Awards to Men of the Battle of Britain
Date of Auction: 20th September 2002
Sold for £2,600
Estimate: £2,000 - £2,500
1939-45 Star, clasp, Battle of Britain; Air Crew Europe Star; War Medal 1939-45 extremely fine (3) £2000-2500
FootnoteOliver Vincent Houghton, who was born at Faleshill, Coventry on 19 January 1921, and was employed as an Aero Fitter at Armstrong Whitworth, gained flying experience as a member of the Civil Air Guard between October 1938 and March 1939, in which latter month he enlisted in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
Following attendance at No. 5 F.T.S. at Sealand, Houghton converted to Hurricanes and joined his first operational posting, No. 615 Squadron, at Kenley on 18 June 1940. Transferred to No. 32 Squadron at Biggin Hill on 10 July, it would appear that he was suffering from an ear complaint, or certainly according to a letter he wrote to his parents a few days later. Finally, on 27 August, he joined No. 501 Squadron at Gravesend, which unit numbered a fellow Sergeant Pilot, “Ginger” Lacey, among its ranks.
In Lacey’s biography , Fighter Pilot, by Richard Townshend Bickers, the author provides a vivid account of the Squadron’s punishing shedule between August and September 1940, its pilots sometimes flying as many as eight sorties a day, the majority against overwhelming numbers of enemy aircraft in “Hell’s Corner”. By the end of the Battle No. 501 had accumulated the highest casualty rate of any Squadron, and Houghton was among them. He had written again to his parents on Sunday 1 September, telling them that he did not want to talk about the War - ‘Let’s forget it’, and reminding them to ‘keep smiling.’
Five days later, at around 9 a.m. on the 6th, he was shot down and killed in combat over Ashford, Kent, his Hurricane V6646 crashing into Long Beech Wood, Charing. A few days later his parents received a letter of condolence from Squadron Leader H. A. V. Hogan, in which he explained that their son had only been with No. 501 for a short time but was a ‘very keen young pilot’. He added that ‘no one actually saw what happened to him as the Squadron were fighting enemy fighters’. A few days later, Hogan was himself shot down, but managed to bale out, his Hurricane also crashing at Charing.
At the end of September Houghton’s parents received another letter, from C. N. Croyden Burton, a priest who was resident of Canterbury Road, Charing, Kent:
‘I thought you might like to know that as I was on the scene where your son crashed on Sept. 6th about ten minutes after it happened. I was able to say a prayer over his body for the repose of his soul. In your great grief words can be of little comfort I’m afraid, yet he died gallantly in the great cause of which we fight, and he was spared any suffering, as his death was instantaneous. God bless you and yours in your great loss.
It was a lovely morning and the sight of the other members of his Squadron coming over and saluting was very impressive.’
Oliver Houghton, who was just 19 years of age, was subsequently interred in the All Saints’ churchyard extension, Allesley, Coventry.
Sold with an impressive array of original documentation, including the recipient’s Flying Log Book for his time with the Civil Air Guard, covering the period October 1938 to March 1939; his R.A.F.V.R. Certificate of Service and Discharge, with related registered envelope addressed to his father; several contemporary photographs, including the recipient as a young pilot; three handwritten letters from him to his parents, dated between July and September 1940, from either Biggin Hill or Gravesend, together with his C.O’s letter of condolence and Mr. Croyden Burton’s letter (see above); a telegram from No. 501 Squadron stating that the recipient’s body had been taken to the Naval Hospital at Chatham, dated 14 September 1940; Buckingham Palace condolence message; several photographs taken at the time of the ensuing funeral at Allesley, Coventry and of the later Commonwealth War Graves headstone erected over the recipient’s grave; and a considerable amount of literature and photographs regarding St. George’s Chapel of Remembrance at Biggin Hill, including several invitations to the recipient’s parents to attend services up until the 1950s.