Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (13 January 2021)

Date of Auction: 13th January 2021

Sold for £30,000

Estimate: £20,000 - £30,000

The exceptional Second War ‘Photo Reconnaissance Unit’ D.S.O., D.F.C. and Second Award Bar, post-war A.F.C., United States of America D.F.C. and Korean War ‘Sabre Jet’ Pilot’s United States of America Air Medal group of twelve awarded to Group Captain J. R. H. Merifield, Royal Air Force, widely recognised as one of the finest Mosquito and PRU pilots of the Second War, he flew in over 160 operational sorties and took the first photograph of a V1 rocket on a launch ramp - over the Luftwaffe Test Installation, Peenemunde West, Usedom Island

Merifield went on to break two flying records, one over the Atlantic and one in South East Asia, prior to serving in Korea. At the outbreak of the Korean War, Merifield was one of a small number of R.A.F. officers seconded to the United States Air Force. He served with the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing and flew in 20 combat missions with the U.S.A.F. against the communists in the famed F-86 Sabre Jet. Group Captain Merifield was killed during a flying accident, along with his instructor, whilst carrying out a Whirlwind helicopter conversion course at R.A.F. Upavon in 1961.

Distinguished Service Order, G.VI.R., silver-gilt and enamel, reverse officially dated ‘1944’, reverse centre loose, with integral top riband bar; Distinguished Flying Cross, G.VI.R., with Second Award Bar, reverse of cross officially dated ‘1942’, and additionally engraved ‘J. R. H. Merifield 1.6.42’, the reverse of Bar officially dated ‘1944’; Air Force Cross, E.II.R., reverse officially dated ‘1956’; 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star, 1 clasp, Air Crew Europe; Italy Star; War Medal 1939-45; Korea 1950-53, 1st issue (Sqn. Ldr. J. R. H. Merifield. R.A.F.); U.N. Korea 1950-54; Air Efficiency Award, G.VI.R., 1st issue (Act. Wg. Cdr. J. R. H. Merifield. R.A.F.V.R.); United States of America, Distinguished Flying Cross, reverse engraved ‘John H. Merifield.’; Air Medal, unnamed as issued, mounted as orginally worn, remnants of lacquer, generally very fine (12) £20,000-£30,000


Provenance: J. B. Hayward Collection - which was then sold in Hayward’s Gazette, 3 October 1974, when it was described as ‘The finest combination of Decorations to the R.A.F. that has appeared for sale.’

D.S.O. London Gazette 11 February 1944, the original Recommendation states:

‘This officer has proved himself an exceptionally able photographic reconnaissance pilot. He has taken part in many long range flights. In addition he has also undertaken several successful night photographic sorties. Squadron Leader Merifield has been a most distinguished flight commander. He has completed much valuable experimental work.’

D.F.C. London Gazette 2 June 1942, the original Recommendation states:

‘This officer has carried out important long distance reconnaissance flights with highly successful results. He has displayed great skill and determination.’

D.F.C. Second Award Bar London Gazette 3 October 1944, the original Recommendation states:

‘Since the invasion of Northern France the squadron has completed many sorties against the enemy communication systems and military installations. Much success has been achieved in which Wing Commander Merifield has played a leading part. He planned the missions, advised of the tactics to be adopted and invariably undertook the more dangerous tasks himself. On two of these his brilliant work was well proved by the perfection of the photographs which he secured.’

A.F.C. London Gazette 2 January 1956.

United States of America D.F.C. London Gazette 17 October 1950:

‘For services during the period 1939-45.’

United States of America Air Medal London Gazette 6 August 1954:

‘For valuable service in Korea. For courage, aggressiveness and proficiency in frequent encounters with high performance enemy jet aircraft’

John Roy Hugh Merifield was born in March 1920, and was the son of Captain J. H. Merifield, D.S.O. of 232 Hill Lane, Southampton. Merifield was educated at King Edward VI School, Southampton, and joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in 1939 having cut short his studies at Oxford University (where he was a member of the Oxford University Air Squadron). He carried out initial training as a Pilot, and was posted to the School of Army Cooperation at Old Sarum in early 1940. Merifield was then posted for operational flying with 540 Squadron as part of the Photo Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) at Leuchars, and went on to complete over 160 sorties in Mosquitos.

Merifield carried out reconnaissance missions to Norway, and long-range trips to German and Polish Baltic ports. He became widely regarded as one of the best Photo Reconnaissance pilots of the Second War, and took the first photograph of a V1 rocket on a launch ramp - over the Luftwaffe Test Installation, Peenemunde West, Usedom Island. This was the photograph from which Flight Officer Constance Babington-Smith, a photographic interpreter at the Allied Central Interpretation Unit, R.A.F. Medenham, confirmed the existence of the V1. She later went on to write Photographic Intelligence in World War II, Evidence in Camera, in which she relates the following:

‘It so happened that, while this search was in progress, on the morning of November 28th, 1943, a Mosquito was on its way across the North Sea from Scotland to try for “D.A.” cover of Berlin. It was a time of steady bad weather over central Europe, and a whole series of attempts to photograph Berlin had failed.

The pilot was Squadron Leader John Merifield, who since Alistair Taylor went missing was quietly emerging as the steadiest and most talented of the Mosquito pilots at Leuchars. It was Merifield (when war broke out he was a nineteen-year-old undergraduate at Oxford) who in March 1942 had flown the cover of Königsberg - a landmark of great significance: for the first time the whole of northern Germany was within range.

Merifield and his navigator, Flying Officer [W. N.] Whalley, approached the Berlin area from the north, but when they reached the city they realised that they would not be able to take any photographs there. The cloud was solid below them. Merifield knew, however, that it was much clearer on the Baltic coast, as they had come in that way. So he turned northwards and set course for the alternative targets that had been picked for him at briefing. There were some shipping targets at Stettin and Swinemünde, a flock of airfields, a suspected radar installation at Zinnowitz on the island of Usedom, and various other odd jobs. One after another Merifield photographed them. After Zinnowitz there was still some film left, and Merifield always made a point of using up every scrap. What targets were left? The airfield at Peenemünde. That would just about do it. Flying westwards, Merifield switched on his cameras as he reached the northern tip of Usedom, and they clicked away as he crossed the airfield. Then home!

Three days later, on December 1st, while Kendall was arguing his case at the meeting in London, explaining step by step why he believed so strongly that the ski sites were for launching flying bombs, I was still combing Peenemünde for midgets. There was by this time a big accumulation of back covers, and re-examining them was an undertaking of some magnitude.

The fact that I had found the “Peenemünde 20” near a building I thought was an engine test-house led me to cast my eyes further afield than usual, towards the no-man’s land which lay between the area I was officially watching and the woods that marked the edge of the main experimental station..... There were four rather fancy modern buildings set by themselves in the open here.... I checked the activity near them from cover to cover, and surprisingly, I thought, I did not find one crumb of evidence to link them with the “Peenemünde 20”. On several dates there was an object resembling a midget airframe outside one of them.... I decided to follow the dead straight road which led northwards along the eastern boundary of the airfield towards the Baltic shore..... pursued the straight road leading to the water’s edge. Right at the end of the road was something I did not understand - unlike anything I had seen before....

Rumours of “launching rails” for secret weapons had reached me earlier, and ever since I had been briefed about pilotless aircraft I had been on the look-out for a catapult of some kind.... I pondered over the photographs and reviewed what I had found. There were four of these strange structures. Three of them looked very much like the sort of cranes that have a box for the operator and a long moveable arm. But the fourth seemed different, and it was the one that drew my attention the most..... I could see that in the ramp was something that had not been there before. A tiny cruciform shape, set exactly on the lower end of the inclined rails - a midget aircraft actually in position for launching....

But the ramp near the airfield was not the only one on the Baltic coast that was reported by Medenham on December 1st, 1943. John Merifield’s sortie had brought another piece of exciting news as well. The Air Ministry had asked for photographs of the “suspected radar installation at Zinnowitz” because they had heard that a Luftwaffe unit was plotting flying bombs launched from this location. So Claude Wavell, as the top radar interpreter, and Neil Simon and Robert Rowell in the Army Section, had been searching the wooded shoreline. And almost at the same moment that I was looking at the earlier cover, and asking myself what on earth the ramp near the airfield could be, they had found, between Zinnowitz and the village of Kempin, eight miles away down the coast of Usedom, a launching site with firing points aiming out to sea, which also matched up with the foundations for ramps at the ski sites. It was, in fact, a Luftwaffe centre for training the personnel who were going to operate the launching sites in France.

Before daylight next morning Kendall’s report on both Peenemünde and Zinnowitz was on its way to London, with the news that the nature of the most imminent cross-Channel threat was at last established beyond doubt. It was going to be a flying bomb.’

A. J. Brookes in his book, Photo Reconnaissance, adds the following:

‘John Merifield was one of the most talented Mosquito pilots in the R.A.F. His gentle touch and deft use of the trim wheel enabled him to coax that little bit more air mileage out of the Mosquito than anyone else. In his log book, this small unassuming man was assessed as ‘Exceptional’ both as a pilot-navigator and as an aerial photographer... PR Mosquitos also extended the PRU watch over continental Europe. On March 3rd, 1942, John Merifield had coaxed a PR I as far east as Königsberg on the Baltic, and the advent of the Mosquito PR IV brought the whole of industrial Germany and the Sudetenland within range of Benson. More and more factories came under the stereoscope at Medenham, varying from the famous Skoda armaments works at Pilsen to others of equal importance to the German war effort but whose existence hitherto had not been appreciated.’

Merifield’s flying ability was further illustrated in 1945, when flying a Mosquito, he set the record for the west to east crossing of the Atlantic with a time of 5 hours and ten minutes at an average speed of more than 445 mph. The following year, having advanced to Squadron Leader and been posted as Commanding Officer of 684 Squadron at Seletar, Singapore, Merifield made another record flight - in South East Asia - when he covered 2,500 miles in seven hours and 30 minutes to fetch important papers for the Governor-General of the Malayan Union. He made the news again the same year, when he made another ‘dash’ to parachute penicillin down to save the life of the British Resident at Belaga, Sarawak.

At the outbreak of the Korean War, Merifield was one of a small number of R.A.F. officers seconded to the United States Air Force. He served with the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing and flew in 20 combat missions with the U.S.A.F. against the communists in the famed F-86 Sabre Jet.

Having advanced to Wing Commander, Merifield was posted as officer commanding of the Day Fighter School, Central Fighter School, West Rainham, Norfolk in 1955. He was subsequently posted to the Air Ministry, and was posted to serve in the office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Tactical Air Command, U.S.A.F. Merifield advanced to Group Captain in 1958.

Group Captain Merifield was killed during a flying accident, along with his instructor, whilst carrying out a Whirlwind helicopter conversion course at R.A.F. Upavon in 1961. He is buried in Upavon Cemetery.

Sold with copied research, including old photocopies of original telegrams and press cuttings, and photographic images of recipient in uniform.