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

Date of Auction: 13th January 2021

Sold for £14,000

Estimate: £6,000 - £8,000

A well-documented post-War ‘Air Observation Post’ D.S.O group of six awarded to Lieutenant-Colonel J. M. H. Hailes, Royal Artillery, who specialised in the hazardous task of flying light, slow, cramped and unarmed Auster spotter planes over hostile territory in Palestine, Malaya, and Korea in the face of determined opposition and dangerous circumstances but nonetheless always attempted to engage enemy targets, efforts that also saw him twice Mentioned in Despatches; in Korea he identified and fixed Chinese artillery positions for counter-bombardments by 1 Commonwealth Division or by US heavy guns

Distinguished Service Order, E.II.R., silver-gilt and enamel, reverse undated, with integral top riband bar; 1939-45 Star; War Medal 1939-45; General Service 1918-62, 3 clasps, Palestine 1945-48, Malaya, Cyprus, additional clasps unofficially attached, with M.I.D. oak leaf (Capt. J. M. H. Hailes. R.A.); Korea 1950-53, 1st issue (Major J. M. H. Haines [sic]. D.S.O. R.A.); U.N. Korea 1950-54, unnamed as issued, generally very fine and better (6) £6,000-£8,000


D.S.O. London Gazette 24 April 1953:
‘In recognition of gallant and distinguished flying services in Korea’.

The original recommendation states: ‘Major Hailes has been in command of 1903 Air OP Flight RAF since July 1952. He joined the Flight at a time when two pilots had been shot down and two others had changed. There was therefore concern at the possibility of the operational efficiency of the Flight dropping considerably. In the event this did not happen and, in fact, the reverse was the case as the Flight went from strength to strength. The credit for this rests entirely with Major Hailes. From the very outset he was complete master of the situation and displayed leadership of the highest order in all spheres but most particularly from the operational aspect. He himself did far more flying than his duties as Flight Commander called for and it was characteristic of his him that he would always use the most doubtful aircraft leaving the others for the remaining pilots. His magnificent example, efficiency and courage during this difficult period was a great inspiration to the more experienced pilots and filled the younger ones with unshakeable confidence. While going to great pains to train his younger pilots he carried, at the same time, an even greater share of the operational sorties than would have been his in a normal situation. He has personally flown 125 sorties and conducted 166 shoots with guns of the Divisional and Corps artillery. In doing this he has been responsible for inflicting many casualties of both men and equipment on the enemy. The whole Division has the greatest respect and admiration for the Air OP Flight and this is a direct result of the magnificent leadership, courage and conscientiousness consistently displayed by Major Hailes throughout the period. His work in all spheres has been far above what one would expect in the normal line of duty and I recommend services of such a high order be recognised in the form of an appropriate award.’

M.I.D. London Gazette 7 January 1949 (Palestine)
‘In recognition of gallant and distinguished service in Palestine during the period 27 March to 26 September 1947.’

M.I.D. London Gazette 27 April 1951:
‘In recognition of gallant and distinguished service in Malaya during the period 1 July to 31 December 1950.’

John Martin Hunter ‘Jack’ Hailes was born on 27 January 1920 in Maymyo, a pleasant hill station in central Burma where, in the early 1920’s, George Orwell served as Assistant District Superintendent of Police. As a young boy he lived in Mandalay, where his father was a District Superintendent of Railways. He was educated at Cheltenham College, his father’s alma mater. As war approached, Hailes decided to join the regular army and entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich in January 1939. As war became inevitable, the pace of his training was accelerated and he was sent to 122 Officer Cadet Training Unit in August. He was commissioned Second Lieutenant, Royal Artillery, on 9 December 1939, with regimental seniority from 4 November 1939, and was posted as a Troop Commander to 51st Anti-tank Regiment, 51st (Highland) Division, which landed in France in January 1940 to join the British Expeditionary Force.

The Battle of France
On 19 April 1940 the 51st Division was detached from the rest of the B.E.F. It was put under French command and moved to a section of the Franco-German frontier just south of Luxembourg and in front of one of the most powerful and impressive showpiece underground fortresses of the Maginot Line, the Ouvrage Hackenburg, which had been inspected by King George VI. The intent was to stiffen Allied defences at the northern end of the Maginot Line in case of a German attack on the western front during the invasion of Norway. France had briefly invaded German Saar in this sector in September 1940 when its ally Poland was attacked. Since Norway was now under German attack, the French High Command deemed it prudent to anticipate possible enemy action on the Western Front.

The Germans did not oblige the French generals by attacking their Maginot defence works. They simply outflanked them and by the end of May had trapped the entire Allied northern forces in the Dunkirk beachhead. Meanwhile, the French desperately tried to form a new defence line along the River Somme in Picardy. Fortress Hackenburg was harassed by German forces but never directly attacked. The 51st Division was withdrawn from Lorraine and moved by train and road to Picardy. It saw much action assisting the French in their futile attempts to repulse the Germans from the Somme bridgeheads at Abbeville. After further clashes at Huchenneville, the Division was reduced to half its fighting strength by 6 June and was desperately short of supplies, especially ammunition.

The only remaining option was evacuation by sea. 154 Brigade was rescued from Le Havre and Cherbourg but the rest of the Division was encircled. The Royal Navy landed at the small port of St Valery-en-Caux near Dieppe on 10 June to try to snatch as many men as possible. Unfortunately, the retreat of 51th Division to the coast had been held up, and a thick fog descended during the night of 11-12 which made it too risky for ships to enter and leave the port. All artillery ammunition had run out and the Division was forced to surrender to overwhelming German forces on 12 June. Hailes joined some 10,000 men who were marched off to prisoner-of-war camps in the Reich.

Hailes was promoted to Lieutenant on 9 June 1941 and remained a Prisoner of War in various camps in Poland, Germany and Austria until 13 April 1945. After his return to England, Hailes was assigned to a number of refresher courses and training appointments to prepare him for his promotion to Captain on 1 July 1946.

Northern Italy, Egypt, Palestine and Malaya
Early in 1946 Hailes decided that he wished to become a Royal Artillery Air Observer. The tethered kite balloons of the Great War had been very effective in acquiring targets far behind the frontlines and directing artillery to neutralise them, but balloons were useless for mobile warfare. They were replaced by small light aircraft, fitted with radios. Controlling artillery from the air was a specialised and technical skill, which the RAF had no interest in developing. However, since the days of Trenchard, the RAF hierarchy had insisted that anything that flew ‘belonged to them’. The agreed compromise was that the Air Observation Post (AOP) units themselves were part of the RAF, as were the aircraft and the more skilled members of the ground crew. The artillery would provide all the observers, and the non-technical ground staff. To be an air observer, Hailes had first to learn to fly a light aircraft to the satisfaction of the RAF. He duly began training at Marshall’s airfield, Cambridge on 24 April 1946, soloing for the first time in a Tiger Moth on 25 June. By the end of August, he was considered to be a proficient pilot in a tiny Auster high-wing spotting plane. When his training course ended in November 1946, Hailes was awarded his wings as a qualified Air OP and posted to 654 Air OP Squadron RAF in north-eastern Italy and then, from June 1947, the Canal Zone.

From August 1947 Hailes was transferred to 651 Air OP Squadron RAF as a Flight Commander. He was rated “Above Average, very smooth and extremely confident”. Palestine was classed as active service, and Hailes’s logbook records an increasing number of Internal Security flights, looking for signs of terrorists or ferrying senior police or Special Branch officers. On 6 January 1948 he dispersed an Arab ambush using his flare pistol. Three days later Hailes “Found Arabs advancing in open order. Got bullet through Kite above knees.” On 14 January “Heavily shot at over Yazur” and 25 February near Gaza “saw tail end of battle”. These incidents become too numerous to catalogue and no doubt were a key factor behind Hailes’s Mention in Despatches for his services in Palestine. After returning to England, he transferred from a temporary War Substantive Commission to a Regular Commission on 13 December 1948.

Hailes returned to Air OP work from June 1950 with a new posting as Section, then Flight Commander, 1911 Flight, 656 Air OP Squadron RAF, based at Seremban in Malaya. The risks here were primarily bad weather (heavy rainstorms and extreme turbulence were a daily fact of life for much of the year) and engine failure over jungle terrain with no open space on which to put down the aircraft. Hailes carried many VIP passengers, including the General Officer Commanding Malaya (26 September 1950) and the C.O. of 22 SAS (24 February 1952). In June 1951 he recorded “First operation with tanks, hit bandit camp with opening round of smoke.” And the next month “shot up a bandit basha in company with John Campbell using Vereys (flare pistols) and Stens”; “saw 4 bandits, engaged with Verey, burnt 2 bashas and lots of equipment and some rubber.” In August “saw 3 bandits in open, fired Verey, lost them before patrol could follow-up. Regret not using Sten.”

In November 1951 Hailes spotted an occupied bandit camp hidden in a swamp. He returned to confirm it later that day and, four days later, it was targeted for aerial bombing by RAF Lincolns, while he observed the bomb strikes. He tried to stop the raid once he saw that the camp had been destroyed. He “Got into trouble over this” and had to fly to Singapore “to explain why I interfered in airstrike.” Hailes developed a strong expertise in locating hidden communist camps and the cultivated areas which they depended on for food supplies. His Mention for Malaya was for a rather different kind of work than he had done in Palestine, but his adventurous and offensive spirit was the same.

In July 1952 Hailes was appointed OC of 1903 Independent Air OP Flight, based on a muddy airstrip near the Imjin River, covering the front line of 1st Commonwealth Division. By this stage of the war, the lines had become relatively static and were located just north of the 38th Parallel (the original North-South border), where both sides were deeply dug into bunkers and trenches in the mountains, with most combat activity originating from their artillery.

Commanding the Air Observation Posts was an especially demanding task. All the pilots flew solo and had to navigate, fly their aircraft and radio back orders to the various Divisional and Corps artillery batteries on the ground. In addition, Hailes had to understand and execute both the Army and the RAF administrative and training procedures (naturally they were wildly different, making the command of a nominally RAF but actually Army unit a thankless task which would overwhelm all but the most determined spirits). Unbroken by this absurd ‘Maginot Line’ of excessive paperwork, Hailes deliberately chose to fly operational spotting sorties for up to 50 hours per month, always taking up the most unreliable of the available aircraft to set an example and build up unit morale. Enhancing efficiency and unit esprit de corps was an important goal which he achieved by giving each of his pilots personal training aimed at addressing and correcting their technical faults.

Hailes was also accountable for the Divisional Air OP Flight’s speed of response to requests for artillery barrages and counter-battery work and for the serviceability of its Austers. He managed to deliver an impressive 80% Serviceability. This was “A measure of the job being done by the ground crews – half of whom are Army and half RAF – in snow, mud, cold, dust, or come what may. Whenever an A.O.P. lands from a sortie (generally of two and a half hours duration, but often as long as three hours) it is marshalled straight into its pen and made ready for the next operation. Well cared for as they are, however, the aircraft take a continuous beating, especially in winter. At one period engine and airframe icing was responsible for eight forced landings in ten days.” (Profile in Flight magazine 1 July 1953 refers).

The Communists had light flak guns well forward in strength and had shot down several Austers. In addition to the dangers posed by enemy ground anti-aircraft fire and engine failure behind hostile lines, each OP pilot had to judge for themselves the path of friendly shells to avoid being hit or knocked down by a supersonic projectile. “Precautions notwithstanding, the Austers are frequently rocked by the shells, and one pilot who underestimated the American ‘Long Toms’ [155mm guns] found himself on his back.” (Flight ibid)

Hailes was promoted to Major on 9 December 1952. When his time in Korea came to an end in April 1953, he had completed an impressive 178 operational sorties, engaged 315 targets and been awarded a well-deserved D.S.O.

Hailes was next posted as a Battery Commander in 23rd Field Regiment in the UK. He then abandoned all prospects of developing his military career further by choosing to return to Air OP work, this time with 1910 Air OP Flight at RAF Nicosia in Cyprus, 1956-1958. Hailes closed out his aerial adventures as a Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel, commanding 653 Light Aircraft Squadron Army Air Corps. His accumulated flying time on his beloved Austers was an amazing 2,375 hours.

Hailes retired from the army with the Honorary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel on 5 September 1960. In 1963 he set up Coinage Ltd, a firm that manufactured vending machines. He settled with his family at Chiselborough House in Somerset, and died on 2 October 1995.

Sold together with the recipient’s original Commission Document; D.S.O. Bestowal Document; and two Mention in Despatches Certificates; the recipient’s 4 Flying Log Books, covering the period 6 June 1946 to 20 January 1959; the recipient’s No. 1 Dress uniform, comprising tunic and trousers, the tunic with unit insignia, Major’s rank insignia, and riband bars; the recipient’s No. 2 Dress uniform, comprising tunic and trousers, the tunic with unit insignia, Major’s rank, insignia and riband bars; the recipient’s No. 4 Dress tunic, with unit insignia and riband bars; a photograph album documenting his life up to 1954 and many annotated loose military photos including of the recipient, his aircraft and flight crew; together with various newspaper and magazine cuttings; and other ephemera.

For the recipient’s related miniature awards, see Lot 723.