Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (28 February & 1 March 2018)

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Date of Auction: 28th February & 1st March 2018

Sold for £5,500

Estimate: £6,000 - £8,000

A scarce inter-war ‘Kurdistan’ D.F.C., 1919 ‘Pioneering Flight’ A.F.C. and ‘Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment’ Second Award Bar group of six awarded to Wing Commander E. G. Hilton, Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force, late 14th (County of London) Battalion, London Regiment (London Scottish) and 14th (Service) Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers (Pioneers). A veteran of the First Day of the Battle of the Somme, Hilton transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and served as a Handley Page 0/400 night bomber pilot in France during 1918. He continued serving with 58 Squadron, when five squadron’s aircraft were flown from France to Egypt in 1919 - ‘This whole transferring of complete squadrons to ‘foreign shores’ - in particular, the aerial transit by the 0/400 units - had no equivalent precedent in R.A.F. annals, and was to prove a daunting test of the involved aircrews’ skills and endurance.’

Pioneering flights were to become something of a habit for Hilton, who was to fly in both the explorative flights for the Cairo-Baghdad air mail route in 1919, as well as commanding a small detachment of 216 Squadron’s Victoria aircraft for planning and surveying the Khartoum - West Africa route, by flying from Egypt to Nigeria, October - December 1933. He served as a test pilot at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment, 1924-29 and 1935-37, where he ‘was considered one of the most brilliant of the R.A.F. pilots at Martlesham.’ Despite having over 6,000 hours of flying experience he was tragically killed when his aircraft crashed during the King’s Cup air race over Scarborough, 10 September 1937

Distinguished Flying Cross, G.V.R.; Air Force Cross, G.V.R., with Second Award Bar; 1914 Star, with clasp (2815 Pte. E. G. Hilton. 14/Lond: R.); British War and Victory Medals (Lieut. E. G. Hilton. R.A.F.) minor official correction to surname on BWM; General Service 1918-62, 1 clasp, Kurdistan (F/L. E. G. Hilton. RA.F.), with related miniature awards, last miniature with ‘Iraq’ clasp, both groups mounted as originally worn, edge bruising to last, otherwise generally good very fine (6) £6000-8000

Footnote

D.F.C. London Gazette 11 June 1924:

‘For distinguished service rendered during the operations in Kurdistan between 15th February and 19th June, 1923.’

A.F.C. London Gazette 12 July 1920 (70 Sqn. Egypt).

A.F.C. Second Award Bar London Gazette 1 January 1930.

Edward Goodwin Hilton was born in London, and educated at Malvern and University College, London. He was studying engineering at the latter, when he enlisted for service at the outbreak of the Great War aged 18. Hilton served with the 14th (County of London) Battalion, London Regiment (London Scottish) in the French theatre of war from September 1914. He was commissioned Second Lieutenant in the East Yorkshire Regiment, 23 September 1914. The following year Hilton was attached for service with the 14th (Service) Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers (Pioneers), and he described conditions at the front in letters between 10 - 19 October 1915:

‘We have got to a very large town, manufacturing seems the great thing.... It is really too funny for words, I have a billet right out in the open, just 3/4 kilo from the German front trench, at the corner of the road to the billet no men are allowed to stand and talk in a bunch as they get potted at, from the corner to my billet, which is about 100 yards distance, I have to cross two reserve trenches, rather dangerous...

We came here expecting a rest, but things are livening up. This town is on the frontier, at present it is a salient. I have just been watching our asphyxiating gas go up, a remarkable sight to see. We do most of our work at night...

I had quite an exciting time, I went out about dusk to look for a new machine gun place, our other was getting too hot as a Jack Johnson had fallen within a few yards, when suddenly there was a whizz and bullet struck the ground close by, then another, so I lay flat for a moment, then crawled forward to the place and a starlight went up just as I was having a look round, of course it was convenient in a way for me, but I had to keep still as a rock and pretend I was a tree, then I crawled back...’

The following month he recorded:

‘Suddenly a whizz-bang came within 15 yards of us, blew in all the parapet, wounded some men and plastered us from head to foot with mud... The ground here is very thick and heavy, it is mostly clay, the Boches are a little higher up than us, there is a stream which flows through the Boche line into ours, they periodically dam it up, then let it through with a rush. The consequence is our trenches are flooded out owing to the stream being narrow and being unable to cope with the rush of extra water. No one seems able to rectify this so every week we have the same old game of walking up to our knees in mud.’

Hilton’s luck continued into February 1916:

‘We had an exciting time on Thursday last. In the afternoon I was walking along the trench and a whizz-bang exploded somewhere in front. Before I heard the explosion I was knocked over, a piece had evidently run into me. I was stunned for a time, but am quite all right now. They told me afterwards that my hat badge must have saved me. My hat was cut through in front and the badge was bent up. I have a large mound on the top of my head at present but it is slowly subsiding, so you see my head is fairly hard and of some use yet.’ (Ibid)

First Day of the Battle of the Somme

The Battalion were present for the First Day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916, and extracts from Hilton’s letters for July 1916 allude to the part he played:

‘I was in the first line over the top on Saturday and lucky enough to get all the way. I have lost a lot of men, and we have lost a few officers....

On the last day of June about 7pm after a heavy artillery bombardment I moved up with my machine gunners and our Company to the front line. At 7.32am next morning we attacked. A battalion of infantry went over just in front of us. We lost heavily from machine gun and shrapnel between our line and the Boche - once in, we were free from Boche shrapnel and only had the Hun himself to contend with. In about two hours we were well behind his line to some woods which he held all night, the next day we cleared him from these. In the afternoon of the first day we had a counter attack made on us which we easily overcame. Beyond the wood we kept quiet all next day while our artillery plastered the absolutely terror stricken Hun...’

Royal Flying Corps - Observer and Pilot

Hilton served on the Divisional Staff, before transferring to the Royal Flying Corps in June 1917. He initially trained as an Observer, before qualifying as a pilot. Hilton was posted to France for operational flying with 58 Squadron in 1918. Initially equipped with F.E.2b’s, and then re-equipped with Handley Page 0/400’s in September 1918, the Squadron was employed in a night-bombing capacity. Targets included airfields, railway communications, rest billets and troop columns. Hilton’s letter of 23 October 1918, gives the following:

‘I am getting on very well here and am enjoying things very much indeed - as you know I am night flying - as soon as I came out I began flying a new type of machine. Well just previously to changing I was flying the old type and doing a night reconnaissance over the line, the weather became very bad and my engine was giving a lot of trouble, it kept spluttering and then going in jerks. I had three hours of this and when I landed to my surprise my observer never moved. So we carried him out of the machine and presently he began mumbling and tearing his hair. We packed him off to hospital, he said afterwards that he went off into a swoon in the air because he got into his brain that we would have to land... Now I have the other type of machine I am very contented.’

And into November, ‘The Armistice went off very quietly here, on the night before it was officially given out we bombed Louvain (remember Louvain) and so we really did all we could till the last.’ (Ibid)

Pioneering Flight - France to Egypt in a Handley Page

Between the Armistice and the middle of April 1919, the Squadron was engaged in passenger-carrying on the lines of communication of the Army of Occupation. The following month it was taken on the strength of the Training Brigade, Middle East, as the Royal Air Force planned a pioneering flight to move five squadrons of aircraft from France to Egypt.

It was arranged that the machines should undertake the journey by air, flying by way of Buc, Lyon, Istres (Marseilles), San Guiliano (Pisa), Rome, Taranto, Dekelia (Athens), Suda Bay (Crete), and Matruh, while the ground personnel and stores proceeded by rail and sea some days earlier.

Hilton flew one of 58 Squadron’s Handley Pages on the epic flight, and describes the journey thus:

‘4.6.1919 - One day en route for Pisa we got into clouds at 5,000ft. and so came down at 1,000ft., we were still in thick clouds and could not see the earth, at 400ft. I was able to just pick up the Mediterranean and as the cliffs and mountains on the coast are 2,000ft. and 2,500ft. it was very lucky I came out just over the sea, so we went 120 miles just along the top of the water at 250ft. to Pisa, it was quite exciting at Genoa a lifeboat was put out for us. I have had some trouble with petrol tanks and had to stay here to do repairs...

23.6.1919 From Crete (Suda Bay) - I spent a day Capua, five or six at Taranto, two at Valona, four at Athens, and here I am at Crete. I came on from Athens by myself, it was rather fun, I took a course straight across the sea, 175 miles, as the crow flies. Most of our machines have two pilots on board, but I am the only one on mine and have so far flown all the way myself just over 2,000 miles....

13.7.1919 Heliopolis, Cairo - I arrived here on the 29th ult: I was lucky enough to be the first machine to arrive here. We left Crete on the 28th ult: (i.e.) 9 machines and as we had 250 miles of water to cross, I pushed off without waiting for our escort, a flying boat which had engine trouble and could not start. All the other machines landed again at Crete, I pushed off and incidentally had trouble myself over the water, but I got across quite safely and then flew on the same day to Alexandria, doing 9 hours flying all by myself. I was not a bit tired though it just shows that with a big machine and a spare pilot... the cross Atlantic flight is not really so bad, after all it is only 16 hours.

I arrived here 3 days before the others and the General was quite bucked about it, although he pointed out that had I come down in the sea I should not have had much hope. Still I don’t think there would have been much hope with the escort they were intending to supply.

I am now under orders to take a machine up to the Persian Gulf. I expect to leave in about a week’s time. I am very bucked I was given the job as it is the first the Squadron has been given here. No flying machine of any type has ever been to the spot before.

I have to make all sorts of tests there. The place is near Bushire, I have first to take a Colonel as far as Baghdad, then go on to the Persian Gulf where the experiments are to be made.’

The whole exercise of moving the squadrons from France to Egypt was seen as pioneering work in the development of the Royal Air Force and worthy of substantial rewards for the personnel concerned - with Hilton, amongst others, being awarded the A.F.C. Hilton’s successful trip aside, the results as a whole were mixed, as recorded in Handley Page Bombers:

‘This whole transferring of complete squadrons to ‘foreign shores’ - in particular, the aerial transit by the 0/400 units - had no equivalent precedent in R.A.F. annals, and was to prove a daunting test of the involved aircrews’ skills and endurance.

No. 58 Sqn’s move to Egypt was completed by 2 July, while eight HPs of 214 Sqn had reached Cairo by 2 August. The third 0/400 unit, 216 Sqn, completed its move to Cairo by mid-October, and on 28 October, 1919, Gen. Seeley reported to Parliament: “At the present moment 51 Handley Page machines have left for Egypt. Of these, 26 have arrived, 10 are on later stages of the route, and 15 have been written off....”

Each HP crew involved in this move to Egypt could have told a lengthy tale of problems, frustrations and sheer determination... The overall move of 0/400s to Egypt in 1919 cost the R.A.F. no less than 18 Handley Pages written off in accidents, or from other causes, and the lives of eight crew men...’

Cairo - Baghdad and VIP Flights

Hilton was then in engaged in explorative flights for the proposed Cairo-Baghdad section of an air mail route:

‘I left Cairo at 4am on July 26th [1919] with orders to take a certain Colonel to Baghdad as quickly as possible and then proceed to the place and do certain tests at all times during the day. Then to wait here and be ready to leave for Karachi (India) to meet and bring back General Salmond [later Air Chief Marshal Sir ‘Geoffrey’ Salmond]. All this is to commence the new aerial route for India. On my return to Cairo I am to carry mail bags and these will be the first mails taken on the permanent service (aerial). I will carry letters addressed to you and Dick, which I will slip in the bag and so if you keep them you will know it was amongst the first mail bag carried, of course they will be stamped with the Aerial post mark.’

58 Squadron was renumbered 70 Squadron, 1 February 1920. Hilton continued to serve, with what was designated a bomber-transport unit now equipped with Vimy aircraft. The Squadron were still based in Egypt, and Hilton, now a Flight Commander, wrote the following on 19 September 1920:

‘I think I must know some of the deserts of Arabia better than any white man alive... I have a little command of 5 Handley Page machines and two Vickers Vimy.... About a fortnight ago I took General Salmond and French General in my machine 200 miles into Arabian desert, on a certain job, we were just going to land in the desert at a spot the General thought would make a suitable spot for machines in distress to make for, when a party of Bedouins appeared all round waiting for us.... they showed themselves just too early as I was not quite on the ground so I opened the engines out as quick as I could and got away. Of course we were well armed too but would have been outnumbered. I have been flying 6-8 hours at a stretch without coming down at all so you can guess how tired I am in the evening.’

By June of the following year Hilton was still flying Salmond to various sites, ‘I am stuck rather near here [Allenby Hotel, Jerusalem] for the present, this is how it happened. I was taking Air Vice-Marshal Salmond along and I was landing at a place called Ramleh when unfortunately a camel got in the way and I crashed, killed the camel, but I am pleased to say no one on the machine was hurt. I shall be going on again in about four days. I am carrying petrol out to a place - Azrak in the Blue (Desert) due east of the Dead Sea.’

Hilton moved with 70 Squadron to Baghdad in December 1921, and was primarily tasked with flying the Cairo-Baghdad air mail route. In May of the following year the Squadron made a strategic move to Hinaidi, to be in a position to counter the infiltration of Turkish forces across the north-eastern border of Iraq. Hilton wrote on 13 September 1922, ‘Owing to the pressure of Turks, I, and another, who is doing the mail, were sent up to a small town in the north to remove political officers and English and Christian officials. It was all very sudden, but it came off successfully.’ (Ibid)

The Squadron re-equipped with Vernons in November 1922, and Hilton was part of the R.A.F.’s ‘Vernon Fleet’ that took part in the offensive air action against both the Turks in the north and the dissident Sheikh Mahmud in the Sulaimaniyah district between February - June 1923. He wrote, 7 April 1923, ‘the newspapers seem full of war and rumours of wars in the Mosul district, we get most of our news of the war from the newspaper. We have, during the last month, had some bombing to do... I have been doing a good deal of flying over snow lately and very rough country about Persia.’ (Ibid)

Hilton was awarded the D.F.C. for gallant conduct during the operations in Kurdistan between 15 February - 19 June 1923. He was posted back to the UK in January 1924, and served at R.A.F. Martlesham, the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment, 1924-1929. The A&AEE carried out the evaluation and testing of many of the aircraft types and much of the armament and other equipment that would later be used during the Second World War. Hilton was awarded the Second Award Bar to his A.F.C. for work carried out at the unit.

Crossing Africa

Having advanced to Squadron Leader, Hilton was posted for service with 216 Squadron (Vickers Victorias), Heliopolis, Egypt, in 1930. He commanded a flight from his unit which crossed Africa to Nigeria and West Africa, October - December 1933. They were engaged in the important task of planning and surveying the Khartoum - West Africa route, which eventually opened up as a regular commercial route in February 1936. Hilton had advanced to Wing Commander, and described the flight over Africa in a letter dated 19 December 1933:

‘We have had a good trip, lots of hard work, through very bad weather but have luckily been able to keep our programme in spite of sickness through Malaria and sunstroke. I have been a bit worried at times with the aircraft, you see I am entirely responsible and sometimes just after getting to bed a terrific thunderstorm and wind would get up at about 60 miles an hour called a Tornado, and it plays hell with the old aeroplanes, so I would have to spend the night out in the pouring rain looking after them.’

The King’s Cup air race - a fatal experience

Hilton returned to Martlesham Heath in January 1935, and took over the command of testing all new aircraft, ‘Wing Commander Hilton was considered one of the most brilliant of the R.A.F. pilots at Martlesham, where the newest aeroplanes are tested. He had had 6,000 hours’ flying experience. Recently he was appointed to the Air Ministry for service on the department of the Air Member for research and development. He had never flown in a King’s Cup air race. A few days ago he told a friend that he had entered out of curiosity. “I want to get experience and the general impression of what this round-the-country race is like,” he said. He recently flew an Airspeed Envoy to Capetown ‘for fun” and brought it back in almost record time. “It was just by accident that we flew back so quickly,” he said when he returned. Last year delay at Athens robbed him of the chance to break Amy Johnson’s Cape record.’ (Obituary refers)

Tragically for Hilton, his curiosity was to cost him his life. He crashed whilst piloting his aircraft in the King’s Cup air race over Scarborough, 10 September 1937. A local newspaper recorded the following details:

‘Wing Commander P. C. Sherren and Wing Commander E. G. Hilton, competitors in the King’s Cup air race, were killed here today before a crowd of about 1,000 people, who had gathered to watch the aeroplanes fly low over the Castle Hill turning point.

The pilots had to fly low in order that their machines could be identified, and all of them seemed to be troubled by the currents which were caused by a stiff northerly wind. The aeroplane which crashed took a different course from the others. Flying very close to the cliff-edge, the machine was travelling steadily when it was suddenly flung about 50ft upwards and one of the occupants [Sherren]] was catapulted through the air to disappear from sight over the edge of the cliff. The aeroplane then crashed to the ground and was smashed to pieces, killing the other occupant [Hilton].’

The Coroner’s report and results of the inquest into the accident provided further details, ‘The machine piloted by Wing Commander Hilton came down to about 150ft. at great speed, and then seemed to get into an air pocket and drop slightly and nose dive to the ground. At 9 o’clock on the morning of the race the wind was blowing at 25 mph, and later it increased to 35 miles. It was also very gusty. Other machines bumped in making the turn at the Castle Hill..... Wing Commander Sherren was thrown out of the machine, struck the edge of the cliff, and dropped 200ft. down the cliff. Hilton was picked up 20 yards from the wrecked machine, and a mackintosh was found on the telephone wires.’

Sold with a file of copied research, including a typed transcript titled Wing Commander E. G. Hilton, D.F.C., A.F.C. A Personal Account of some adventures from 1914-37. Extracts from his letters during that period arranged, with a few explanatory notes, in the form of a story for his son Richard; numerous photographic images of the recipient in uniform and a copy of the front page of the Daily Sketch, 11 September 1937, with an extraordinary photograph capturing the crash of Hilton’s aircraft in the King’s Cup race.