Medals to the R.F.C. and R.A.F. from the Collection Formed by the Late Squadron Leader David Haller

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Date of Auction: 25th March 2014

Sold for £2,000

Estimate: £1,200 - £1,500

A fine Second World War pilot’s D.F.C. group of six awarded to Flight Lieutenant J. Cotter, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, who was decorated for numerous sorties over Burma and Siam in Beaufighters of No. 27 Squadron, on one occasion being severely wounded in the leg by light A.A. fire

Distinguished Flying Cross, G.VI.R., reverse officially dated ‘1945’; 1939-45 Star; Africa Star, clasp, North Africa 1942-43; Burma Star; Defence and War Medals 1939-45, together with Amateur Athletics Association prize medals (2), both in bronze, one named to ‘J. Cotter’ for the Long Jump at a Coventry meeting in 1937, and the other similarly inscribed for a meeting in London in 1935, both in Phillips, Aldershot fitted cases, and the recipient’s original hand written but sporadic wartime diary for 1945-46, approximately 60 pp., generally very fine or better (Lot) £1200-1500


D.F.C. London Gazette 12 June 1945. The original recommendation states:

‘During the past 26 months this officer has completed 42 operational sorties over Burma and Siam, 39 in Beaufighters and 3 in Mosquitos, totalling 201 hours operational flying. He has achieved the following results: 14 locomotives destroyed or damaged.16 large steamers (some river, some coastal type). Many sampans. 60 to 70 motor transport. Much rolling stock. Many locomotive shelters and warehouses.

On 26 July 1943, he was hit by L.A.A. fire whilst over Padaung. He sustained severe wounds in the leg. In addition the hydraulics and A.S.I. were put out of action. Despite his injuries, Flight Lieutenant Cotter flew his aircraft 300 miles back to base, landing safely. He was unfit for flying for three months due to his wound. This officer by his disregard for personal safety, and his eagerness to fly on operations as often as possible, has set an example to his brother pilots which is rarely excelled.

He is strongly recommended for the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.’

John Cotter, who was born in Cork in June 1912, but later settled at King’s Norton, was a talented athlete, having twice come second in the English Decathlon Championship and also represented the country in the long jump, pre-war.

Enlisting in 1940, he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, and would appear to have been employed out in the Far East.

Be that as it may, and having seen service in North Africa, he joined No. 27 Squadron (a.k.a. “The Flying Elephants”), a Beaufighter unit based at Agartala, Bengal, in December 1942. But it was not until March 1943 that the Squadron went operational with sorties over Burma and Siam, the relevant O.R.B. entries graphically illustrating the punishing agenda of ground strafing sorties undertaken by the likes of Cotter and his fellow pilots (copies included). And the hazards of such activity were all too apparent when he was seriously wounded in the leg in June 1944, the same month in which his C.O., Battle of Britain V.C., Wing Commander J. B. Nicholson, received a new posting - Nicholson’s D.F.C. was won for services with No. 27, which he had assumed command of in August 1943.

A vivid and frank account of No. 27’s war may be found in Beaufighters Over Burma, written by one of its pilots, David J. Innes, in which Cotter is referred to on several occasions. Yet a very personal and more illuminating record of Cotter’s inner thoughts is to be found in the above described diary. He penned the following entry on 27 June 1945, on hearing news from home of his D.F.C. In it he reveals how he had nearly “chucked his hand in”:

‘ ... Looking back I can remember only once when I felt like chucking my hand in at “ops.” That was when “Chalky” White and Sam Cross failed to return. We had been close friends ever since July of 1942 when Chalky and I were in hospital together [as a result of the fall of Singapore?] and afterwards on leave. He was my keen rival at tennis and it would have given him great satisfaction had he ever been able to beat me. Sam Cross was an extremely likeable fellow, immensely proud of his young wife and infant son. Next to myself they had been longer on the Squadron than anyone else. Both would have been genuinely pleased at my D.F.C., and both would undoubtedly have earned one before finishing. When they didn’t return I felt I ought to pack it up before I met a similar fate. However, I got over the feeling, and was intensely annoyed when I was posted away from the Squadron ... My narrowest escape was undoubtedly when I was wounded. If the bullet had been a couple of inches higher my knee would have been completely shattered, and if I hadn’t been carrying a surplus of maps, the tibia and fibia would have been severely shattered. It was a lucky escape. Lucky, too, my emergency hydraulics worked ...’

Cotter latterly took up duties alongside the 14th Army on Visual Control Post Duties (V.C.P.D.), from January until May 1945, not, as it transpired, anything like the ‘rest period’ envisaged by his seniors and, having been granted a permanent commission after the War, served for many years in the Secretarial Branch. He was finally placed on the Retired List as a Squadron Leader in February 1959; sold with a file of research, including a typescript of his diary.