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Date of Auction: 13th September 2012

Sold for £40,000

Estimate: £12,000 - £15,000

An important Great War fighter ace’s D.S.O., M.C. and 2 Bars group of four to Captain J. Gilmour, Royal Air Force, late Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders and Royal Flying Corps, who amassed around 40 victories, the majority of them in Sopwith Camels of No. 65 Squadron and, remarkably, five of them in a single day

Distinguished Service Order, G.V.R., silver-gilt and enamel; Military Cross, G.V.R., with Second and Third Award Bars; British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf (Capt. J. Gilmour, R.A.F.), old court-mounting, good very fine (4)


D.S.O London Gazette 3 August 1918:

‘He is a most inspiring Patrol Leader who has destroyed 23 enemy aircraft, and shot down one enemy Biplane in flames and drove down a second. A short time afterwards, he, with four others, attacked about 40 enemy Scouts. He himself destroyed one in the air, drove another out of control and a third in flames, successfully accounting for five enemy aircraft in one day.’

M.C. London Gazette 26 May 1917:

‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in carrying out long distance bombing raids. On one occasion, although his engine began to fail, he continued to lead his formation and succeeded in brining back most valuable information.’

First Bar to M.C London Gazette 26 July 1918:

‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when engaging hostile aircraft. Within a week he crashed to the ground four enemy machines and at all times, when on patrol, he never hesitated to attack any enemy in sight. His consistent dash and great fearlessness have been worthy of the highest praise. In all he has ten hostile machines to his credit.’

Second Bar to M.C London Gazette 16 September 1918:

‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in his leadership of Offensive Patrols. This officer has lately successfully engaged seven enemy machines, destroying five and shooting down two out of control. He has done splendid service.’

John Inglis Gilmour was born at Helensburgh in Dumbartonshire in June 1896 and was educated at the Loretto School, where he played in the Rugby XV. Gazetted as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders in November 1915, he immediately transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, and took his aviator’s certificate (No. 2888) in a Maurice Farman Biplane at Farnborough in March 1916.

Posted to No. 27 Squadron in the summer of that year, he operated in Martinsyde G100 Elephants and claimed his first three victories in September, making him the most successful pilot in this aircraft type. The first of these victories was an Albatros DI, brought down over Bourlon with the assistance of Captain O. T. Boyd on the 15th, two Fokker Es going the same way on the 24th and 26th, both in the vicinity of Havrincourt Wood. On the latter occasion he ‘lost contact with the machines of an Offensive Patrol, and followed two machines which proved to be hostile and which attacked him. Lieutenant Gilmour succeeded in driving one down out of control and driving away the second’. This was his last victory of the year, the Squadron now concentrating on bombing operations, although occasional air-to-air combats ensued, including one fought by Gilmour over the Hebuterne-Saillisel sector on 6 March 1917, in which he was on the sharp end of return fire, the damage to his aircraft being assessed in the following terms:

‘Port bottom longeron shot through in front of engine. Trailing edge tail starboard main plane shot through, also starboard landing wire outside bay front. Main spar in tail plane shot through. Strut in fuselage between No. 5 and 6 bays damaged, and two cross bracing wires. Engine knocking badly.’

He was awarded his first M.C. and was next posted as a Flight Commander to No. 65 Squadron in late 1917. Now operating in Sopwith Camels, Gilmour claimed two further victims over Roulers on 18 December, but it wasn’t until the New Year that his score started to escalate in a spectacular manner, not least on 4 January 1918 when he brought down three Albatros DVs in 30 minutes, two back over Roulers and the third near Ghelvelt. Two more victories were added to his tally later that month and in early February, and on the 5th of the latter month he claimed his only enemy kite balloon, North West of Menin, the two occupants taking to their parachutes.

March 1918 proved to be a relatively quiet period for Gilmour, just one victory being claimed north-west of Lille on the 26th, but April witnessed a return to form with no less than seven new victims, including two Rumpler Cs, two Albatros DVs and a Pflaz D111. The first of these, an Albatros DV, was seen to crash by another squadron pilot after Gilmour raked it with 50 rounds, and the second, on the 11th, a Rumpler which was leading a force of ten enemy aircraft, succumbed to 300 rounds north-east of the Moreuil Wood. The following day a similar aircraft ‘went down in flames, breaking up in the air’, after Gilmour delivered a short burst at ‘very close range’. On the 16th he was attacked by an enemy two-seater from above but he managed to climb up and fire a burst from both guns – the enemy aircraft crashed in flames near Hangard Wood. On the 23rd he set off in pursuit of four Triplanes over Mericourt, getting a burst into one of them ‘which did a steep turn and went down vertically, its wings falling off in the air’ and on the 25th he dived on a formation of seven enemy Scouts, bringing one down in flames. His final victim of the month was a Pfalz over Hamel on the 29th, his claim being confirmed by members of the 15 Observation Company who saw the enemy aircraft out of control ‘and smoke rising from the ground immediately afterwards’.

Quickly back on the scoreboard in May, Gilmour brought down two enemy aircraft on the 2nd, one crashing in flames near I’Abbe Wood and the other near Miraumount Wood. On the 9th he dived on two enemy two-seaters, seeing one crash into the ground near Aubercourt and the following day shared in the destruction of an Albatros DV. Just over a week later, while leading another offensive patrol, he attacked an enemy formation of 12 aircraft. Firing a long burst into one of them at short range, it fell into a vertical dive, both wings breaking up in the air. Moments later he attacked a two-seater which was observed to crash into the ground in flames east of Lamotte. His next two victories, claimed on the 26th and 27th, were shared ones, the last being a Fokker DI which came down near Albert. In the following month he brought down four more enemy aircraft, brining his total victories up to the 30-odd mark, his latest victims including three Pfalz DIIIs, two of them on the 29 June.

But Gilmour’s finest hour was undoubtedly his quite extraordinary tally of five enemy aircraft on 1 July, an episode best summarised by the official R.A.F Communiques of the period:

‘Captain Gilmour of 65 Squadron, while leading a patrol, dived on a Fokker Triplane, and getting on its tail, shot it down in flames. Shortly after, he attacked another E.A, which dived steeply, but could not be followed. A little later Captain Gilmour led his patrol to attack 40 E.A., at one of which he fired at point blank range: the E.A. dived steeply and its wings were seen to fall off in the air. Another E.A. which was attacked dived over the vertical, and appeared to be out of control. On his way back to the lines, Captain Gilmour was attacked by four Albatros Scouts. By doing an Immelmann turn and half-roll he succeeded in getting on the tail of the leader, which he shot down in flames. Having by this time exhausted his ammunition, Captain Gilmour returned home’.

Remarkably, he claimed three more Pfalz DIIIs over the next two days and, towards the end of the month, he was awarded a Bar to his M.C., followed in September by a second Bar, this hot on the heels of his D.S.O. which was gazetted in August. After a brief rest from operations, he took command of No. 28 Squadron, and was serving in that capacity at the War’s end.

In addition to his multiple gallantry awards, Gilmour was also twice mention in despatches (London Gazettes 9 April 1917 and 8 November 1918 refer), and awarded the French Legion of Honour.

Post-war, he served as an Air Attache at the British Embassy in Rome, in addition to serving as a Flight Commander in No. 216 Squadron in the Middle East, prior to resigning his commission in December 1919. Tragically, however, he took his own life by cyanide poisoning in February 1928, the death certificate describing him of independent means but unsound mind; sold with a large quantity of research.

The above described awards originally appeared at auction at Sotheby’s in June 1984. Since then it has been ascertained that an unnamed D.S.O. and M.C. with 2 Bars are held in the Collection of the Imperial War Museum, together with Gilmour’s flying log book, and other memorabilia. The above described British War and Victory Medals are entirely as issued and the only examples known to exist.