A Collection of Awards to the Royal Flying Corps, Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Air Force

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Date of Auction: 28th March 2012

Sold for £29,000

Estimate: £18,000 - £20,000

The extremely rare and important Great War D.S.O. and Bar group of five awarded to Major A. M. Wilkinson, Royal Air Force, late Hampshire Regiment and Royal Flying Corps, who gained a total of 19 victories in D.H. 2s of No. 24 Squadron and Bristol Fighters of No. 48 Squadron, nine of them in “Bloody April” 1917 and at least four of these in a single day - statistics that made him only second to Albert Ball, V.C., in attaining a double figure score and being awarded a “Double D.S.O.”

Distinguished Service Order, G.V.R., in silver-gilt and enamel, with Second Award Bar; British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf (Major A. M. Wilkinson, R.F.C.); Defence and War Medals 1939-45, M.I.D. oak leaf, enamel slightly chipped on obverse wreath of the first, generally good very fine (5) £18000-20000

Footnote

Approximately 25 “Double D.S.Os” were awarded to pilots in the Great War, five of whom were also holders of the Victoria Cross.

D.S.O. London Gazette 20 October 1916:

‘For conspicuous gallantry and skill. He has shown great dash in attacking enemy machines, and, up to the end of August, he had accounted for five. On one occasion, while fighting a hostile machine, he was attacked from behind, but out manoeuvred the enemy and shot him down. Finally he got back, his machine much damaged by machine-gun fire.’

Bar to D.S.O. London Gazette 26 May 1917:

‘For great skill and gallantry. He came down to a low altitude and destroyed a hostile scout which was attacking one of our machines, the pilot of which had been wounded, thereby saving it. In one day he shot down and destroyed six hostile machines. He has destroyed eight hostile machines during the past ten days and has displayed exceptional skill and gallantry in leading offensive patrols.’

Alan Machin Wilkinson was born in Eastbourne, Sussex in November 1891 and was educated at Repton and Oriel College, Oxford, where he took a soccer Blue, and toured Argentina with the university side. Having then briefly been employed as a schoolmaster in Winchester, he was commissioned in the 9th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment (Territorial Force), on the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, but quickly transferred to the fledgling Royal Flying Corps and took his Aviator’s Certificate (No. 1398) in July 1915.

No. 24 Squadron


Going out to France with No. 24 Squadron in the Spring of 1916, he became one of the first pilots to fly fighting scouts in action, largely on the Somme front, and for a time at least, before higher authority intervened, had a second Lewis gun fitted to his D.H. 2 No. 5966 (a.k.a. “Wilkie’s Bus”). He also became one of the R.F.C’s first aces and for a period reigned as the highest scoring scout pilot, achievements that surely pleased his gallant C.O., Major Lanoe Hawker, V.C., D.S.O., who would be killed in action on a squadron sortie later in the year.

The first of Wilkinson’s numerous victims fell to his guns over Peronne early on the morning of 16 May, when he claimed a brace of enemy aircraft out of control within half an hour of each other. Then in the following month, on the 17th, he claimed a Fokker E and an Albatross C in combats over Miraumont and Grevillers, together with an Albatross C over Achiet le Grand on the 18th and a Fokker E over the Bapaume-Peronne Road on the 19th. As a result of one of these combats, his aircraft returned to base ‘riddled with bullets’ - he was recommended by Brigadier-General E. B. Ashmor, 4th Brigade, R.F.C., for the Military Cross and was advanced to Flight Commander, though in the event the former distinction was not forthcoming.

Slightly wounded in a combat over Coloncamps on 22 June, he nonetheless continued to raise his score, a Fokker E falling to his guns over Le Sars on the 19 July, and four more assorted enemy aircraft types over the Somme front in August, including a brace on the 31st, as recounted by Major Hawker in his subsequent combat report:

‘About 11 enemy aircraft were observed attacking three F.Es and some B.E. 12s near Grevillers, but the de Havillands were underneath. Climbing, Captain Wilkinson attacked the nearest, a Roland, which was engaged with an F.E. He fired 50 rounds at about 80 yards and the enemy aircraft, leaving the F.E., dived east under the de Havilland. Captain Wilkinson followed, but was attacked from behind by another Roalnd. This he succeeded in outmanoeuvring by spiralling upwards, finally getting on the enemy aircraft’s tail, firing 40 rounds at about 80 yards. The enemy aircraft dived almost vertically, and was afterwards seen on the ground near Villers.

Lieutenant Capon, diving at a Roland, was shot through the leg below the knee. He finished his drum at close range, and returning landed successfully at Chipelly. Three more Rolands approached to attack, but Captain Wilkinson climbed and they made off east as soon as he reached their height. Later, Captain Wilkinson saw an L.V.G. approaching High Wood. He dived, keeping to a flank, and when within 70 yards, turned on the enemy aircraft’s tail. At this moment, Captain Wilkinson was fired on from behind, but he continued his attack on the L.V.G. under heavy fire from four Rolands, firing 50 rounds at about 20 yards range. The L.V.G. dived almost vertically under the de Havilland, and probably crashed, but Captain Wilkinson had to turn to meet the attack from behind. The four Roalnds were just above, and manoeuvred to take advantage of the de Havilland’s fixed gun, but Captain Wilkinson raised the mounting and engaged three of them with short bursts. Apparently taken by surprise, the enemy aircraft immediately retired east, one going down steeply, but apparently in control. Captain Wilkinson then retired owing to shortage of petrol, his emergency tank having been shot through. Also two struts were damaged, two main-spars pierced and six wires cut through.’


Wilkinson fought at least three more combats in September, including, it is believed, a tussle with Oswald Boelcke, and was awarded the D.S.O. in October. He was also mentioned in despatches (London Gazette 4 January 1917 refers). He returned to the Home Establishment.

No. 48 Squadron

Next posted to No. 48 Squadron, which was forming with the new Bristol F2A Fighters, he accompanied the unit out to France as a Flight Commander in the Spring of 1917 and was quickly in action on Thursday 5 April 1917, when, as recounted in Bloody April ... Black September, by Norman Franks, Russell Guest and Frank Bailey, the Squadron came up against “Richthofen’s Flying Circus”, and his fellow Flight Commander, Captain Leefe Robsinson, V.C., was shot down and taken prisoner. It was a costly start to the F2As introduction to front line service, and though much credit has been given to the Canadian ace, Andrew McKeever, for advancing the combat success of this type, it would be fair to say that Wilkinson and a fellow squadron pilot, Captain David Tidmarsh, were equally responsible for employing the right tactics for success from an early hour. And categoric proof for that contention is to be found in Wilkinson’s remarkable tally of ensuing victories - nine of them claimed in the Arras offensive in April 1917 and at least four of these in a single day.

Of the latter encounter, fought over the Lens-Arras sector on 9 April, his D.S.O. citation actually credits Wilkinson with six “kills”. And the following extract, taken from the recommendation for his immediate Bar to his D.S.O. - submitted by Major A. V. “Zulu” Bettington - appears to support this higher claim: if so, he was first Commonwealth pilot to claim six-in-a-day:

‘On 9 April 1917, while patrolling over enemy lines, at about 12,000 feet, an Albatross 2-seater was seen about 8,000 feet below, which without hesitation, and in spite of it being so low over its own lines, was promptly dived on and a burst from the pilots gun fired, when the enemy aircraft turned and after more shots fired into it, was sent down obviously out of control, finally being seen to hit the ground. Later confirmation of the destruction of this enemy aircraft was reported by A.A. and another aeroplane. This was a big dive down from 12,000 feet and showed great dash. The fight finished at only 3,500 feet.

After the above mentioned fight, when Captain Wilkinson’s partner had been compelled to return to the aerodrome owing to engine trouble, this gallant officer, fully appreciating the importance of events taking place on the ground beneath and knowing that he was relied on by me to maintain a patrol, carried on alone. Very shortly afterwards, finding three large 2-seater enemy aircraft, flying low near our lines and obviously trying to range hostile artillery, and being escorted by three fast Scouts much higher up, Captain Wilkinson hung round skilfully keeping hos own machine out of sight as much as possible by getting between the Artillery machines, the sun and the clouds; waiting a favourable opportunity to attack this far superior number, an opportunity soon presented itself when a big cloud came over between the escorting Scouts and the Artillery-ranging machines. He dived among them from behind and both pilot and Observer opened fire. The attack being so sudden and swift, none of the enemy aircraft attempted to fight but dived hard. However, Captain Wilkinson dived equally fast getting a series of bursts of about 100 rounds altogether into one at between 50 and 75 yards, which promptly went down hopelessly out of control. Meanwhile, the Observer, Lieutenant L. W. Allen, brought his gun to bear on another enemy machine at about 150 yards range, sending the second down obviously hard hit. The third enemy aircraft was not seen again, neither were the Scouts overhead, when Captain Wilkinson reappeared from under the cloud.


For the third time on the same date, and when only one other machine of his patrol still remained with him, he was patrolling over the enemy lines at about 11,000 feet, when two enemy aircraft were seen, upon which he promptly dived, opening fire on the lower one, and then turned up under the second within 30 feet, so as to give his Observer a favourable shot, which he was unable to take advantage of owing to gun trouble, but he called Captain Wilkinson’s attention to three other enemy aircraft diving on him from above and behind. One of these enemy aircraft fastened on to the other machine of the patrol, closing with extraordinary rapidity. Captain Wilkinson swung his machine to give his Observer a shot and endeavoured to drive the enemy machine off his partner’s tail. At this target a good bursts was got in as the enemy aircraft passed his bows, at about 30 yards, but then Captain Wilkinson was again attacked by another hostile Scout, which came right up to the tail of his machine. This enemy aircraft very soon fell away out of control after receiving the best part of a drum of ammunition from 30 yards range from the Observer’s gun. The other Bristol Fighter then swept past with an enemy aircraft right on his tail. Captain Wilkinson’s gun having jammed, he smartly manoeuvred round to bring his Observer’s fire to bear at close range, and after a good burst the enemy aircraft was seen to drop away out of control. The Observer’s gun now jammed as well, so Captain Wilkinson put his own machine into a vertical spiral, while a third enemy Scout, evidently realising his difficulty, endeavoured to get on to his tail, firing bursts at him all the time. The spiral was continued until the Observer had rectified his gun and signalled the pilot to that effect. Captain Wilkinson immediately assumed the offensive again, and when the enemy aircraft banked, fire was brought to bear at 15 yards range, and the third then fell away to earth out of control. After this the remaining enemy aircraft were seen to be beating a hasty retreat East, down a strong wind, and Captain Wilkinson then rejoined the other machine of his patrol, which had practically been put out of action in the engagement as the passenger has been shot dead in his cockpit, and the machine itself had lost all power of manoeuvre owing to some of the control and flying wires having been shot away, the rudder being jammed by the body of the dead Observer, four internal bracing wires cut and nine bullets having hit the glass wind screen.

Captain Wilkinson’s machine bore the brunt of this grand fight and only his indomitable pluck, tenacity, manoeuvring and devotion to duty as leader, coupled with splendid shooting both by himself and his Observer, saved the other machine from falling easy prey to the enemy ... ’

Before the month was out, Wilkinson had shared in the destruction of three further enemy aircraft, including a brace of Albatross DIIIs over Vitry en Artois on the 13th, and another solo claim of that type on the 22nd.

In May 1917, the same month the immediate Bar to his D.S.O. was gazetted, he was appointed C.O. of No. 23 Squadron, a Spad S VII unit hitherto of little distinction, but by the time he had departed this command on account of appendicitis in August, it was already an efficient fighting unit with numerous claims to its credit. Wilkinson received another “mention” (London Gazette 11 December 1917 refers). However, protracted active service was taking its toll, and he was shortly thereafter diagnosed with neurasthenia - to all intents and purposes a nervous breakdown. He finished the War as an Acting Lieutenant-Colonel in command of an Aerial Fighting School and and was transferred to the Unemployed List in November 1919.

Wilkinson pursued a successful career in advertising between the Wars, and was appointed a Director of the London Press Exchange in 1938, but the renewal of hostilities witnessed his return to uniform as a Station C.O. at Martlesham and West Malling, in which capacity he was awarded two further “mentions” (London Gazettes 17 March 1941 and 1 January 1942 refer). He died in Kent in June 1972, having been present at the unveiling of a memorial window to his old C.O., Major Lanoe Hawker, V.C., D.S.O., at Longparish Church in May 1968.

Sold with a comprehensive file of research.