year before moving to the Somme where his friend, and commander, Lord Feversham, was killed.

Going into battle, Eden was gently rebuked for wearing his revolver holster in the wrong position, but before he could move it, it deflected a piece of shrapnel which probably would have killed him had the holster been in the correct position.

Eden may have won his Military Cross for bravely carrying a wounded man across no-man’s-land under heavy fire, thus saving his life, or it may have been for the general quality of his leadership.

On being demobbed in 1919, Eden returned to Windlestone where the beautiful parkland gave him flashbacks to the battlefield. He wrote that he wondered whether he would ever again be able to look at the estate’s trees and “see them free from the memory of those other shell-torn trees and ravaged fields with their torn wire and heaped and silent bodies”.

He went to Oxford University and began his political career in 1922 by standing for the Conservatives in Spennymoor. He was thumped (it wasn’t until 2019, that Spennymoor was in a constituency that elected a Tory MP), but the following year, he was successful in the more Conservative-minded Warwick. This began a Parliamentary career which led him to become Prime Minister in 1955 when he was involved in an unsuccessful invasion in the Middle East.

“Eden is chiefly remembered for the unhappy Suez Crisis,” says Ned Cowell, the medals specialist at the auctioneers Woolley and Wallis. “As we anticipate the sale of his medals, we may instead reflect upon the story of a courageous, humane and principled young man who served with quiet distinction amid the horrors of the Western Front.”

L For more on the sale, go to woolleyandwallis.co.uk