Orders, Decorations and Medals (25 September 2008)
Date of Auction: 25th September 2008
Sold for £16,000
Estimate: £16,000 - £18,000
Air Force Cross, G.VI.R., reverse officially dated ‘1946’; Distinguished Flying Medal, G.VI.R. (566445 F./Sgt. R. V. Ellis, R.A.F.); 1939-45 Star, clasp, Battle of Britain; Air Crew Europe Star; Africa Star, clasp, North Africa 1942-43; Defence and War Medals; General Service 1918-62, 1 clasp, Cyprus (Flt. Lt. R. V. Ellis, R.A.F.), contact marks, generally very fine or better (8) £16,000-18,000
FootnoteA.F.C. London Gazette 1 January 1946. The original recommendation states:
‘Squadron Leader Ellis is the senior Royal Air Force test pilot at this firm (Vickers-Armstrong Ltd.). The success of the test flights, and the prompt delivery of aircraft to the service can be attributed to a large extent to the leadership and example of this officer.’
D.F.M. London Gazette 2 January 1942. The original recommendation states:
‘The above named airman has served with No. 73 Squadron since 6 June 1940, and has been on operations throughout and to date, both in France and Libya. The period is a long one, hazardous, arduous and with little respite at a time when every aircraft was in the air at all costs, meeting an enemy superior in numbers and facilities.
France: actively engaged on defensive patrols with the B.E.F. Just prior to evacuation, whilst at Angiers collecting an aircraft on 14 June 1940, he was responsible for arranging with the pilot of a Rapide of No. 24 Squadron, the safe passage to England of General de Gaulle. General de Gaulle had, up to that time, little hope of getting to England on that day.
The United Kingdom: during September 1940, he was actively engaged with his squadron during the Blitz. Aircraft credited to this airman are two Me. 109s, one Me. 110 and one He. 111 shot down over London.
Libya: since November 1941, this pilot has aggregated operational flying hours over the areas where things were toughest, Sidi Barrani, Tobruk, Derna, Gazala, etc., during the period of the advance and again for the defence of Tobruk, during which time the squadron lost many pilots. In one raid on Tobruk on 14 April or 30 April 1941, by Ju. 87s with a mixed fighter escort, this pilot destroyed two Ju. 87s in one scramble by head-on attacks. He landed and took-off in another aircraft and downed a further Ju. 87 by a long burst from astern. His total for the day, three Ju. 87s.
Sorties: total 186, mainly hazardous ground strafing of M.T. columns and aerodromes to stem the enemy advance from Benghazi. Included are frequent and long protective shipping patrols along the Libyan coastline. Hours: total 702, 302 hours operational.
This pilot has served with fine distinction in a squadron which has only three original pilots left. He is temperamentally unaffected by these periods of warfare and losses. Flight Sergeant Ellis has retained both his skill and zest. In a recent call for volunteers to return to the Western Desert, he unhesitatingly asked to go. It was, however, felt that this pilot merited a rest from a unique record of devotion and skilful duty.’
Ronald Vernon “Monty” Ellis was born in February 1917 and was educated at Chatham Junior Technical School prior to entering the Royal Air Force as a Halton Apprentice in January 1933. Gaining selection for pilot training in the course of 1938, he attended No. 6 Operational Training Unit at Sutton Bridge in May 1940 and was ordered to France to join No. 73 Squadron at Raudin in the rank of Sergeant Pilot early in the following month.
The Fall of France and the Battle of Britain
Arriving there on 7 June, the very day that the squadron lost one of its most colourful and successful pilots, “Cobber” Kane, Ellis quickly gained combat experience, but a mere week later, after latterly flying in support of personnel being evacuated from St. Nazaire, he won distinction of a different kind, when he arranged the flight of General de Gaulle from Bordeaux to England in a Rapide of No. 24 Squadron on 14 June, an aircraft, as Churchill put it, that carried “the honour of France.” Moreover, an accompanying wartime newspaper cutting actually credits Ellis with piloting the very same aircraft, the short notice period for his departure necessitating the wearing of pyjamas under his flying kit. And while there does not appear to be a supporting entry in his relevant flying log book, the secrecy in which de Gaulle’s departure was shrouded may very well be the reason why - he had to visit the aerodrome on a different pretext and it was only as the aircraft taxied on to the runway that the Frenchman ran forward and leapt aboard: thanks, then, to Ellis, he was able to make his famous radio appeal to the people of France to resist the Germans just four days later - “The flame of French resistance must not and shall not die.”
On returning to the U.K. in mid-June 1940, No. 73 was ordered to Church Fenton, and in the following month a detachment of its Hurricanes set forth to Sherburn for night-fighting training - a disastrous enterprise for the squadron lost more aircraft to our own A.A. fire than enemy ones gained. Nonetheless, as the Battle reached its climax, in September 1940, 73’s pilots flew with success on numerous defensive patrols out of Debden, Ellis himself, according to his D.F.M. recommendation, accounting for ‘two Me. 109s, one Me. 110 and one He. 111 shot down over London’ during the same month - other sources differ in the actual aircraft type of these “shared” victories, but the dates of his successful combats were undoubtedly the 11th, 15th and 27th, as stated in his flying log book and elsewhere. But not everything went his way, the Battle of Britain Then and Now noting that his Hurricane was damaged by return fire from an Me. 110 during the combat of the 11th, over Sheppey - nonetheless, he landed safely at Debden.
North Africa and Squadron Command
Ordered to North Africa with No. 73 in November 1940, Ellis was embarked in the aircraft carrier Furious, and on arrival flew a Hurricane across the continent from Takoradi to Egypt, where he was quickly employed in the defence of Alexandria and on subsequent operations over the Western Desert. And it was in 1941, during the defence of Tobruk, that he gained his next success, namely three Ju. 87s in 30 minutes on the 14th April, an achievement that attracted the attention of the home press:
‘One day back in April 1941, the Luftwaffe sent 30 Stukas to pound Tobruk. Ellis was one of the fighter boys on the reception committee. He shot down two Stukas in head-on attacks. His own machine was damaged. He was forced to land. The fight was still raging aloft. Ellis jumped into another machine and was in time to have a second innings, in which he destroyed a third Stuka. The act was characteristic of the man ... ’
It was about this time, on returning from another operation, that Ellis “hedgehopped” his Hurricane down the road back to base, only to pass a CR. 42 doing exactly the same thing in the opposite direction - neither pilot had time to react, so nothing further developed. This then one of many incidents recorded in Don Minterne’s definitive history of 73 Squadron, in which frequent mention of Ellis is to be found.
Commissioned in October 1941, Ellis was “rested” with No. 127 Squadron on ferrying duties at Hurghada, a long overdue break from operational flying that amounted to close-on 200 sorties and over 300 hours flying time. Yet in the following year he rejoined No. 73 and was given command of a detachment at Bu Amud that November, a successful stint of leadership that led to his appointment as Squadron C.O. in February 1943, a period that witnessed the squadron flying on night-intruder sorties, in addition to convoy patrols and much other operational activity.
Returning to the U.K. in July 1943, Ellis was next posted to No. 559 Squadron, but in January 1944 he joined Vickers Armstrong at Castle Bromwich as a production test pilot under Alex Henshaw, work that led to the award of his A.F.C. in the New Year Honours of 1946; see Henshaw’s autobiography Sigh For A Merlin for further details and several mentions of Ellis, ‘a competent pilot who had risen from the ranks and who I now had to make my number one on Spitfires’.
One story related by Henshaw illustrates the dangers faced by test pilots like Ellis, the latter having reported to him about a problem Spitfire V, which was undergoing trials with added weights to simulate landing and take-off loads that might be expected on a new protoype being produced at Supermarines. Accordingly, Henshaw climbed into the cockpit, and set-off down the runway, only to ‘shoot up into the air at an incredible angle, in fact so near the vertical at about 40 to 50 feet up that my instantaneous reaction was that I must stop it flipping over onto its back and crushing me like a snail under a boot as it came down.’ In the event, Ellis’ late aircraft disintegrated - ‘both wings departed from the centre section, the engine came out of the frame, the fuselage was in half and petrol, oil, and glycol spewed out flooding the road. To my complete astonishment and not a little relief, I stepped out unscratched.’
Ellis, who left the R.A.F. in 1946 but five years later rejoined as a C.F.S. instructor, served through until October 1966, including a tour out in Cyprus in 1959, and was permitted to retain the rank of Squadron Leader on his retirement. He died in June 1988.
Sold with a quantity of original documentation and artefacts, including:
(i) The recipient’s original Flying Log Books (4), covering the periods October 1938 to Novemeber 1941, November 1941 to October 1944, November 1944 to February 1952 ( the opening year erroneously given as ‘1945’), and February 1952 to October 1960, latterly piloting Meteors.
(ii) A photograph album with approximately 75 images, commencing with scenes aboard the aircraft carrier H.M.S. Furious during her voyage to Africa in November 1940, and ending with desert scenes and active service in the following year, together with a fine array of other career photographs (approximately (45), mainly of wartime vintage, depicting aircraft, “prangs” and fellow pilots.
(iii) A dozen or so wartime maps and newspaper cuttings, an album of cigarette cards entitled R.A.F. Badges; and a copy of Alex Henshaw’s autobiography, Sigh For A Merlin.
(iv) A mass of R.A.F. training manuals, pilot’s notes and much besides, some of wartime vintage but many from the recipient’s time at the C.F.S. in the 1950s.
(v) A presentation silver cigarette box, the front of which is engraved, ‘Flight Lieutenant R. V. Ellis, A.F.C., D.F.M., From the Officers Royal Air Force Wartling’.
(vi) Three sets of embroidered R.A.F. uniform “Wings”, an officer’s cap badge and pilot’s sun-glasses.
Provenance: originally sold at Sotheby’s, 25 November 1985 (Lot 783), when consigned by the recipient.