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

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Date of Auction: 16th April 2020

Sold for £14,000

Estimate: £6,000 - £8,000

An exceptional Second War ‘Spitfire pilot’s’ D.F.C., D.F.M. group of seven awarded to Squadron Leader A. C. Leigh, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, a ‘Battle of Britain’ veteran who had numerous confirmed and probable aerial victories in 1940-41. Shot down over the Channel in 1943, he converted to Mustangs in 1944 and took part in many sorties in support of the D-Day landings, claiming a large number of ground ‘victories’ and being shot down again over St Mere Eglise. After a period of ‘buzz bomb’ hunting, during which he shot down two, he flew in support of Operation Market Garden, spending the rest of his service on bomber escorts and sweeps over Germany

Distinguished Flying Cross, G.VI.R., reverse officially dated ‘1944’; Distinguished Flying Medal, G.VI.R. (748525. Sgt. A. C. Leigh. R.A.F.); 1939-45 Star; 1 copy clasp, Battle of Britain; Air Crew Europe Star, 1 clasp, France and Germany; Defence and War Medals 1939-45; Air Efficiency Award, G.VI.R., 1st issue (Flt. Lt. A. C. Leigh. R.A.F.V.R.) mounted as worn, generally good very fine (7) £6,000-£8,000


D.F.C. London Gazette 19 September 1944.

The original recommendation states: ‘Since being awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal this officer has completed many sorties, during which he has attacked many enemy targets such as locomotives, mechanical transport and trucks with damaging effect; he has also shot down an enemy aircraft. This officer continues to display a high degree of courage and resolution.’

D.F.M. London Gazette 9 September 1941.

The original recommendation states: ‘Sergeant Leigh has completed 170 hours operational flying, including 50 sweeps over enemy occupied territory. Throughout these operations he has exhibited skill as a section leader. He has destroyed 2 Me 109’s, assisted in the destruction of a Do 17, and has probably destroyed another 4 Me 109’s. In addition he has damaged 3 other enemy aircraft. He has taken part in several low level attacks over N. France, in which he has shown great judgement and skill. His determination and initiative has provided an excellent example to other Sergeant pilots.’

Arthur Charles Leigh was born in London on 15 October 1919. A clothing shop assistant in Cambridge, he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in June 1939 and took lessons to fly. Called up at the outbreak of war, he was posted to Flight Training School, where he flew Masters and Havards, before converting to Spitfires. He joined 64 Squadron as a Sergeant Pilot on 25 September 1940, before being posted to 72 Squadron at R.A.F. Leconfield on 11 October of that year. Flying Spitfire I’s, he took part in his first operational flights during this month, a month forever associated with the Battle of Britain. On 8 November 1940, Leigh was posted to 611 Squadron at R.A.F. Acklington. Over the next two months, he took part in numerous operations, culminating in his first official aerial Victory, the shared destruction of a Do17 on 21 December.

Over the following eight months, Sergeant Leigh took part in a large number of operations. Showing himself to be a highly skilled and aggressive pilot, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal in August 1941. The following Victory claims being taken from his logbook; flying Spitfires I, II’s, V’s and V b’s:
14 November 1940 – Ju 88 Damaged
17 December 1940 – Do 17 Destroyed (shared)
27 December 1940 – Do 17 Damaged
28 May 1941 - 1 Me 109 Probably destroyed
19 June 1941 - 1 Me 109 Destroyed
19 June 1941 - 1 Me 109 Probably destroyed (shared)
22 June 1941 - 1 Me 109 Probably destroyed
4 July 1941 - 1 Me 109 Probably destroyed
4 July 1941 - 1 Me 109 Damaged
23 July 1941 - 1 Me 109 Probably destroyed
2 August 1941 - 1 Me 109 Damaged
19 August 1941 - 1 Me 109 Destroyed
2 September 1941 - 1 Me 109 Destroyed

Leigh was commissioned Flight Lieutenant in early October 1941 and on 21 October was posted to C.F.S. Upavon for an instructor’s course. Spending the next year and a half on courses and as an instructor, Leigh was posted to Gibraltar in April 1943, from where he ferried Hurricanes to Cairo. Posted to 56 Squadron, during an escort raid over St Omer on 9 August 1943, Leigh’s Typhoon was hit by flak and he was forced to bail out over the channel, 6 miles from Gris Nez. Its not clear how long it was before he was picked up, but according to his son, it was long enough for a telegram to be sent to his wife telling her he had been killed! Leigh however was eventually picked up by an Air Sea Rescue launch. His logbook simply notes ‘Picked up by ASR Launch’, ‘1 car damaged; Gun boat beaten up’!

On 20 September 1943, Leigh was posted to 129 Squadron. Initially flying Spitfire IXb’s, he took part in numerous operations over Northern France, before a relatively quiet period in early 1944. Whist with this squadron, he flew a most interesting Spitfire; it is well known that during the War, donations were made by the public for the purchase of aircraft. However, the lot includes three original 1944 letters to and from Leigh thanking the people of Machkos and Meru, Kenya, for the donation of a Spitfire named “Kamba-Meru”, that Leigh flew with 129 Squadron. In one letter Leigh tells of sorties and attacks he has made in this aircraft and of a combat with a F.W.190.

In April 1944, the squadron converted to Mustang III’s, taking part in his first offensive operation in this type on 26 April, when he strafed a train. During May, operations increased, Leigh claiming various ground vehicles damaged. On D-Day, 6th June 1944, Leigh escorted the Airborne Division to the beachhead and throughout the rest of the month, took part in various bombing and strafing attacks, leading his squadron on several occasions and making numerous claims. On 22 June he was shot down for a second time, his Mustang being hit by Flak and he was forced to land near St Mere Eglise; though he was back in action two days later. July 1944 started in the vein before moving on to ‘Buzz bomb’ (V1 rocket) hunting, something that would occupy much of the next two months and during which Leigh would shoot down two over the Channel. Having been Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in September, that month he was involved in a large number of escort flights over the Ruhr and Holland, including Glider force escorts and operations over Arnhem.

Leigh’s last operational flights in the months of October to December 1944 consisted of a large number of Bomber escorts flights and sweeps over targets in Germany; many over the Ruhr, Cologne, Munster, Frankfurt, Dortmund &c. Also noted are two Dambuster escorts on 4 and 8 December 1944: during the former, Leigh had engine failure and crash landed near Colchester. On leaving the Squadron, the squadron leader wrote in his logbook ‘Very sorry to see you go Joe, No one can take your place either in the Squadron or in my regard.’

Leigh’s final tally of claims on Mustang III’s was:
26 April 1944 – Train hit
20 May 1944 – Ammunition train hit (overturned)
22 May 1944 – 1 train damaged
2 June 1944 – 1 barge damaged
7 June 1944 – 2 Lorries destroyed, 3 damaged, 4 A.F.V’s damaged and a staff car destroyed
8 June 1944 – 3 Lorries damaged
10 June 1944 – 1 Truck damaged
20 June 1944 – Tank and truck damaged
27 July 1944 – 1 V1 ‘Buzz bomb’ destroyed over sea
28 August 1944 – 1 V1 ‘Buzz bomb’ destroyed over sea

On completing his second tour in December, Leigh went on a gunnery course to R.A.F. Catfoss and afterwards became an instructor. In December 1945 he was released from the Royal Air Force with the rank of Squadron Leader. In later life he started a successful architectural hardware business in Norwich. He attended many Battle of Britain reunions and other events, and died on 3 July 2004, aged 84.

Sold with the recipient’s Royal Air Force Pilot’s Log Book, detailing all flights between 8 September 1940 and 10 December 1945; an original photograph of Leigh as a Sergeant Pilot, circa 1940, and another of him in the cockpit of a Spitfire; various Battle of Britain related reunion invitations &c., and copied research and newspaper cuttings.

For the recipient’s related miniature awards, see Lot 808.