Rare woman's in action with enemy surface raider's British Empire Medal and Lloyds Medal for Bravery at Sea group to Mrs Elizabeth Plumb, First Class Stewardess aboard New Zealand registered liner R.M.S. Rangitane

London Medal Company Rare woman's in action with e.

The superb and rare women's in action with enemy surface raider's British Empire Medal and Lloyds Medal for Bravery at Sea group awarded to Mrs Elizabeth Plumb, First Class Stewardess aboard the New Zealand registered liner R.M.S. Rangitane when she was sunk in the Pacific by the German raiders Komet and Orion and their support ship Kulmerland on 27th November 1940, with her bravery leading the German doctor to state "Don't English women every cry?, she had been suffering from serious shrapnel wounds for nearly nine hours unattended whilst caring for others.

Group of 3: British Empire Medal, GVI 1st type, mounted on female issue bow ribbon; (MRS ELIZABETH PLUMB), together with base of box of issue, this bearing the address:  'Mrs. E. Plumb, B.E.M., 586 Dominion Road, Balmoral, Auckland'; Lloyds Medal for Bravery at Sea; (MRS: ELIZABETH PLUMB, STEWARDESS. M.V. "RANGITANE", 27TH NOVEMBER 1940.), together with fitted presentation case; and an unidentified medal bearing the motto 'Patior Potior' and the initials 'B.L.H', this being in hallmarked silver, the reverse engraved: 'E. PLUMB OCT 17TH 1924'.

Condition: Nearly Extremely Fine.

Together with a large quantity of original documentation comprising: original studio photograph of Elizabeth Plumb taken on 27th August 1909 when she was 27 years old; original studio photograph of Elizabeth Plumb taken in 1913; Admiralty letter concerning the award of the British Empire Medal to her, dated 21st October 1941; letter from the New Zealand Shipping Company Ltd congratulating her on the award of the British Empire Medal, dated 24th October 1941; Dominion of New Zealand Government House headed letter concerning the upcoming investiture of the British Empire Medal, dated 18th August 1942;  letter from the New Zealand Shipping Company Ltd confirming her request that the British Empire Medal or Lloyd's Medal (it is not clear which) be forwarded to her by mail, dated 1st September 1942; Lloyd's List & Shipping Gazette No.39,755 for Thursday 16th April 1942, this being the sixth list of awards of the Lloyds War Medal for Bravery at Sea - and details the citation for Plumb's award; letter from Lloyd's forwarding her the Lloyds War Medal for Bravery at Sea, dated 15th April 1942; telegram concerning the attack on the "Rangitane" and that further news will be forthcoming, sent to her son, Mr Robert Plumb of 131 Elibank Road, London, dated 29th November 1940; telegram concerning the sinking of the "Rangitane" and that no news exists concerning any survivors at present, sent to Mr Robert Plumb of 131 Elibank Road, London, dated 30th November 1940; telegram concerning the sinking of the "Rangitane" and that some of the passengers were rescued from Emarau Island, sent to Mr Plumb of 131 Elibank Road, London, dated 2nd January 1941; letter of certification of the services of Mrs Plum(b) aboard the "Rangintane", signed by Captain H. Lionel Upton, and confirming her services aboard this vessel from February 1938 through to the sinking on 27th November 1940; letter from Elizabeth Plumb to the Ministry of Pensions, concerning her remaining in New Zealand to recover from her injuries, and requesting further payment of her Widow's Pension, dated 28th April 1941; letter of certification from the shipping agents - Birt and Company, confirming that she was serving aboard "Rangitine" when this vessel was attacked and sunk in enemy action, dated 16th April 1941 - together with another similar; letter from her to the Royal Air Force Pension Committee, concerning her son, Pilot Officer Edward Walter Plumb of R.A.F. Marham, Norfolk, who was killed on 16th June 1940, dated 28th April 1941; letter to her bank manager, giving permission for her son, Robert Edward Plumb, to draw all monies deposited concerning her other late son, dated 28th April 1941; and another concerning the same, dated 28th April 1941; letter from the Queensland Government concerning the luncheon to be held for the survivors on 4th January 1941 at Brisbane; 8 original newspaper cuttings concerning the attack on the "Rangitane", the subsequent released onto an island, and also Plumb's bravery; original photograph of the commanding officer of the Rangitane, Captain H. Lionel Upton D.S.C.; original copy of her birth certificate issued in July 1953; marriage certificate of Elizaberth Orr to Corporal Edward John Plumb, Royal Garrison Artillery, when she was aged 22, at Woolwich on 3rd December 1904; postcard of the rebuilt and relaunched "Rangitane" as sent to her grandson, post dated September 1959 - she was at the time on a cruise aboard this vessel in the area of Curacoa; and her original Death Certificate dated 1st July 1969; and an original copy of her will dated 22nd May 1968. Also three further letters of reference for her from Captain H. Lionel Upton, these sent to her in 1941 when she was in hospital in Sydney, Australia recovering from her injuries.

Elizabeth Ann Orr (later Plumb) was born in Rothbury, Northumberland in 31st August 1882, the daughter of a farmer, Robert Orr, and she married Edward John Orr, a Corporal with the Royal Garrison Artillery, at Woolwich, on 3rd December 1904, when she was aged 22, he being 27 years old. There intended place of residence at the time was going to be the Royal Artillery Barracks at Woolwich, and also 93 Chesnut Road, Plumstead.

He husband later died on 3rd March 1920, when serving as a Fitter Quartermaster Sergeant with the Royal Garrison Artillery, he being at the time of his death based with the Personnel Ordnance College at Woolwich, and he is buried in Greenwich Cemetery, where a Commonwealth War Graves Headstone Exists. During their marriage, they appear to have had two children, both boys, Edward Walter Plumb, who was later killed during the Second World War when serving as a Pilot Officer with the Royal Air Force on 16th June 1940, and Robert Edward Plumb.

It would appear that she found employment as a Stewardess in the Merchant Navy, and was employed as such aboard the New Zealand Shipping Company vessel, the passenger liner, R.M.S. Rangitane from February 1938, sailing the All-Red Route from Great Britain to New Zealand. She displaced 16,700 tons. Plumb was aboard  her at the outbreak of the Second World War and onwards.

Her final voyage was delayed by labour disputes, and for this voyage she carried 14,000 tons of cargo, including foodstuffs and silver bullion, valued at over £2 million at 1940 prices. She carried 111 passengers, including CORB nurses, Polish sailors, servicemen and Radar technicians. The Captain was Lionel Upton, a naval reservist who had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his "services in action with enemy submarines" during his command of auxiliary boats based at Scapa Flow during the First World War. Rangitane left Auckland Harbour in the early afternoon of Sunday 24 November 1940, en route to Britain via the Panama Canal. She was intercepted early on the morning of 27th November 1940, 300 miles east of New Zealand, by the German surface raiders Komet and Orion and their support ship Kulmerland. Another ship, the SS Holmwood, had been stopped and sunk by the German raiders on 24 November, but warning of the danger had not been passed on to the Rangitane. This was later held to have been a factor in her sinking.

The Germans signalled Rangitane to stop and not to transmit anything. Following standard Admiralty instructions, however, Captain Upton ordered "QQQ" ('suspicious vessel') to be broadcast, which prompted signals jamming and shelling by the Germans. The main transmitter was quickly disabled and the emergency set was used to send "RRR" ('raider attack'), which was received and relayed. There followed a brief period of confusion. One German raider, suffering steering problems, sailed directly at Rangitane, which in turn, with steering damaged by the shelling, also steered directly at a German ship before circling. The helmsman reported loss of steering. The interception had been made in the dark and the German ships were unsure of what they had found, believing that it was probably a cruiser-sized warship. Their attack was made on the basis it was the tactic most likely to allow their own escape.

Once he knew that the distress signals had been received in New Zealand, Upton ordered the ship's surrender. The shelling had caused widespread fires and some casualties, and, with her steering damaged, the Rangitane's escape would be unlikely. Once hove to, sensitive documents such as code books were destroyed, and the crew instructed to destroy key engine components, to prevent Rangitane being taken as a prize. Despite the surrender, shelling continued and the furious Upton ordered full speed and return fire from the ship's guns, but this was prevented by destruction of telephones. The German shelling ceased and Upton gave the order to abandon ship.

Sixteen people, eight passengers and eight crew, died as a result of the action, including those who died later of their injuries. Elizabeth Plumb, a 59-year-old stewardess, ship's cook William Francis and deck mechanic John Walker were awarded British Empire Medals for their selflessness in rescuing and caring for survivors. Prize crews took control of Rangitane at dawn and supervised an orderly and rapid evacuation. The survivors, 296 passengers and crew, were taken across to the German ships by lifeboats or German boats and sent below. The Rangitane's broadcast warnings required that the Germans clear the area quickly, before allied aircraft arrived. Although she was clearly afire and sinking, Komet fired a single torpedo and Rangitane listed quickly to port and sank at 6:30 am. The Short Empire class flying boat Aotearoa, civil registration ZK-AMA, was the first Allied aircraft on the scene at about 2:30 pm, but found only an oil slick and debris. A subsequent air search missed the raiders, although they themselves saw one of the search aircraft.

German treatment of their prisoners was humane and as good as could be expected in the crowded conditions, and those who died were given proper funerals. The number of prisoners aboard the German ships caused concern to the German commanders and they decided to release most of them. After an intended release at Nauru had been thwarted by poor weather, and further actions had led to the capture of more prisoners, the survivors were released on the tiny island of Emirau, off New Guinea. The remainder, mostly of military age, were transported back to German-occupied Bordeaux and eventually to prisoner of war camps in Germany. Rangitane was one of the largest passenger liners to be sunk during the Second World War.

Of Elizabeth Plumb's bravery, more was to follow, with the Daily Mirror Newspaper reporting under the title 'Bravery Medal For Woman' as follows: 'Mrs Elizabeth Plumb, stewardess in the merchantman, Rangitane, who bravery drew a tribute from doctors on the Nazi Pacific raider which shelled and sank the ship next year' - 'although she had been wounded under the right arm by a shell fragment and fumes were nearly choking her, she reached passengers in her charge and guided them to the boats. She refused medical aid until everyone else had been attended to. Her example prevented women passengers from betraying any sign of fear or suffering to their Nazi captors. Aboard the raider a doctor discovered that she had been suffering from serious wounds for nearly nine hours. "Don't English women every cry?" he said. Later Mrs Plumb contracted tropic ulcers on Emirau Island, where the survivors of the Rangitane were landed.'

The British Empire Medal, which was posted to her out in New Zealand where she was recovering from her wounds, she having been initially treated in hospital in Sydney, and attended the dinner held in honour of the surviving passengers at Brisbane in January 1941, she was then transferred to New Zealand, and was awarded the British Empire Medal by his Excellency the Governor General of the Dominion of New Zealand at Government House, Auckland, on 10th April 1942, the award having been originally confirmed in the London Gazette for 21st October 1941. The joint citation reading: 'Mrs Elizabeth Plumb, First Class Stewardess, M.V. Rangitane - The ship was attacked and sunk by enemy surface raiders. Mrs Plumb was badly wounded early in the shelling, but she helped and guided her passengers from their quarters to their boat stations, and continued to look after them when in the lifeboat. On board the raider she refused medical attention and made light of her injuries until all the other wounded had been treated.'

In addition she was decorated with the Lloyds War Medal for Bravery at Sea by the Committee of Lloyds, all three of the recipient's of the British Empire Medal were similarly decorated by Lloyds, this being in the sixth list of awards of this medal, as published in the Lloyd's List & Shipping Gazette No.39,755 for Thursday 16th April 1942, the joint citation reading as follows: 'Enemy surface raiders attacked and sank the ship. Although badly wounded, Mrs Plumb aided and guided her passengers from their quarters to the boat stations, and then cared for them when in the lifeboat. When on board the raider she refused medical attention until all the injured had been attended to, and it was only when the Doctors saw that she was fainting from loss of blood that they treated her and found she had been lacerated by shell splinters. Ship's Cook Francis, and Deck Mechanic Walker were among the last to leave the ship. At great risk, Francis rescued two women from burning accommodation, and helped a badly injured passenger to the lifeboat. While under shell fire Walker tended two of the crew and took them to a lifeboat, and when it capsized he supported one of the men, who was too badly hurt to wear a lifebelt, and got him to safety.'


When the new vessel 'Rangitane' was built and launched, Elizabeth Plumb would have the pleasure of sailing aboard her around the Curacoa area in 1959, and she eventually died in Bexley, Sidcup, London, on 27th June 1969.

13 June 2017