Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (19 & 20 September 2013)
Date of Auction: 19th & 20th September 2013
Sold for £60,000
Estimate: £60,000 - £80,000
‘It is worthy of note that Wing Commander Crawford-Compton has destroyed a total of 7 enemy aircraft since being awarded the D.S.O., added to which he has completed nearly 800 operational hours, which, it is believed, constitutes a record for a fighter pilot. I have no hesitation in stating that I have never had the pleasure of recommending a decoration which was more richly deserved.’
The recommendation for the Bar to his D.S.O. refers.
The outstanding post-war C.B., C.B.E., Second World War Wing Leader’s and Spitfire ace’s D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar group of thirteen awarded to Air Vice-Marshal W. V. Crawford-Compton, Royal Air Force, late Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, the most decorated New Zealand fighter pilot of the War: a veteran of four tours and nearly 400 sorties and 800 hours operational flying time - in which he amassed 20 plus victories by means of point blank attacks - he saw much action with the famous Biggin Hill and Hornchurch Wings, being C.O. of the latter in addition to 145 (Free French) Wing at the time of the Normandy landings - a remarkable record which also witnessed him being decorated by the Americans and French
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, C.B. (Military) Companion’s neck badge, in silver-gilt and enamel, in its Collingwood & Co. case of issue; The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, C.B.E. (Military) Commander’s 2nd type neck badge, silver-gilt and enamel, in its Garrard & Co. case of issue; Distinguished Service Order, G.VI.R., 1st issue, with Second Award Bar, silver-gilt and enamel, the reverse of the suspension bar officially dated ‘1943’ and the reverse of the Bar officially dated ‘1945’; Distinguished Flying Cross, G.VI.R., with Second Award Bar, the reverse of the Cross officially dated ‘1942’ and the reverse of the Bar officially dated ‘1942’; 1939-45 Star; Air Crew Europe Star, clasp, France and Germany; Defence and War Medals 1939-45; General Service 1918-62, 1 clasp, Palestine 1945-48 (Act. Wg. Cdr. W. V. Crawford-Compton, R.A.F.); Coronation 1953; France, Legion of Honour, Officer’s breast badge, silver-gilt, silver and enamel; United States of America, Silver Star; France, Croix de Guerre, with bronze palm, mounted court-style as worn where applicable, slight enamel damage to the first, and the Legion of Honour with bent arm points and severely chipped enamel, otherwise generally very fine (13) £60000-80000
FootnoteC.B. London Gazette 1 January 1965.
C.B.E. London Gazette 13 June 1957.
D.S.O. London Gazette 24 September 1943. The original recommendation states:
‘Wing Commander Crawford-Compton has had a distinguished career as an operational pilot. He carried out his first operation with No. 485 Squadron from Kenley in March 1941, and whilst serving with this squadron he was awarded the D.F.C. for destroying 2 enemy aircraft, probably destroying 2 and damaging 1 other.
In July 1942, Wing Commander Crawford-Compton became a Flight Commander in No. 611 Squadron. By October 1942 he had brought his score up to a total of 6 and a half enemy aircraft destroyed, 4 probably destroyed and 6 damaged. He had, moreover, shown himself to be a Flight Commander of exceptional merit and, in December 1942, he was awarded a Bar to his D.F.C. Before leaving No. 611 Squadron, Wing Commander Crawford-Compton increased his score of enemy aircraft to 8 and a half destroyed, 6 probably destroyed and 7 damaged.
Wing Commander Crawford-Compton was given command of No. 64 Squadron and quickly proved himself to be an outstanding Squadron Commander. During his term of command he brought his squadron to a high standard of fighting efficiency and, in addition, himself destroyed 3 more enemy aircraft and damaged another, before leaving the Squadron for a rest in March 1943.
In June 1943, after a short rest, Wing Commander Crawford-Compton was attached to the R.A.F. Station, Hornchurch, to deputise for the Wing Commander Flying and he was appointed Wing Leader of the Hornchurch Wing shortly afterwards. Despite the fact that this officer had now carried out the record number of more than 260 offensive sorties over enemy territory, he has retained his aggressiveness and determination to engage the enemy. As Wing Leader he has imbued the Squadrons under his command with the keenest zest for fighting and a tactical efficiency of the highest order, and his leadership and example are a constant source of inspiration and determination to the pilots of his Wing. Since becoming Wing Leader, Wing Commander Crawford-Compton has, in addition, brought his personal score of enemy aircraft up to a total of 13 and half destroyed, 6 probably destroyed and 9 damaged.’
Bar to D.S.O. London Gazette 26 January 1945. The original recommendation states:
‘Wing Commander Crawford-Compton took over the duties of Wing Leader of No. 145 Wing in April 1944, and since June has acted as Wing Commander Operations as well as Wing Leader.
He led his Wing with outstanding skill, determination and dash throughout the pre-invasion period, and afterwards until the closer Army support role on the Continent precluded the use of large formations. Nevertheless, in his capacity of Wing Commander Operations, he has continued in the role of senior leader in close support tactics. In this role he has flown a greater number of sorties than could be considered his fair share, and always chosen to lead the more difficult assignments.
This officer - whose personal achievements included in the destruction of 4 enemy aircraft and approximately 20 mechanised enemy transport vehicles, since assuming his duties with 145 Wing, speak for themselves - has distinguished himself as a fearless leader who inspires those under his command by his relentless determination and courage in the face of danger.
It is worthy of note that Wing Commander Crawford-Compton has destroyed a total of 7 enemy aircraft since being awarded the D.S.O., added to which he has completed nearly 800 operational hours, which, it is believed, constitutes a record for a fighter pilot.
I have no hesitation in stating that I have never had the pleasure of recommending a decoration which was more richly deserved.’
D.F.C. London Gazette 10 March 1942. The original recommendation states:
‘Acting Flight Lieutenant Crawford-Compton has taken part in more than 50 offensive patrols over hostile territory and waters. During most of this time he had led, first, a Section, and later, Flight to my complete satisfaction. He is credited with the following successes in action against the enemy: 2 destroyed, 2 probably destroyed and 1 damaged. I strongly recommend that he be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.’
Bar to D.F.C. London Gazette 11 December 1942. The original recommendation states:
‘This officer has been Flight Commander since January 1942 - he had led his Flight and many times his Squadron, with great skill and success, and at all times his fine example has done a great deal to help the Squadron. Since being awarded the D.F.C., he has destroyed 5 and half enemy aircraft, probably destroyed 3 and damaged a further 6.’
France Legion of Honour and Croix de Guerre London Gazette 17 January 1947.
U.S.A. Silver Star London Gazette 20 July 1943.
William Vernon Crawford-Compton was born in Invercargill, New Zealand, in March 1916, and was educated at New Plymouth High School.
Just before the outbreak of hostilities, he set out to sail round the world in a 20-ton yacht with three friends, but was wrecked off the coast of New Guinea - after being in the water for 13 hours, the crew landed on a small island and stayed there with the natives for six weeks before being taken off by a tramp steamer. And it was in this latter vessel he worked his passage to England as a ship’s carpenter on a shilling a day, hostilities being declared two days before his arrival at Liverpool.
He immediately enlisted in the Royal Air Force as an A.C. 2, and was selected for pilot training.
No. 485 (N.Z.) Squadron - first blood - first D.F.C.
Duly qualified, he joined No. 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron as a Sergeant in January 1941 and, with just 19 hours in Spitfires under his belt, continued to hone his skills until transferred to his first operational posting, No. 485 (New Zealand) Squadron, as a newly commissioned Pilot Officer, two months later.
Here, then, the commencement of a protracted period of operations, especially following the unit’s allocation to cross-Channel sweeps that June - thus numerous “Rhubarb” and “Circus” sorties flown out of Kenley up until his transfer to No. 611 (West Lancashire) Squadron of the Biggin Hill Wing in June 1942.
And it was during this period of service that he ‘opened his account’, claiming a probable Me. 109 west of Desvres on 21 September, with a four second burst at 250 yards, ‘probable’ because owing to other enemy aircraft in the vicinity he was unable to follow his opponent down - but it had been a convincing clash, the 109’s hood flying off before it stalled, on its back, and spun earthwards.
His second combat, against an Me. 109 over Cappelle-Brouck on 13 October resulted in certain victory, if only because he closed to 50 yards during a perfect quarter attack - the 109 caught fire and spun down. And in another point-blank attack between Cap Gris Nez and Calais on 6 November, he claimed a further Me. 109 as probably destroyed, even though two fellow pilots saw a 109 hit the sea at the same time - ‘I saw hits in front of his cockpit and around it ... thick black smoke came out and increased as he went down ... he made no attempt to pull out’ (his combat report refers).
His next engagement, fought at altitudes between just 300-1500 feet, amidst much flak, occurred as a result of the famous “Channel Dash” made by the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst on 12 February 1942, when No. 485 Squadron was among a number of Spitfire units ordered into action. He claimed an Me. 109 destroyed - ‘the enemy aircraft hit the beach about five miles west of Ostend’ - and another damaged, a large piece falling from the latter’s wing before it fell away trailing black smoke.
He was recommended for the D.F.C. by Squadron Leader E. P. “Hawkeye” Edward Wells.
And his score continued to escalate, two Me. 109s falling to his guns during an escort mission to Le Havre on 26 March, the second shared with another pilot, and his own victim being seen to crash in the sea just 200-300 yards east of the French port. He was ‘then attacked by another 109 and had trouble in shaking it off. I dived vertically to sea-level and about three miles off the French coast came across a Boston with the starboard engine stopped. I escorted it back to the English coast’ (his combat report refers).
Two days later he took out an FW. 190 over Marquise, getting in a three second burst at his preferred range of 50 yards - observing numerous hits on his victim’s wings and fuselage, Crawford-Compton followed the smoking enemy aircraft down to 2000 feet, pulled up, and then saw it burning on the ground.
Having then shot-up another FW. 190 with 85 rounds of cannon and 310 rounds of .303 over St. Omer on the 4 April - and seen many strikes on the fuselage - he was compelled to break away owing to an enemy aircraft on his tail, his subsequent report noting that ‘the enemy seemed much more determined than usual’. Notwithstanding such determined opposition, Crawford-Compton turned into a formation of FW. 190s over Hesdin on 24 April, sending one of them down in a spin with flames coming from under the engine and cockpit.
Three days later, however, on returning from a sweep over St. Omer, his shot-up Spitfire suffered engine failure and he was compelled to make a crash-landing - it somersaulted on touch down and he emerged from the wreckage with a broken wrist and gashed forehead.
Biggin Hill Wing - No. 611 Squadron - Flight Commander - second D.F.C.
About eight weeks later, plaster cast and stitches removed, he was posted to No. 611 Squadron as a Flight Commander, and was quickly back in action over the Channel with the Biggin Hill Wing on “Rodeo” and “Ramrod” sorties, claiming a convincingly damaged FW. 190 over Dieppe during the famous raid of 19 August - ‘I observed cannon strikes on the engine and around the cockpit. A cowling flew off the port side of the engine, which began smoking owing to boost. As this came away heavy black smoke began pouring from the engine, as it turned inland’ (his combat report refers).
His next close encounter with an FW. 190, west of Fauville on the 24th, in which he closed to point blank range - so much so that he had to break away to avoid a collision - left his adversary ‘well on fire’, but there followed a hair-raising return trip, no less than four FW. 190s pursuing him for 30 to 40 miles, back even over the Channel - ‘They had the advantage of height and were able to take their time in attacking me ... they were using self-destroying ammunition which was bursting in front of and around me’ (his combat report refers).
Less than a fortnight later, in a combat fought between Cayeux and Oisemont on 6 September, he damaged a brace of FW. 190s, both being seen to take cannon strikes and one turning on its side, emitting thick black smoke. And he damaged another in a combat over Eu-Le Treport region ten days later, seeing two pieces fall away from the 190’s rudder, while on the 2 October, just east of the Forest Crecy-en-Ponthieu, he closed to 100 yards on another victim, delivering 100 rounds of cannon fire which had the desired effect - ‘I consider the pilot was dead or badly wounded and that the enemy aircraft was definitely destroyed’ (his combat report refers).
Having then damaged yet another FW. 190 north-east of Cap Gris Nez on 27 October, he was recommend for the Bar to his D.F.C.
And for good measure in terms of his time with No. 611 Squadron, he shot up an FW. 190 over Gravelines on 8 November, with nearly 200 rounds of cannon fire, destroyed another between Calais and Cap Gris Nez on the following day - the enemy pilot baled out at 10,000 feet - and got a probable south of Dunkirk on 6 December, the latter’s engine cowlings coming away before its propeller came to a grinding halt, so its prospects looked bleak.
No. 64 Squadron - first command
Advanced to Squadron Leader, he assumed command of No. 64 Squadron in January 1943, and swiftly got back into the fray, damaging FW. 190s on operational sweeps on the 20th and on 15 February. Then on 8 March, in a “Ramrod” sortie, he destroyed a brace of FW. 190s in a combat over Cleres, his Flying Log Book noting at this juncture that he had flown over 200 operational sorties, claiming 11 enemy aircraft destroyed, with six probables and 10 damaged.
Having now been on an operational footing for over two years, he was “rested” with an appointment at No. 11 Group Headquarters, but he quickly tired of flying an armchair and pressed for a return to operations, in the interim pestering his old C.O. at Biggin Hill ‘for a spare kite’. And three times the latter answered his call, as a result of which he claimed an Me. 109 damaged with No. 122 Squadron. He was advanced to Wing Commander.
Hornchurch - Wing Leader - first D.S.O.
In June 1943, Crawford-Compton was attached to R.A.F. Hornchurch to deputise for the Wing Commander Flying and was himself appointed Wing Leader shortly afterwards, thereby finding himself in overall command of No. 129 (Mysore) Squadron and No. 222 (Natal) Squadron.
And in the spate of escort sorties and combats that ensued, in support of U.S. Fortresses and B-24 Marauders, with one exception all of his claims were confirmed “kills”, commencing with an Me. 109 over Audricq on 27 June, which went down in flames after a characteristically short range burst of fire.
He was recommended for his D.S.O., having by now flown 262 sorties and nearly 500 operational hours. And in recognition of his highly effective work in escorting U.S. Fortresses and B-26 Marauders on countless occasions, he was awarded the Silver Star.
But never one to rest on his laurels, Crawford-Compton’s score continued apace, the 19th August witnessing another Me. 109 fall to his marksmanship over Holland - it crashed in the neighbourhood of Blankenberghe - while in September a brace of FW. 190s fell to his guns - the first of them east of Dunkirk on the 5th, which spun into the sea, and the second north-west of Beauvais on the 23rd.
Finally, on 3 October, in another combat off Holland, he claimed a Me. 109 destroyed, the latter ploughing into the sea.
On 13 December, Crawford-Compton relinquished his command of the Wing and departed for the U.S.A. on a goodwill tour, where, over three months, he gave over a hundred lectures to all manner of military personnel and civilians, and bumped into the likes of Cary Grant and the Marx Brothers. It was a welcome, but nonetheless short respite from operations.
145 (Free French) Wing - second D.S.O.
Back home by April, Crawford-Compton was appointed Wing Leader of 145 (Free French) Wing, 2nd Tactical Air Force, and was quickly in action in support of the Allied landings in Normandy.
Thus the closing chapter of his highly successful combat career, commencing with a confirmed Ju. 88 in a combat west of Caen on 7 June, which crashed and blew up south of Carpiquet airfield, but not before the rear-gunner had put bullets through both of his Spitfire’s wings.
An Me. 109 and an FW. 190 suffered a similar fate over Beaumont-le-Roger on the 29th, the first crashing into a wood and the second being abandoned by its pilot, who baled out after black smoke engulfed his stricken aircraft.
Then on 9 July, Crawford-Compton claimed his final - 20th - victory, an Me. 109 north of Bernay. And for the record to those 20 should be added one shared destroyed, three and one shared probables, and 13 damaged, and mention of the fact he may well have achieved 21 plus victories - or certainly according to contemporary press coverage.
Yet in his duel role as Wing Commander Operations, he also participated in close support sorties, work that encompassed a great deal of ground strafing in the face of intense flak, in the course of which he destroyed 20 enemy mechanised vehicles. So, too, as he would later recall in a press interview, a large share in 300 or 400 hundred horses which were being used by the Germans - ‘A beastly business. We all felt sick, and two of the pilots vomited as soon as they left their machines on returning’.
Just before departing 145 Wing, Crawford-Compton had a lucky escape when two enemy fighters came in low and strafed his forward airfield - cannon shells smashed into the ground around him as he abandoned his car to take cover.
Tour-expired, he was recommended for the Bar to his D.S.O. in mid-November 1944, and was later awarded the French Legion of Honour and Croix de Guerre.
Reluctant armchair merchant as he was, no amount of pleading would have saved him from his final appointment - that of Wing Commander (Plans) at No. 11 Group H.Q. - for by now, according to the above recommendation, he had probably flown more operational hours than any other fighter pilot.
Accorded a triumphant reception on his return to Auckland at the War’s end, Crawford-Compton was quick to praise his fellow New Zealand Wing Leaders, Al Deere and Colin Gray, describing the former as the toughest pilot he had encountered, and the latter as the most skilful. However, modest in the extreme, he had little to offer by way of his own outstanding record when pressed by assorted journalists. It was only ever praise for others, including the “R.A.F.-type”:
‘Coolness was one of the most necessary attributes of the good air fighter. When an attack suddenly loomed everybody tensed up, and it helped a lot if the flight leader spoke slowly and in a matter of fact a tone as possible. That was where some of the British pilots, normally accused of having a ‘plum in their mouths’ shone.
Compton-Crawford remembered one occasion when out on patrol, and there was a sudden, excited call over the wireless from one of the fighters. “Look out! 109s at 3 o’clock.” A moment later there was another excited call. “Look out chaps! More 109s at 9 o’clock.” Everybody was on edge at the sudden alarm, when suddenly there drifted to them over the air the Oxford drawl of the “R.A.F.-type” - “I say, old boy, a pincer movement, what!” ’
Post-war - C.B. and C.B.E.
Indeed, such was Crawford-Compton’s affection for the “R.A.F.-type” that he applied for a permanent commission after the War, was accepted, and went out to the Middle East where he witnessed further active service in Palestine.
Returning to the U.K. in 1948, his subsequent appointments included those of Attache at Oslo, Norway in 1950, Group Captain Commanding R.A.F. Bruggen in Germany in 1954, and Sector Commander in Western Command in early 1956. Later in the same year, however, he formed and commanded No. 215 Tactical Wing for the Suez operations, being evacuated for Port Said in December. He was awarded C.B.E.
Next appointed Chief Instructor of the Offensive Support Wing at Old Sarum, in which capacity he served 1957-59, Crawford-Compton moved to the familiar surroundings of No. 11 Group (Fighter Command) as Senior Air Staff Officer (S.A.S.O.) in July 1959, and attended the Imperial Defence College in 1961, before serving as Chief of British Staff out in Cyprus in 1962-65, in which period he also acted as S.A.S.O. to the Near East Air Force. He was awarded the C.B.
The 1960s also witnessed his Presidency of the R.A.F. Boxing Association and Chairmanship of the R.A.F. Ski and Winter Sports Association and in this latter capacity, in common with his senior commands in the 1939-45 War, he led from the front, becoming a Downhill and Slalom Champion on two occasions, in addition to winning the Middle East Inter-Services Ski Championship in 1966, and coming fifth in the R.A.F. Combined Ski-ing Championship in the following year, aged 51.
Compton-Crawford, who was placed on the Retired List in the rank of Air-Vice Marshal, died in January 1988, aged 72 years.
sold with a large quantity of original documentation and photographs, comprising:
(i) The recipient’s D.S.O. warrant, dated 24 September 1943, together with a congratulatory postagram from H.Q. No. 11 Group regarding the Bar to his D.S.O., dated 26 January 1945.
(ii) The illuminated citation for the recipient’s French Croix de Guerre, dated at Paris on 16 March 1945, together with two related official copy communications.
(iii) The recipient’s Aviation Diploma Francais, dated 19 June 1944, with related forwarding letter from General Valin.
(iv) The recipient’s R.A.F. Pilot’s Flying Log Books (3), all Form 414 Types, covering the periods June 1940 to May 1943; November 1949 to April 1959 and May 1959 to October 1964, the missing period of 1943-58 on account of the loss of his second log book in a basement flood - as verified by the family.
(v) Three wartime copies of combat reports for Biggin Hill Wing "Circus 221" on 2 October 1942, "Rodeo 109" on 9 November 1942 and "Circus 241" on 6 December 1942.
(vi) A photograph album with a large quantity of wartime images (approximately 100), commencing with his voyage to the U.K. in 1938, through to command of the Free French Wing in 1944-45, with a fine run of fellow pilot portraits, including autographed images of Johnny Checketts, Al Deere and Sailor Malan, and a 64 Squadron pilot line-up, among others, together with scenes from his goodwill tour of the U.S.A. in early 1944, among these autographed images of the Marx Brothers (2) and a joint photograph with Cary Grant, with accompanying letter from the film star, dated 17 March 1944 (‘We all miss you here and hope that your tour has been pleasurable ... ’), in all a rare and evocative photographic record; together with six pages from another album, with a further 30 or so wartime period images, and a box containing a further run of un-mounted photographs, mainly from the post-war era (approximately 80 images).
(vii) An album with numerous newspaper cuttings from his goodwill tour of the U.S.A. in early 1944, together with a quantity of related forwarding letters from assorted American newspaper companies.
(viii) A presentation photograph album from Aluf E. Weizman, A.O.C. in C., Israel Air Force, with approximately 25 images covering the recipient’s visit to to Israel in 1965, black binding with metalled Israeli Air Force badge to front cover.
(ix) The recipient’s flying helmet and goggles
(x) The recipient’s brother’s Second World War campaign awards, namely the 1939-45 and Africa Stars, War Medal and New Zealand War Service Medal 1939-45, with original Buckingham Place illuminated scroll in the name of ‘Private A. A. Compton, New Zealand Military Forces’, who was killed in action in North Africa on 9 December 1941.