A Collection of Awards to the Royal Air Force between the Wars (1919-1939) formed by Group Captain JE Barker

Date of Auction: 6th December 2017

Sold for £3,000

Estimate: £3,000 - £4,000

The important ‘South Russia 1920’ C.B.E. group of seven awarded to Group Captain J. O. ‘Joe’ Archer, Royal Air Force, who served as Officer Commanding R.A.F. Forces in South Russia, January - April 1920, having already commanded both the R.A.F. Training Mission and ‘Z’ Flight during the conflict. Archer went on to serve on the North West Frontier, commanding No. 3 Indian Wing, 1926-31, before serving on the Directorate of Operations and Intelligence.

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, C.B.E. (Military) Commander’s 1st type neck badge, silver-gilt and enamel, blue enamel damage, in distressed Garrard & Co. Ltd case of issue; 1914 Star, with clasp (2080 Pte. J. O. Archer. Sea. Highrs.); British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. Oak Leaves (Major J. O. Archer. R.A.F.); India General Service 1908-35, 1 clasp, North West Frontier 1930-31, M.I.D. Oak Leaf (W/C. J. O. Archer. R.A.F.) minor official correction to surname; Jubilee 1935; Russia, Empire, Order of St. Vladimir, Military Division, Fourth Class breast badge, 36mm, gold (56 zolotniki) and enamel, 1908-17 kokoshnik marks on suspension ring and reverse hilts of crossed swords, with replacement gold loop and ring suspension to last, generally very fine or better, unless otherwise stated (7) £3000-4000


Provenance: DNW, March 1996.

C.B.E. (originally recommended for a C.M.G.) London Gazette 12 July 1920 (South Russia).

O.B.E. London Gazette 3 June 1919 (Egypt).

M.I.D. London Gazette 31 March 1920:

‘For valuable and distinguished services rendered with the British Military Mission in South Russia.’

M.I.D. London Gazette 26 June 1931:

‘For distinguished services rendered during Operations on the North West Frontier of India during the period, 23rd April to 12th September 1930.’

John Oliver Archer was born at Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex, in September 1887. He was educated at Felstead and the University of London. Archer, an Engineer by trade, served during the Great War with the 4th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders (T.F.) in the French theatre of war from 7 November 1914. He was commissioned Second Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery (Special Reserve) in July 1915, and subsequently attached to the Royal Flying Corps.

Archer carried out pilot training and was granted Royal Aeronautical Club Certificate No. 2367 on 31 January 1916. He was posted as a Flying Officer for further training to 18 (Reserve) Squadron at Montrose, before seeing service in France, Egypt and Palestine, and advancing to Squadron Commander and Temporary Major all within a year. Archer transferred to the R.A.F in April 1918, and subsequently commanded the Artillery Observation School at Heliopolis.

Officer Commanding R.A.F. South Russia

After the Great War Archer was posted to South Russia, and commanded the R.A.F. Training Mission there from July - November 1919. The latter consisted of 10 officers and 57 other ranks as part of the British Mission to support the White Russian Army under General Deniken. It was to be employed to provide aircraft and instruction to help convert previously trained Russian pilots onto British aircraft. The aircraft used consisted of Sopwith Camels, DH9’s and R.E.8’s. Following Major Archer’s arrival, bringing the experience of his previous training school command in Egypt, the Mission became organised on a sound basis after an unsuccessful start. All did not go smoothly, however, as Archer’s report for October 1919 illustrates:

‘The work of equipping and building machines has been fairly rapid and on the whole satisfactory. On the other hand the dual instruction has been most disappointing in its results. The pilots are supposedly skilled pilots, but they are evidently very badly out of practice and require 5 or 6 hours dual and are still uncertain. This is beyond the powers and function of the limited personnel and equipment of this Mission, and in consequence the work in this respect has proceeded very slowly. There is also a very marked antipathy to the R.E.8 which greatly impedes progress.’

During the last week of November 1919, General Maund, Commanding R.A.F. in South Russia, authorised the creation of an additional Flight of British aircraft to work on the hard-pressed front at Kharkov. The latter was to be known as ‘Z’ Flight, and was to be formed from the instructors at the Training Mission. Archer was to command the new force, which was to be equipped with R.E.8’s. A ‘Z’ Flight train was created, and it carried fuel, oil, spare parts, munitions and food for one month. The Flight’s personnel consisted of six pilots, six observers and seven other officers, 26 other ranks and 14 Russians.

By the end of the first week of December 1919, the train had moved forward only as far as Kislovka, where their R.E.8’s flew up to join them on 9 December. At its most advanced ‘Z’ Flight was some 380 miles from Moscow, leading Archer to somewhat optimistically enquire with General Holman (Commander of the British Military Mission), ‘In position to bomb Moscow. Await instructions.’ Holman’s reply was terse, and echoed Churchill’s sentiments from three months earlier, that Moscow should be on no account bombed.

Archer was ordered to withdraw immediately. The atrocious weather combined with the general retreat of the White Army curtailed any immediate possibility of flying, and Archer had to authorise the dismantling of the aircraft in order to enable the train to retire. Z Flight managed to fly a few reconnaissance flights during the period of general withdrawal, December 1919 - January 1920. The Flight combined with two flights of 47 Squadron to form the Kuban Group in mid-January. Archer was promoted to Officer Commanding R.A.F. South Russia at the end of the latter month. He remained in this appointment until the overall British withdrawal from South Russia in April 1920. Archer had gathered all R.A.F. personnel at the port of Novorossisk by 18 March:

‘At Novorossisk, Major Archer attempted to save as much of the R.A.F. stores as possible. There were 250 tons of R.A.F equipment stored on the docks at Novorossisk. This did not include the twenty-three aircraft in storage - ten R.E.8’s, nine Avro 504’s, and four DH9’s. The R.E.8’s were wrecked, along with the spares for the type, because it was thought the Russian dislike for the type meant they were unlikely to be used effectively. To save the remaining thirteen aircraft, they were handed over to the Russians, who claimed they could ship them to the Crimea. But this did not happen, and on 26 March these aircraft were also rendered unserviceable. It was done in a hurry, as Archer stated in his report:

“.... there being then not even time to unscrew the instruments from the dashboards.”

Most of the R.A.F. personnel who had volunteered to serve in the Crimea sailed from Novorossisk on 24 March on board HMT Baron Beck. Archer stayed behind with a small party and the non-volunteers to finish the clearing-up.... The situation in the town was utter chaos, as the defeated troops streamed in hoping for rescue.’ (Gone To Russia To Fight, The R.A.F. In South Russia 1918-1920, by John T. Smith refers)

The North West Frontier

Having returned to the UK, Archer served at No. 1 Group, Kenley, August 1920 - September 1923. Subsequent postings included as Officer Commanding, School of Army Co-operation, at Old Sarum, before being posted overseas. Archer commanded 31 (Army Co-operation) Squadron at Ambala, India, from November 1925. He advanced to Wing Commander in January 1926, and was appointed to the command of No. 3 Indian Wing at Quetta. Archer commanded the Wing for five years, during which period the Afridi and Red Shirt rebellions took place.

Archer retired 22 September 1935, having spent the last four years of his career in the Directorate of Personal Services at the Air Ministry. He then continued to serve in the Air Ministry in a retired officer post within the Directorate of Operations and Intelligence in the Department of the Chief of the Air Staff. Archer carried on in this capacity throughout the Second War, advancing to Group Captain in the Reserve of Air Force Officers. He died at Cornhill Cottage, Melbury Abbas, Shaftesbury, Dorset, in September 1968.

Sold with a file of copied research, including a photographic image of recipient in uniform.