AN extraordinary haul of bravery medals awarded to a sailor who helped in the rescue of 2,300 people at sea are due to go under the hammer.

Harry Gainsford Payne took part in several heroic mercy missions from 1909 to 1945, while working as a merchant seaman during two world wars.

Now his string of medals, which record his breathtaking bravery at sea, could make £3,000 when they go under the hammer at Reeman Dansie Auctions in Colchester.

Londoner Harry joined the Merchant Navy in Liverpool after he fled the capital when a horse he'd borrowed was fatally wounded - and he feared telling the owner.

But his fortunes changed on January 23, 1909, when his ship, the SS Baltic, picked up a C.Q.D. (come quick danger) distress message from the RMS Republic.

The steamer, part of the same White Star Line fleet as the SS Baltic, had been rammed in thick fog by an Italian ship, the SS Florida, off Nantucket, Massachusetts.

And upon receiving the distress signal at 6am, Harry’s ship headed 64 miles to the site of the collision to rescue the passengers.

Gazette: Heroic - Harry Gainsford Payne took part in several heroic mercy missions from 1909 to 1945Heroic - Harry Gainsford Payne took part in several heroic mercy missions from 1909 to 1945 (Image: SWNS)

But the short hop turned into a 200-mile epic, as the Baltic zigzagged the area unable to find the boats - before finally locating the crash site at 7pm that evening.

The Baltic was later credited with helping to rescue the 1,700 passengers and crew of the Republic.

Only four sailors and two passengers were killed during the accident, which marked the first time that wireless telegraphy played a role in saving lives at sea.

The Republic sank on January 24, 1909, with a rumoured cargo of gold, destined for the Tsar of Russia, and gold coins worth an estimated £80m ($100m).

Harry, who had been serving as a steward, was awarded the C.Q.D. Gallantry medal following the operation.

But four years later, he was thrust into danger once more, with his acts of bravery on October 10, 1913, at sea earning him multiple awards for his gallantry.

The SS Volturno was sailing in the North Atlantic when its cargo of flammable chemicals ignited during a gale.

The subsequent fire caused an explosion, with the inferno spreading further to the ship's coal bunkers - eventually cutting power to the fire pumps.

The situation was desperate, and after an SOS distress call was given, Harry's ship, the SS Carmania, was the first to arrive at the scene.

The stricken Volturno launched several lifeboats, which sadly either capsized or smashed into its own hull, leaving no survivors.

Gazette: Honours - all the medals going up for auctionHonours - all the medals going up for auction (Image: SWNS)

And it was into this scene of desperation that Harry found himself, in a gale, with the burning Voltuno and the shattered remains of its lifeboats all around.

He and nine others from the Carmania were lowered into the wild sea in a rowing lifeboat for three hours, as they battled to reach the wreck of the Voltuno.

And when they eventually returned to their own ship, seven of their ten oars were lost and the crew was exhausted.

The Carmania and the other ships that had joined the rescue picked up the survivors when the seas calmed, with 521 crew members and passengers rescued.

Tragically, 135 mostly women and children perished but had it not been for the efforts of Harry Payne and his crew the death toll would have been much higher.

His extreme gallantry in this mission was recognised with the Sea Gallantry medal, presented to him by King George V at St James’s Palace in 1914.

He was further recognised with the awarding of The Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society medal

And he was even awarded a gold-plated pocket watch by the catering department of his own ship.

Gazette: Historic - Harry's string of medals could make £3,000 when they go under the hammer at Reeman Dansie Auctions in ColchesterHistoric - Harry's string of medals could make £3,000 when they go under the hammer at Reeman Dansie Auctions in Colchester (Image: SWNS)

On the other side of the Atlantic, The Life Saving Benevolent Association of New York awarded him a bronze medal minted by Tiffany & Co.

As the First World War broke out, Harry life at sea continued - with him serving as a steward for the Merchant Fleet Auxiliary.

He added a 1914 -15 Star, British War medal, Mercantile Marine War medal and Victory medal to the four gallantry medals he had already been awarded.

And during the Second World War, at the age 62, Harry once again served, adding the 1939 - 1945 Star, Atlantic Star, Pacific Star and War medal to his collection.

Harry's amazing group of medals will be sold on November 28 at Reeman Dansie Auctions in Colchester.

Included along with the medals themselves is the gold-plated watch he was awarded following the Volturno rescue and various period newspaper clippings.

There is also a photograph of him wearing just a few of his decorations and a copy of the book, ‘The Burning of the Volturno.

The collection is estimated at £2,000 to £3,000.