Awards to Men of the Battle of Britain

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Date of Auction: 20th September 2002

Sold for £3,500

Estimate: £2,400 - £2,800

Four: Squadron Leader J. H. G. Walker, Royal Air Force, a daring Blenheim pilot who flew through a gap in the mole wall at Borkum in November 1939, and afterwards throughout the Battle: he was killed in action following a sweep over St. Omer in May 1942

1939-45 Star, clasp, Battle of Britain; Air Crew Europe Star; Defence and War Medals good very fine (4) £2400-2800

Footnote

John Harold Gilbert Walker, who was from Nottinghamshire, entered the Royal Air Force on a short service commission in June 1937, was appointed a Pilot Officer in in May 1938 and afterwards attended a course at the School of Naval Co-operation at Ford, Sussex. Posted to No. 25 Squadron, a Blenheim unit based at Hawkinge, in February 1939, he participated in the Empire Day flypast at Stradishall that May, and gained advancement to Flying Officer shortly before the outbreak of hostilities.

Walker’s operational career got off to a spectacular start, when on 28 November 1939, in a strike against the enemy seaplane base at Borkum, he flew his Blenheim at such low altitude that he managed to skim through a gap in the mole wall, a feat later reported in the national press:

‘The patrol, which had been sent to reconnoitre the Borkum Island base and to attack any seaplanes in the air or at the base, emerged from cloud, after flying through a rainstorm, at a short distance from their targets. Before the main attack, the pilots spotted five seaplanes on slipways, together with coastal patrol boats. The patrol was flying in four sections of three aircraft each, and immediately dived for the various objectives, spraying machine-gun bullets from heights of sometimes well below 100 feet. One of the fighters [Walker in Blenheim ZK-N] skimmed through a gap in the mole. The Germans were taken completely by surprise. The fighter crews could see men running in all directions, while some gunners occupying a post on top of a hangar fell to the ground. For a while there was pandemonium. Then the anti-aircraft guns and the coastal patrol boats got into action, but the standard of firing was not very high. Undisturbed by the enemy’s pom-poms, and machine-guns, the British fighters pressed home their low-flying attacks. As one member of a crew said afterwards, “The Germans probably never thought that they would have to hit anything so low in the air.” Their task over, the fighters re-formed and flew back to England - 200 miles of the journey being covered in darkness. They were not intercepted by German aircraft during any period of the flight.’

The ensuing period of “The Phoney War” would witness Walker participating in at least 20 convoy escort and other defensive patrols, in addition to three successive offensive sorties to the Belgian and Dutch coasts in mid-May 1940. And the advent of the Battle in early July saw such work stepped up, Walker flying around 30 sorties, some of them at night, before the official closing date of Battle in late October. In the latter month, No. 25 had started to take delivery of its first Beaufighters, and intensive training in the new type took place in the closing months of 1940. And as revealed by Walker’s Flying Log Book, the Squadron started to achieve its first interceptions in the new year, although not always with success: ‘Defensive patrol. Sighted one He. 111. Unable to engage as enemy’s speed superior’ (Entry for 9 January 1941).

By now a Flight Lieutenant, Walker was posted for a period of rest at No. 54 O.T.U. at Church Fenton, an appointment that was followed by successive stints of service as an instructor at three different Signals Wings. Then in early March 1942, following attendance at No. 59 O.T.U., where he converted to single-engine fighters, he returned to the operational scene as a Squadron Leader with No. 118 Squadron, a Spitfire unit.

As part of the Ibsley Wing, under the command of the famous ace, Wing Commander I. R. “The Widge” Gleed, D.S.O., D.F.C., No. 118 would participate in numerous offensive Circus sweeps over the Channel, in addition to quite a few scrambles, Walker notching up at least 20 such operations over the next two months. It is certain, too, that he joined in the celebrations for the completion of the propaganda film, The First of the Few, starring Leslie Howard and David Niven, although whether he was one of the Wing’s pilots who appeared anonymously in some of the scenes remains unknown.

But tragedy was just around the corner, a Circus to St. Omer on 9 May 1942 proving disastrous for No. 118, its Spitfires being jumped by Fw. 190s. Six aircraft and four pilots were lost, Walker among them. His body was recovered from a dinghy found eight miles south of Dungeness 12 days later, his death almost certainly the result of exposure. Aged 23 years, he left a widow back at Wollaton in Nottinghamshire. The Squadron Leadser was interred locally at St. Leonard’s churchyard.

Sold with the recipient’s original Flying Log Books (2), covering the periods May 1937 to March 1941, and April 1941 to May 1942, the latter signed off ‘Missing’ by No. 118 Squadron’s popular C.O., Squadron Leader J.C. Carver, D.F.C., himself to be killed in action on a Circus to Cherbourg less than a month later, and both officially stamped and endorsed ‘Killed in Action. R.A.F. Central Depository, June 1946’; and a wartime portrait photograph and one or two other contemporary documents.