Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (25 & 26 November 2015)

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Date of Auction: 25th & 26th November 2015

Sold for £1,200

Estimate: £700 - £900

A rare Great War O.B.E. group of five awarded to Lieutenant-Colonel C. Bovill, Royal Garrison Artillery, a pioneer “Balloonatic” who was attached to the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force for the duration of the War: having originally seen action as an artillery observer in aircraft of No. 6 Squadron in 1914-15, he rose to the command of No. 1 Kite Balloon Squadron on the Somme in 1916 and of 6th Balloon Wing in the Middle East in 1918: a fine record that also won him four mentions in despatches and appointment to the Greek Royal Order of the Redeemer

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, O.B.E. (Military) Officer’s 1st type breast badge, silver-gilt, hallmarks for London 1919; 1914 Star, with clasp (Lieut. C. Bovill, R.G.A.); British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf (Lt. Col. C. Bovill, R.A.F.); Greece, Royal Order of the Redeemer, Officer’s breast badge, silver, silver-gilt and enamel, mounted as worn, enamel work chipped on the last, otherwise very fine and better (5) £700-900

Footnote

O.B.E. London Gazette 3 June 1919.

Carlos Bovill was born in Godalming, Surrey in October 1882, the eldest son of Alfred Bovill, a corn merchant and his wife Jessie Amelia, daughter of the Rev. Charles Clarke of Esher, Surrey. They divorced in 1897 and his mother remarried in 1898 the Hon. Richard Cecil Grosvenor, youngest son of Richard Grosvenor, 1
st Baron Ebury.

Educated at St. David's, Reigate and Eton College, where he served as a Sergeant in the 4
th Volunteer Battalion, Oxfordshire Light Infantry (Eton Volunteers), Bovill was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Lancashire Artillery Militia in December 1902. His subsequent postings in the period leading up to the Great War were to Gibraltar (1904-6) and India (1906-11), where he was attached to the 3rd Mountain Battery of the Imperial Government of Egypt based in Roorkee, and on the Home Establishment from March 1911 until the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914.

Promoted to Captain in the Royal Garrison Artillery in October 1914, he went to France and was attached to No. 6 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, as an artillery observer. In this early phase of the air war attacks from enemy aircraft and both friendly and enemy artillery fire caused significant casualties, Bovill's own aircraft being “shot up” on several occasion including an incident at 8,000 feet above Aubers Ridge. He won his Flying “Observer” Badge as a qualified aeroplane observer on 10
February 1915, the same month in which he was mentioned in despatches by Sir John French.

The squadron records show that Captain Bovill flew observation missions with some of the finest pilots of No. 6 Squadron, among them Lieutenants Hargrave, Adamson and “the Mad Professor” Louis Strange. With R.F.C. observation flights being increasingly attacked by greater numbers of enemy planes, such operations were gradually scaled back in favour of the more stable platform of Kite Balloons.

Bovill served as a General Staff Officer 3rd Grade, Royal Garrison Artillery from April 1915 until October 1916, in which period he was attached to No. 2 Wing R.F.C. from August to November 1915, when he transferred directly to the R.F.C. as a Staff Officer (Graded Staff Captain).

In mid-February 1916, he became the officer commanding the 1
st Army Kite Balloon Squadron - his commanding officer, Brigadier-General Brancker, considered him ideally suited to the promotion having gained considerable expertise in the organisation and training of the Kite Balloon Sections in the Field. He was advanced to Major R.F.C. in the same month and gazetted Lieutenant-Colonel R.F.C. in September 1916.

The R.F.C’s Order of Battle for Somme offensive on 1
July 1916 confirms Bovill’s appointment as officer commanding No. 1 Kite Balloon Squadron at Contay, consisting of Numbers 1, 3, 11, 12 and 14 Kite Balloon Sections. He was subsequently mentioned in Haig’s despatch ‘For good work in command of No. 1 Kite Balloon Squadron from 1 July to 3 September 1916. Under Major Bovill’s able direction the Kite Balloons have done a great deal of useful work on the Fourth Army front’ (London Gazette 4 January 1917, refers).

It was about the time of the Somme offensive that R.F.C. officers from the Roehampton Kite Balloon Training School started to qualify for the new rank of ‘Balloon Officer’. For his own part, Bovill had worn an ‘Observer half wing’ since early 1915 and, by Roehampton’s own account, was vastly experienced in all balloon operations. Nonetheless, it was deemed appropriate that he return to Roehampton in September 1916 to formally qualify as Balloon Officer. He duly qualified for his Aviator's Certificate (No. 139), fully two and a half years after he had first “qualified”.

In passing, his war diaries, which cover the period 1 August 1915 to 17 January 1916, show that he returned to Roehampton and Larkhill on several occasions in the same period, in order to advise both the R.N.A.S. and R.F.C. on the techniques involved in artillery observing. He further advised the senior officers on improvements that needed to be made to the kite balloons and the ancillary logistical equipment. The diaries are a fascinating insight into the operations of early war ballooning on the Western Front. As to be expected the inclement weather led to many amusing incidents as the tethering of the balloons was to become a continual hazard. The technical and logistical problems in getting the balloons filled, transported and aloft was frustrating and dangerous . A large number of senior officers are mentioned by Bovill and most of them greeted his balloons enthusiastically. Owing to his fluency in French, he was also used to liaise with his French counterparts.

In mid-November 1916, Bovill was assigned to the Middle East Brigade in Egypt, where he eventually became the officer commanding 6
th Balloon Wing. He remained similarly employed until the end of the war and, in October 1918, graduated from No. 5 Fighting School at Heliopolis with his pilot’s wings. He was awarded the O.B.E. and twice mentioned in despatches by Allenby (London Gazettes 22 February and 5 June 1919, refer), in addition to being awarded the Greek Royal Order of the Redeemer (Officer) (London Gazette 5 May 1919, refers).

Back home by the summer of 1919, Bovill reverted to the R.G.A. in the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, which rank he retained on resigning his commission in April 1920. He died in Chelsea, London, in March 1938.

Sold with a silver cigarette box, hallmarks for London 1917, the lid engraved, ‘Officers Mess, Free Balloon Section, R.F.C., From Lieut. Colonel C. Bovill, R.A.F., R.F.C., Nov. 1917’; together with two extensive files of copied research, including war diary entries for No. 2 Wing, R.F.C. from August 1915 to January 1916, as written by the recipient.