The Roy Bartlett Collection of Awards to the R.N.A.S., R.F.C. and R.A.F.

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Date of Auction: 7th March 2007

Sold for £4,200

Estimate: £3,000 - £4,000

An important Great War group of four awarded to Flying Officer A. Bushfield, Royal Air Force, late Royal Naval Air Service, who was among the trial crew to make the first flight of a British rigid airship 27 November 1916: he was subsequently killed in the famous R. 101 disaster on 5 October 1930, while embarked in his capacity as an Air Ministry Inspector

1914-15 Star (W.O. 2, R.N.A.S.); British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf (W.O. 2, R.N.A.S.); Royal Navy L.S. & G.C., G.V.R., 1st issue (270034 Act. C.E.R.A. 2 Cl., H.M.S. Pembroke), good very fine and better (4) £3000-4000

Footnote

Alexander “Sandy” Bushfield was born in Glasgow in November 1878 and entered the Royal Navy as an Engine Room Artificer 4th Class in February 1900. Advanced to the 1st Class grade of his profession in September 1913, he was assigned to airship duties in the following month, on the eve of the establisment of the Royal Naval Air Service - thus ensued a remarkable career in airships, right up until his death in the R.101 disaster in 1930.

Appointed a Warrant Officer, 2nd Grade in August 1915, he was posted to Barrow-on-Furness Airship Station, then commanded by Wing-Captain A. E. Masterman, the leading pioneer of this fledgling service. And it was here that Bushfield participated in the early trials of British rigid airships - and participated in the first ever successful flight, undetaken by British Rigid Airship No. 9, on 27 November 1916. On the formation of the Royal Air Force in April 1918, he was granted a commission in the Technical Branch, and served out in France and back in the U.K. experimenting with coastal patrol airships - he was mentioned in despatches (London Gazette 1 January 1919 refers).

Then in September 1920, he reported to R.A.F. Howden as an Inspector of Airships, where he remained employed until being placed on the Retired List as a Flying Officer on 31 May 1922, a period that witnessed him gaining a commendation from the Air Council for his ‘courageous and resourceful action in personally extinguishing a petrol fire in Airship R. 36 at Inchnnain Airship station’. Immediately following his retirement from the R.A.F., Bushfield was re-employed as an Inspector in the Aeronautical Inspection Department of the Air Ministry, in which capacity he was to assist in the construction and trials of the R. 100 and R. 101.

And so it was that he was aboard the latter airship on her much publicised ‘India flight’ in October 1930, a disastrously premature initiative brought about by political pressure - her certificate of airworthiness was thrust into the hands of her captain minutes before departure. Just four men survived the disaster, but Bushfield was not among them, having perished with 48 others in the flames as she crashed into a hill near Beauvais, France. Massive publicity ensued and the Imperial Airship Programme foundered, for among the dead were the Secretary of State for Air, the Director of Civil Aviation and so many of the leading lights of Britain’s airship industry - not least men like “Sandy” Bushfield.

All the dead were brought home in the destroyer H.M.S. Tempest, and a nation mourned, many thousands filing past the flag draped coffins as they lay in state in Westminster Hall. And although Bushfield’s remains had been identified, he was, in common with all R. 101’s dead, buried in a mass grave in the churchyard of Cardington - within sight of the airship’s shed and her empty mooring mast.