Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (17 & 18 July 2019)

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Date of Auction: 17th & 18th July 2019

Sold for £4,600

Estimate: £4,000 - £5,000

The fine Great War 1917 M.C. and inter-War A.F.C. group of five awarded to Squadron Leader T. C. ‘Sammy’ Luke, 66 and 209 Squadrons, Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force, late Royal Engineers despatch rider, who achieved ‘Ace’ status in Sopwith Pups and Sopwith Camels, being credited with at least 5 enemy aircraft destroyed and 1 shared destroyed, was wounded on two occasions, and forced to make two crash landings as a result of combat

Military Cross, G.V.R., unnamed as issued; Air Force Cross, G.V.R., unnamed as issued; 1914-15 Star (32062. Cpl. T. C. Luke. R.E.); British War and Victory Medals (Capt. T. C. Luke. R.A.F.) mounted as worn, but lacking retaining pin, generally very fine or better (5) £4,000-£5,000


Provenance: Spink, May 1991.

M.C. London Gazette 25 August 1917:

‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in aerial combats. On several occasions he attacked hostile formations and dispersed them, although they were in superior numbers, showing great dash and fearlessness in engaging them at close range. He has taken part in thirty-five offensive patrols, at all times setting a fine example of courage.’

A.F.C. London Gazette 3 June 1935.

Thomas Carlyon Luke was born in Plymouth, Devon, in July 1891. He was the son of a tailor, and was educated at Plymouth Grammar School and Shaftsbury School before being employed as a Clerk in the City of London prior to the Great War. He served as a despatch rider with the Royal Engineers in the French theatre of war from 4 June 1915. Luke advanced to Corporal before being selected for a commission, and was gazetted Second Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers, 26 March 1916.

Luke was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps at the end of 1916, and gained his Royal Aero Club Certificate (No. 7740) 4 January 1917. He advanced to Flying Officer and was posted as a pilot for operational flying with 66 Squadron (Sopwith Pups) in France around March 1917. Luke opened his account when he shot down an enemy aircraft out of control, 23 May 1917:

‘Lt. T. C. Luke fired 100 rounds into an EA which went down vertically and was lost to view. Later he engaged another German sending 60 rounds into it and it fell away like a leaf then went into a vertical spin near the ground.’ (66 Sqn in France & Italy, by F. W. Bailey and N. L. R. Franks refers)

Luke’s second followed five days later, after 66 Squadron had suffered the loss of two pilots:

‘Two more pilots went down on the 27th and 28th, Lt. S S Hume on the former date, R M Roberts on the latter. Roberts probably went down under the guns of Karl Allmenroeder of Jasta 11. Lt. T C Luke avenged the loss of Roberts the same day when he fired 100 rounds at 40 yards into a two seater which fell vertically, not being seen to pull out.’ (Ibid)

Luke destroyed an Albatross DIII west of Houthem on 15 June 1917. On the same day as he achieved his fourth victory, 28 July 1917, he and his aircraft were shot up:

‘July 28 was to be the day when 66 scored the greatest number of victories in one day during its period on the Western Front. Although the Pup was by this time almost totally outclassed by the Albatross DIII, 66 like 46 Squadron did good work on the Pup, in spite of the handicap, and despite only one machine-gun.

Capt. C C Sharp, now in command of C Flight, fired 80 rounds into one EA damaging it badly. 2/Lt. W A Pritt shot an Albatross off the tail of 2/Lt Huxley, seeing it crash east of Roulers. Hunter shot another down ‘out of control’ from close range, while ‘Sammy’ Luke flamed another. Capt. Taylor and J W ‘The Ratter’ Boumphrey both attacked EA claiming ‘out of control’ victories, and F A Smith damaged another. However, Luke was wounded in the arm while correcting a gun jam and 2/Lt. J B Hine was reported missing. Luke left 66 and later flew as a flight commander...’ (Ibid)

Luke’s commanding officer, Colonel Sir Gordon Taylor, gives more detail of the final stages of the combat in his book Sopwith Scout 7309:

‘Then, in realisation slower than my physical action, I knew that I had swept my machine out, and the Hun had passed. I saw him, hauling up, tail on, climbing into the sky. Then he was suddenly obliterated by a flaming mass plunging down in front of me, trailing a column of black and putrid smoke. It was another Albatros. Sammy Luke’s Pup was following it down. Then I saw the other Hun coming back in, diving on him. I couldn’t reach him, or do anything, in time. Futilely, I shouted, ‘Look out, Sammy! Look out!’

I saw the tracer cutting into the Pup. It suddenly reared up, pulled over, and started to go down, west, towards our lines. The Hun did not follow. He turned away to the east and disappeared. Back at Estrée Blanche four machines finally came in; but Sammy Luke was missing. A couple of days later we heard he was in a forward hospital near Bailleul; wounded, but doing all right.’

Despite being wounded and having a damaged aircraft, Luke managed to land safely and subsequently returned to the UK for medical treatment. He returned to operational flying when he was posted as Temporary Captain and Flight Commander to 209 Squadron (Sopwith Camels) in the summer of 1918. The Squadron were tasked with fighter and ground-attack duties, and Luke added to his score when he shared in the destruction of a Halberstadt C near Harbonnieres, 8 August 1918. He led his flight in many combats throughout August, and reached ‘Ace’ status when he destroyed a Fokker DVII near Buisey, South of Arras, 25 August 1918:

‘While on patrol I observed 7 or 8 Fokker Biplanes much below us. I dived on them with the formation and fired a long burst of 200 rounds at one at about 100 yards range causing the machine to go into a spin and I eventually observed it crash on the ground. I also observed another machine to crash in the same area.’ (Combat Report refers)

Luke was on the receiving end the following day, whilst on a low patrol south of the River Scarpe:

‘Pilot left aerodrome at 7.15am. His machine became badly damaged by fire from ground, catching fire and crashing in shell hole. Pilot sustained slight injuries. Machine unsalvable, recommended to be struck off strength of No. 209 Squadron and R.A.F. in the Field.’ (R.A.F. Report on Casualties to Personnel and Machines (When Flying), refers)

Luke remained in the R.A.F. after the war, and competed in the fourth R.A.F Aerial Pageant at Hendon in July 1923. He won the ‘low bombing’ event flying a Sopwith Snipe. Luke subsequently had several Middle East postings, before advancing to Squadron Leader in November 1930. After postings to 7 Squadron and R.A.F. Andover, Luke was appointed to the command of 18 Squadron at Upper Heyford in October 1931. He was posted to the Air Armament School, R.A.F. Eastchurch in March 1935 (A.F.C.), and died of a heart attack in Princess Mary’s R.A.F. Hospital, R.A.F. Halton, Buckinghamshire. Squadron Leader Luke is buried in St. Michaels Church, Halton.

Sold with copied research and photographic images of the recipient in uniform.