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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Men Behind the Medals
A New Selection
By Graham Pitchfork
The History PressCopyright © 2013 Graham Pitchfork
All rights reserved.
This book tells the story of the exploits and service of gallant aircrew from all three British services whose courage was recognised by the award of medals for service during the Second World War. Some general knowledge of the medals referred to in the chapters that follow would, I believe, provide some useful and interesting background. However, it is not the intention to treat the reader to a detailed study of British medals. This is a vast and fascinating topic and there are some outstanding works that the enthusiast can study; none more so than British Gallantry Awards by Abbott and Tamplin and British Battles and Medals by Gordon, both of which are strongly recommended.
The medals that appear in this book can be split into four categories: gallantry, campaign service, long service and commemorative. This chapter will concentrate on the background to the medals awarded to British and Commonwealth aircrew for gallantry and for service in the Second World War.
Readers should be aware that major changes were made to the Honours system in 1993, and some well-known gallantry medals have disappeared – for example, the Distinguished Flying Medal. Others, such as the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, have been introduced. Since all the stories covered in this book relate to the Second World War, these changes will not be discussed in this chapter, and all reference to medals will be based on the pre-1993 changes.
The exploits of those awarded the Victoria Cross, the nation's ultimate award for gallantry, have been researched and related in great detail and thus, I have chosen not to include a story of one of the recipients. To those with a specific interest in this award to airmen, I strongly recommend they read the eminent air historian Chaz Bowyer's For Valour. The Air VCs.
The descriptions outlined below are general and do not go into the numerous warrants, minor changes and styles of naming that have been made over the years. Clearly, all the awards reflect the appropriate cypher and crown, but this book is concerned only with those awarded during the reigns of His Majesty King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. The gallantry medals that appear in the following chapters are listed in order of precedence.
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire
This order was founded by King George V in June 1917 for services to the Empire. A military division was created in December 1918 with awards made to commissioned and warrant officers for distinguished services of a non-combatant character. The order consists of five classes and a medal. The insignia of the civil and military divisions is identical, but distinguished by their respective ribbons. In both cases, the ribbon is rose pink edged with pearl grey; the military division has a narrow central stripe, also in pearl grey. An example of the fourth order (officer) is included in this book.
Distinguished Service Order
The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) was instituted in 1886 and is only awarded to commissioned officers. It is available to members of all three services for 'distinguished services under fire', which might include a specific act of gallantry or distinguished service over a period of time. A good example of the former was the immediate award made to the then Pilot Officer Leonard Cheshire for safely bringing back to base his Whitley bomber of 102 Squadron, which had been severely damaged by enemy fire over Cologne.
The silver-gilt and white enamelled cross with the crown on the obverse and the cypher on the reverse hangs from a laurelled suspender and a red ribbon with narrow blue borders, which is attached to a similar laurelled bar and brooch. The year of award is engraved on the back of the suspender. Bars are awarded for subsequent acts of distinguished service or gallantry and these are similar in design to the brooch and suspender bars.
Some 870 orders and 72 bars were awarded to members of the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. A further 217 orders and 13 bars were awarded to members of the Commonwealth Air Forces and a further 38 Honorary Awards to foreign (non-Commonwealth) officers.
Distinguished Service Cross
The Conspicuous Service Cross, later to become the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), was instituted in June 1901, primarily to be awarded to warrant officers or subordinate officers of the Royal Navy for meritorious or distinguished service in action. On 14 October 1914 it was re-designated the 'Distinguished Service Cross' when the eligibility was extended to officers below the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Subsequently, further Orders in Council were made, which extended the eligibility to other forces. This included, from 17 April 1940, officers and warrant officers of the Royal Air Force serving with the Fleet.
The plain cross with rounded ends has the crowned royal cypher on the obverse, and the plain reverse is hallmarked with the date of issue engraved on the lower limb. The cross is attached to the ribbon, of three equal parts of dark blue, white and dark blue, by a silver ring passing through a smaller ring fixed to the top of the cross. Bars are awarded for further acts of gallantry and the year of award is engraved on the reverse.
Distinguished Flying Cross
Following the formation of an independent Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918, specific awards for gallantry in the air were instituted on 3 June 1918. This included the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) awarded to officers and warrant officers 'for exceptional valour, courage and devotion to duty while flying in active operations against the enemy'. The award was extended to equivalent ranks in the Royal Navy on 11 March 1941.
The silver cross flory is surmounted by another cross of aeroplane propellers with a centre roundel within a wreath of laurels with an imperial crown and the letters RAF. The reverse is plain with the royal cypher above the date 1918. The cross is attached to the ribbon by a clasp adorned with two sprigs of laurel. Since July 1919 the ribbon has been violet and white alternate stripes running at an angle of forty-five degrees from left to right. The year of award is engraved on the reverse. Bars are awarded for further acts of gallantry and the year of award is engraved in a similar fashion.
During the Second World War just over 20,000 awards were made with a further 1,592 bars. Among the latter were forty-two second bars. Officers of the Royal Artillery engaged in flying duties during 1944 and 1945 were awarded eighty-seven crosses: the exploits of one of these officers, Captain A. Young, are described in a later chapter.
Air Force Cross
The Air Force Cross (AFC) was introduced at the same time as the DFC. It too is awarded to officers and warrant officers for an act or acts of valour, courage and devotion to duty while flying, though not in active service against the enemy.
The cross is silver and consists of a thunderbolt in the form of a cross, the arms conjoined by wings, the base bar terminating with a bomb surmounted by another cross composed of aeroplane propellers, the four ends inscribed with the letters GVRI. The roundel in the centre represents Hermes mounted on a hawk in flight bestowing a wreath. The reverse is plain with the royal cypher above the date 1918. The date of the award is engraved on the reverse. The suspension is a straight silver bar ornamented with sprigs of laurel. The ribbon is in the same style as the DFC with red and white diagonal stripes. Bars are awarded for further acts of gallantry or duty.
Distinguished Service Medal
The Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) was instituted in October 1914 for 'courageous service in war' by chief petty officers, petty officers and men of the Royal Navy, and non-commissioned officers and men of the Royal Marines. An additional Order in Council on 17 April 1940 made provision for the DSM to be awarded to NCOs and men of the Royal Air Force serving with the Fleet. On 13 January 1943, this was further extended to include service afloat yet not with the Fleet, such as air-sea rescue. Just twenty-three were awarded to members of the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. This Royal Navy medal is included here because a later chapter will relate the career of Flight Sergeant A.J. Brett RAF who was awarded the medal at the end of the Second World War.
The obverse of the circular silver medal carries the Sovereign's effigy. The reverse carries a crowned wreath inscribed 'FOR DISTINGUISHED SERVICE'. The medal is suspended from a straight suspender hanging from a ribbon of dark blue with two white stripes towards the centre. The medal is named on the edge. Bars are awarded for subsequent acts of valour.
Although the Military Medal (MM) is not awarded for flying operations, a number of awards have been made for gallantry to members of the Royal Air Force and the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. A brief description is included here since a later chapter will relate the story of Warrant Officer R. Marlow, who was awarded the medal in 1945.
The medal is awarded to non-commissioned officers and men of the British Army for bravery in the field. It was instituted in 1916 and extended by a 1920 warrant to include other ranks of 'any of Our Military Forces'. A warrant in 1931 refined this statement further with a new provision that it could be given to other ranks of 'Our Air Forces' for services on the ground.
The silver medal carries the sovereign's effigy on the obverse and the words 'For Bravery in the Field' surrounded by a laurel wreath surmounted by the royal cypher and a crown on the reverse. The medal is suspended by an ornate scroll bar suspender hanging from a dark blue ribbon with three white and two crimson narrow stripes down the centre. The medal is named on the edge with the recipient's number, rank, name and unit.
During the Second World War 129 medals were awarded to the Air Forces including six to members of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. Surprisingly, some medals were awarded to Royal Air Force personnel for engagements at sea.
Distinguished Flying Medal
The Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM) was instituted at the same time as the DFC and is awarded to non-commissioned officers and other ranks for 'an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty performed while flying in operations against the enemy'.
The silver medal is oval shaped and carries the sovereign's effigy. The reverse is more ornate showing Athena Nike seated on an aeroplane with a hawk rising from her right hand. Below are the words FOR COURAGE and the George VI issue contain the date 1918 in the top left-hand segment. The medal is suspended by a straight silver suspender fashioned in the form of two wings, all hanging from a ribbon of very narrow violet and white stripes at an angle of 45° from left to right. The medal is named on the edge. Bars are awarded for subsequent acts of valour and the date is engraved on the reverse.
During the Second World War 6,637 medals were awarded with just 60 bars and one second bar (the latter to Flight Sergeant Don Kingaby, who was later commissioned and awarded the DSO and AFC also). The small number of awards of the bar is explained since many recipients of the DFM were subsequently commissioned. Many were decorated again as officers.
Air Force Medal
The Air Force Medal (AFM) was the fourth of the 'flying' medals to be instituted by the Warrant on 3 June 1918 following the formation of the Royal Air Force. As with the AFC, the AFM is awarded for 'valour, courage, or devotion to duty performed while flying not in active operations against the enemy'. The medal is awarded to noncommissioned officers and other ranks.
The silver medal is very similar to the DFM with the exception of the reverse and the ribbon. The reverse shows Hermes mounted on a hawk and bestowing a wreath. The George VI issue has the date 1918 placed at the centre left. The ribbon is the same design as the DFM but with the colours of red and white. The medals are named on the edge. Bars are awarded for additional acts of valour or duty.
There have been about 850 awards of the AFM since the award was instituted almost eighty years ago. Of these, 259 were awarded in the Second World War including two to the Army Air Corps. The AFM is the second most rare of the awards for flying.
Mention in Despatches
The practice of mentioning subordinates in despatches is of long standing. During the Second World War, and in recent years, a Mention in Despatches was normally awarded only for acts of gallantry or distinguished services in operations against the enemy for services that fell just short of the award of a gallantry medal. Until recently, the only medal to be awarded posthumously was the Victoria Cross. Posthumous 'Mentions' invariably indicated that the recipient would have earned a gallantry award had he survived, but, with the exception of the Victoria Cross, the statutes of the day denied posthumous recognition.
The emblem is single-leaved being approximately three-quarters of an inch long. For the Second World War the emblem is worn on the ribbon of the War Medal and for other actions it is worn on the appropriate campaign medal ribbon. Recommendations are submitted for the sovereign's approval and a certificate is issued.
Air Efficiency Award
The Air Efficiency Award is not a gallantry award but is included here because it is an award made specifically to members of the Royal Air Force's Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Forces. It was instituted in 1942 and can be awarded to all ranks who have completed ten years of service. War service reduced the qualifying period depending on the type of service.
The silver medal is oval with the sovereign's effigy on the obverse. The reverse is plain with the words 'AIR EFFICIENCY AWARD'. The suspender is an eagle with wings outspread and the medal hangs from a green ribbon with two pale blue central stripes. Bars can be awarded for additional service. The medal is named on the edge.
Efficiency Medal (Territorial)
The Efficiency Medal is similar to the Air Efficiency Award described above, but was awarded to other ranks of Army volunteer forces for twelve years' service. Wartime service was counted as double value. A brief description is given because a later chapter includes the details of the service of Squadron Leader J. Harris, who commenced his military service in the Territorial Army before joining the Royal Air Force.
The oval silver medal has the monarch's effigy on the obverse and the plain reverse is inscribed 'FOR EFFICIENT SERVICE'. There is a fixed suspender bar decorated with a pair of silver palm leaves surmounted by a scroll inscribed 'TERRITORIAL. The ribbon is green with yellow edges. The medal is named on the edge.
Second World War Campaign Stars and Medals
Eight campaign stars were awarded for services during the Second World War. The six-pointed stars were made of a copper zinc alloy and were identical except for the name of the campaign in an outer circle surrounding the royal cypher and crown. All the medals were issued unnamed. The maximum number of stars that could be awarded to one individual was five. Nine clasps were issued but only one could be worn with each star.
The qualifying periods for the campaign stars vary greatly and the reader who wishes to verify specific awards should consult one of the authoritative books mentioned in the introduction to this chapter.
The 1939–45 Star. This star was awarded for service in an operational area between 3 September 1939 and 2 September 1945. The colours of the ribbon represents the three services with the navy blue of the Senior Service on the left, the red of the Army in the centre and the pale blue of the RAF on the right. Fighter aircrew that took part in the Battle of Britain between 10 July and 31 October 1940 were awarded the clasp 'Battle of Britain'.
The Atlantic Star. The Atlantic Star was awarded to those involved in operations during the Battle of the Atlantic from 3 September 1940 to 8 May 1945. The watered ribbon of blue, white and green represents the mood of the Atlantic. The clasps 'Aircrew Europe' and 'France and Germany' can be worn with this star.
The Air Crew Europe Star. The Aircrew Europe Star was awarded for operational flying over Europe from airfields in the United Kingdom between the outbreak of war and the invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944. The ribbon of 'Air Force' blue, with black edges and two yellow stripes represents continuous operations by day and night. The clasps 'Atlantic' and 'France and Germany' were awarded with this star.
The Africa Star. This star was awarded for one or more day's service in numerous areas of Africa, primarily North Africa, between the entry of Italy in the war on 10 June 1940 and 12 May 1943. Other qualifying areas included Abyssinia, Somaliland, Sudan and Malta. The ribbon is a pale buff representing the desert with a central red stripe flanked by a single navy blue and light blue stripe. These represent the three services. The clasp 'North Africa 1942–43' was awarded to qualifying members of the RAF.
Excerpted from Men Behind the Medals by Graham Pitchfork. Copyright © 2013 Graham Pitchfork. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
1 The Medals,
2 Daylight Attacker,
3 Taranto Observer,
4 Millennium Evader,
5 Bomber Squadron Commander,
6 Torpedo Attack Pilot,
7 Jungle Hurricane Pilot,
8 Malta Blenheim Navigator,
9 Escape from Italy,
10 Stirling Engineer,
11 Over Madagascar and Italy,
12 Spitfires to Moonlighting,
13 Supplying the Partisans,
14 Light Night Striking Force,
15 Aegean Sea Strike Pilot,
16 Night Fighter Radar Ace,
17 Halton 'Brat' at Sea,
18 Photographic Reconnaissance Navigator,
19 Artillery Spotter Pilot,
20 Rocket Typhoon Pilot,
21 Low-Level Fighter Reconnaissance,