Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (16 April 2020)

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Date of Auction: 16th April 2020

Sold for £3,800

Estimate: £4,000 - £5,000

A very rare and well-documented post-War ‘Berlin Airlift’ O.B.E., Second War ‘Martin B-26 Marauder operations’ D.F.C., and ‘V.I.P. Flight’ A.F.C. group of ten awarded to Wing Commander H. S. Grimsey, Royal Air Force, late Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, who flew in operations in support of the 8th Army in 1942, becoming a member of the Caterpillar Club after bailing out after one such raid, and flying B-26 ‘Widowmakers’ in 1943-44, taking part in over 50 operational sorties; was later assigned to the ‘V.I.P. Flight’ missions, and led 11 of the aircraft assigned to the Yalta Conference in January 1945; and subsequently post-War took part in the Berlin Airlift

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, O.B.E. (Military) Officer’s 2nd type breast badge, silver-gilt; Distinguished Flying Cross, G.VI.R., the reverse officially dated ‘1944’; Air Force Cross, G.VI.R., the reverse officially dated ‘1947’; 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star, 1 clasp, France and Germany; Africa Star, 1 clasp, North Africa 1942-43; Italy Star; Defence and War Medals 1939-45; Coronation 1953; together with the recipient’s Caterpillar Club membership badge, gold, with glass ‘ruby’ eyes, the reverse engraved ‘Sgt. H. Grimsey’, mounted court-style, generally good very fine (12) £4,000-£5,000


Provenance: Dix Noonan Webb, June 2005.

O.B.E. London Gazette 1 January 1949.

D.F.C. London Gazette 7 April 1944.

The original recommendation states: ‘Wing Commander Grimsey has recently assumed command of No. 52 Squadron after a long tour of duty with No. 14 Squadron. He began his tour from England against shipping off Zeebrugge. He was then posted to the Middle East where he made 16 bombing sorties in close support of the Eighth Army. After the Squadron had converted to Coastal Reconnaissance in November 1942, this officer carried out many reconnaissance’s in the Aegean Sea, and laid mines in the Bay of Tunis with accuracy and determination, his mines being dropped at night into the channel at a height of less than 200 feet.
On 31 January 1943, this officer was the leader of two reconnaissance aircraft on offensive patrol. He sighted a 4000 ton merchant vessel escorted by two destroyers and five Ju. 88s. Despite this opposition he made his attack with determination. The results of the torpedo attack were not observed for he was chased away by a Ju. 88 which he probably destroyed.
On 5 April and 19 August 1943, while engaged on long range reconnaissance’s, this pilot sighted valuable enemy convoys. In each case, all the vessels were reported accurately and expeditiously by wireless to his base.
On 31 January 1943, this officer was the leader of two reconnaissance aircraft on offensive patrol. He sighted a 4000 ton merchant vessel escorted by two destroyers and five Ju. 88s. Despite this opposition he made his attack with determination. The results of the torpedo attack were not observed for he was chased away by a Ju. 88 which he probably destroyed.
On 5 April and 19 August 1943, while engaged on long range reconnaissance’s, this pilot sighted valuable enemy convoys. In each case, all the vessels were reported accurately and expeditiously by wireless to his base.
From 25 August 1943 to 2 February 1944, this officer was in command of a detached flight of No. 14 Squadron at Taranto. The closing of the Adriatic to the enemy and the successful strikes against enemy shipping in that sea and down to Corfu are in large measure due to the work of this flight in which Wing Commander Grimsey played an important part.
I strongly recommend this officer for the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.’

A.F.C. London Gazette 12 June 1947.

The original recommendation states: ‘Squadron Leader Grimsey is a Flight Commander and Deputy Squadron Commander. He has been employed as a V.I.P. Flight pilot with his present unit for three years. During this period he has flown many important missions in all weathers with outstanding skill. In particular he led eleven aircraft in “Operation Argonaut” for the Yalta Conference in February 1945. In April 1946, he made a most urgent special flight, in exceptionally poor weather conditions, to bring the Governor of Gibraltar to the United Kingdom. As a Flight Commander he has trained and encouraged his V.I.P. Flight crews to the same high standard as himself and has consistently chosen the most arduous and difficult missions himself; he invariably accomplished these with skill and determination. Squadron Leader Grimsey has set a fine example and has been an inspiration to the whole squadron.’

Harry Spencer Grimsey was born at Stowmarket in July 1913. Having taken private flying lessons in early 1939, he enlisted in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in October of that year. After Pilot training, he was posted to 110 Squadron as a Sergeant Pilot, flying Blenheim IV’s and Sunderland’s, from R.A.F. Wattisham, Suffolk, in June 1941. Gimsey flew his first sortie on 5 June, against enemy shipping at Zeebrugg. However after just over a month, he was posted to 14 Squadron in the Middle East. Again piloting Blenheim IV’s, the first few months consisted in the main of non offensive flights and leaflet raids over enemy troops. However from mid November 1941, he took part in eight anti-tank strikes on the El Adem-Tobruk, in support of the 8th Army. On 9 December, he and his crew were compelled to bail out their Blenheim on returning from a strike against El Timini aerodrome.

According to fellow crew member, Pilot Officer Speller, ‘We returned from a solo raid about the middle of December last in our aircraft, but darkness had fallen and visibility was nil, and we were unable to find our base in the desert. Being short of petrol we could not make one of the emergency landing grounds. The pilot [Grimsey] therefore climbed but as we reached 3000 feet the engines started to cut. He gave the order to bale out; the Air Gunner went first and I followed, the pilot coming after me. As it was pitch black I could see nothing and had no sensation of falling. I don’t remember pulling the rip cord but I know I was very surprised at the “jerk” I felt; it was nothing like as severe as I had been led to believe. The chute opened perfectly - even the pilot who was down to nearly 2000 feet, before being able to leave the aircraft, made a successful descent, although owing to an awkward landing he sustained minor fractures in both legs. Both the Air Gunner and I were unhurt.’

In February 1942, his injuries healed and now a member of the celebrated ‘Caterpillar Club’, Grimsey returned to operations with 14 Squadron. Commissioned in the following month, he participated in three more sorties, including two anti-submarine patrols and in June 1942, when he flew in a number of raids against Heraklion aerodrome on Crete, and enemy units in the Sidi Barrani area. By this stage of the North Africa operations his Commanding Officer was Wing Commander R. ‘Boffin’ Maydell, who would later describe how the Squadron’s mounting casualties were beginning to have a serious effect on morale - in April 1942 alone, 14 Squadron lost 21 Blenheims and 28 aircrew, the majority as a result of accidents caused by a shift from daylight formation bombing to night bombing.

In August 1942, 14 Squadron became the first R.A.F. unit to be equipped with Martin B-26 Marauders, then considered one of the fastest and most advanced day bombers ever built, but notoriously difficult to handle, so much so that the aircraft type quickly became known as the ‘Widow Maker’. Grimsey completed his first outing in the type in November 1942, a reconnaissance over Crete. The majority of operations over the next year were carried out in the Aegean theatre of war. Some of the more notable examples including a torpedo strike on a 4,000-ton enemy merchant vessel off Melos on 31 January 1943 - which resulted in a 15-minute counter-attack by Ju. 88s, one of which was claimed as a probable; and, as the Squadron moved to new hunting grounds off the Albanian, Italian, and Yugoslavian coasts, the destruction of an enemy radio station north of Durazzo on 2 November 1943, when Grimsey led three Spitfire squadrons and remained over the target to witness the successful conclusion of the operation, afterwards gaining photographic evidence of the same - ‘the Spitboys did a grand job as usual’, he later commented to a Reuters reporter. But in between such successes were a number of sorties that resulted in Grimsey’s Marauder coming under return fire, his flying log book referring to several close shaves - ‘Fired at and hit by enemy convoy … Chased by Me. 109s … Chased by enemy fighters … Fired at by Auxiliary vessel and a./c. … Attacked by Arado Float Plane … &c.’. He also completed a successful Air Sea Rescue mission on 20 October 1943, when he located a Sergeant Ritchie in his dingy in the Adriatic and circled until a Walrus aircraft had effected his rescue.

Having had just a four month ‘rest’ in England as an instructor in the summer of 1943, he left the Squadron in January 1944, by which time he had completed 49 operational sorties. Having spent the previous four months as an Acting Squadron Leader of 14 Squadron, in February 1944, Grimsey was promoted Acting Wing Commander and Commanding Officer of 52 Squadron. Flying Baltimores out of Sicily and Gibraltar, he took part in anti-U-boat patrols, before being posted 24 Squadron in May 1944. 24 Squadron was at this time a ‘V.I.P. Flight’, operating Dakotas out of Hendon. During an appointment that Grimsey was to hold until July 1947, he took part in a great number of missions, many of huge importance: as evidenced by his flying log books and subsequent A.F.C. recommendation he flew countless missions, not least as leader of the 11 aircraft assigned to Operation Argonaut, the R.A.F’s part in the famous Yalta Conference in January 1945. In fact his duties, latterly as part of Transport Command, took him to Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Egypt, France (including return flights to Paris with the Secretary of State for War), Germany (including work for the War Crimes Commission at Nuremberg), Gibraltar (where, at short notice, in ‘exceptionally poor weather conditions’, he flew out the Governor and his wife, Lady Eastwood, to Northolt), India, Italy, Malta, Norway, and Switzerland, amongst other locations.

In July 1948 Grimsey was despatched to Germany to assist with the planning and running of Operation Plainfare, otherwise known as the Berlin Airlift, himself participating in a number of flights with V.I.P.s or freight, prior to returning to the U.K. in September 1949 to an appointment at R.A.F. North Luffenham. For his services he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

Grimsey’s subsequent appointments included a stint at H.Q. Transport Command (Training) and as a N.A.T.O. Staff Officer in 1954. Latterly employed at the R.A.F. Record Office, and on further training duties, with the occasional ride in jets, he was placed on the Retired List in the course of 1968.

Sold with a large quantity of original documentation, including the recipient’s three Royal Air Force Flying Log Books, covering his flying between August 1940 and 1964; the recipient’s Civil Flying Log Book; Northern Ireland Air Ministry Certificate of Competency and Licence to Fly Private Flying Machines; Buckingham Palace enclosure letter for the O.B.E. and related warrants , dated May 1949, and several congratulatory letters regarding the same; Caterpillar Club membership card; Czech Pilot’s Flying Badge certificate of award and related forwarding letter from the Czech Inspectorate, London; Coronation Medal 1953 Bestowal Certificate; M.O.D. retirement letter; wartime I.D. tags; together with the recipient’s record of service and other research.