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 £13,000

Estimate: £8,000 - £12,000

The unique ‘Waziristan and North West Frontier’ D.F.C. and Two Bars, Great War A.F.C. group of ten awarded to Airship, De Haviland, Wapiti and Hawker Hart pilot, Group Captain S. B. ‘Bunny’ Harris, Royal Air Force, late Royal Naval Reserve, Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Flying Corps. Having served both at sea and in the air during the Great War, Harris went on to make a name for himself with 27 and 39 Squadrons on the North West Frontier between the wars. His prowess as a bombing formation leader was recognised by the award of three D.F.C.’s earned over a ten year period. He flew in some of the most challenging conditions, and over some of the most hostile terrain, and is frequently mentioned by his 27 Squadron contemporary Albert Cowton in his book - With the First in the Field.

Harris also flew in the pioneering long distance flight from Risalpur to Calcutta and back, in January 1925, before commanding 39 Squadron, 1930-33, when he is recorded by the Squadron History as transforming them from the ‘Flowers of England’s Youth’ to ‘Veterans of the Frontier.’

Distinguished Flying Cross, G.V.R., with Second and Third Award Bars, reverse additionally engraved ‘F/Lt. S. B. Harris A.F.C. R.A.F.’; Air Force Cross, G.V.R., reverse additionally engraved ‘Hon. Capt. S. B. Harris R.A.F.’; 1914-15 Star (Mid. S. B. Harris, R.N.R.); British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. Oak Leaves (Capt. S. B. Harris. R.A.F.) BWM partially officially corrected; India General Service 1908-35, 2 clasps, Waziristan 1921-24, North West Frontier 1930-31(F/O S. B. Harris. R.A.F.); 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Defence and War Medals 1939-45, last four privately engraved ‘Group Captain S. B. Harris, D.F.C., A.F.C.’, mounted for display, generally very fine (10) £8000-12000

Footnote

Provenance: Aviation Collection, Spink, May 1998.

D.F.C. London Gazette 30 May 1924:

‘In recognition of distinguished service rendered with the Waziristan Force between January, 1922 and April, 1923.’

The recommendation states:

‘This Officer has carried out 53 raids out of a total of 58. At all times he has performed his duties with skill and daring and has not hesitated to fly low altitudes in spite of fire from the ground, in order to reach his objective.’

D.F.C. Second Award Bar London Gazette 26 June 1931:

‘In recognition of gallant and distinguished service rendered in connection with the operations on the North West Frontier of India between the 23rd April and 12th September, 1930.’

The recommendation states:

‘During the period 23 April to 11 October 1930, this Officer has carried 66 operational flights of which 55 have been bombing raids across the border. His keenness and efficiency as a Bombing Formation Leader have been infectious, and this spirit is clearly reflected by his Squadron. His courage and devotion to duty are of a very high order.’

D.F.C. Third Award Bar London Gazette 8 September 1933:

‘In recognition of gallant and distinguished service rendered in connection with the operations on the North West Frontier of India during the periods 28th January, 1932 to 8th February, 1932 and 6th March, 1932 to 18th March, 1932.’

A.F.C. London Gazette 2 November 1918.

M.I.D. London Gazette 1 May 1918.

Stafford Berkeley ‘Bunny’ Harris was the son of G. H. Harris, Master Mariner, and was born at 31 St. Stephen’s Avenue, Shepherds Bush, London, in February 1896. He entered the Royal Naval Reserve as Probationary Midshipman in August 1912, and initially served during the Great War with H.M.S. Otway. Harris was posted as Acting Sub Lieutenant for service with H.M.S. Hercules (battleship) in February 1916. Subsequent service included with H.M.S. Princess Royal, before transferring to the Royal Naval Air Service. Harris advanced to Lieutenant in January 1918, and served at Luce Bay Airship Station throughout 1918. Stationed at the latter he was engaged on Anti-Submarine Patrols in airships operating over the Irish Channel and the North Sea.

Dirigibles to De Havilands

Harris transferred to the Royal Air Force as Lieutenant Dirigibles in April 1918, and was Flying Officer Airships from August the following year. After the war he was posted to the R.A.F. Airship Base at Howden, from which he was sent No. 1 F.T.S. Netheravon for further instruction. Harris gained his ‘Wings’, and also qualified from a Specialist Course on Meteorology, in 1920. He was posted as a Flight Lieutenant and pilot to 27 Squadron (DH9A’s) at Risalpur, India, in November 1921. Harris flew with the Squadron on operations to Waziristan, from 1922, and illustrations of some of these early style of operations against dissident tribesmen may be found in the diary writings of Albert Cowton. The latter served as a Sergeant in Harris’s ‘A’ Flight at the time, and his diary was later published under the title With the First in the Field.

Cowton, who flew as an Observer/Air Gunner with 27 Squadron, makes mention of his Flight Commander in his book, and Harris is pictured twice in the publication. In particular he records a sortie that he and Harris both flew on during the Razmak Campaign of 1923:

‘A frequent visitor to our camp at this time was a certain Captain Kent of the Tochi Scouts, who had been a pilot in the R.F.C. during the First World War and who was now doing duty as Liaison Officer. He was keen on flying and would have liked to take a machine himself on a raid, but regulations forbade this as he had not had a refresher course and was not on the flying strength of the R.A.F. He did the next best thing, and on the raid I am now going to describe he accompanied Flight Lieutenant Harris as observer and air gunner.

Twenty-four machines of our two Squadrons were wheeled out of their hangars and lined up on the aerodrome on this brilliant morning and pilots and air gunners gathered in a circle to receive instructions for the day.

Political Agents had obtained information that certain tribesmen who refused to come to terms with the Authorities had left their villages and, during the night, were making for the passes through the mountains to Afghanistan. During the day they were receiving assistance from other villagers on the route, who fed them and their animals and housed them in their villages. Our task was to endeavour to prevent their escape by bombing and machine-gunning them and the villages where they were sheltering....

Flight Lieutenant Harris and Flying Officer Hayter-Hames were the first two to leave, and I flew with the latter. Our detail was to carry out a reconnaissance on the territory to the west of Wana between that place and the Supera Range (the boundary).... When we had crossed the plain we came to the ridge of hills near Warukai Zangi, the tribesmen being Zilli Khel. We were now close to the Afghan frontier.

From now on we scanned the country for signs of the gathering clans preparing to cross the Border. The ridge we were flying over was one of many which ran almost parallel to each other and abutted the Supera Range. In order to obtain a better view of the sides of these ridges the pilots descended to just below their crests when we came to them, then they flew up the valley on one side, climbed to cross the ridge where it abutted the mountains, and flew down the valley below the crest on the other side.

After thus scrutinising three of these ridges on both sides, we were flying along the fourth, which was covered with green scrub and boulders, when a bullet passed through the port planes of the machine flown by Flight Lieutenant Harris, making holes in the fabric, which holes were the only evidence that we were being fired at; this information being conveyed to us by signal. Forthwith he turned his machine about and went down a little lower, both Flight Lieutenant Harris and Captain Kent looking very closely but seeing no sign of any moving thing.’

The pair of aircraft went on to successfully locate and harass a large number of tribesmen attempting to flee with their livestock to Afghanistan. Cowton also records a shared flight with Harris to Arawali in June 1924, when the latter was to attend a meeting to discuss the establishment of a forward striking base in that area. Whilst continuing to be engaged in the usual policing routine, Harris and others were also employed on differing operations including taking part in experimental long distance flights. As Cowton illustrates:

‘In December [1924] Wing Commander Pink, O.B.E. [O.C. 2 Indian Wing], had been given permission to organise a flight consisting of six machines, three to be selected from each squadron at Risalpur, to make a trip from Risalpur to Calcutta and back. Thus it was that 14 January [1925] saw the departure of six machines piloted by the three Flight Commanders from each of the two Bomber Squadrons... Those of 27 Squadron being Flight Lieutenant S. Graham, M.C., Flight Lieutenant Hughes-Chamberlain, and Flight Lieutenant S. B. Harris, and those of 60 Squadron being Flight Lieutenant Busk, Flight Lieutenant Baker, and Flight Lieutenant Savery.

The flight to Calcutta took four days... the actual flying time taken to cover the distance of 1400 miles was fourteen hours and 25 minutes.’

Wing Commander R. C. M. Pink acted as Observer/Air Gunner for Harris on the flight, and having safely made it to Calcutta the formation subsequently set off again after a four day stopover. All of the aircraft, bar two, met with difficulty on the return leg either suffering engine faults or crash landings, ‘thus only two machines returned to Risalpur by air, one piloted by Flight Lieutenant Harris with Wing Commander Pink as passenger and the other piloted by Flight Lieutenant Baker with a mechanic as passenger.’ (Ibid)

The above episode is also recorded by Chaz Bowyer in his history of 27 Squadron - The Flying Elephants. Harris was posted to the Staff College at Quetta in February 1925, and having completed his course returned to England. He was posted to join the staff of HQ Air Defence Great Britain at Hillingdon House in August 1927. Harris returned to India the following year when he was posted to HQ R.A.F. India, New Delhi, to act as the Personal Assistant to Air Vice-Marshal Sir Geoffrey Salmond, A.O.C. India. Having carried out this role for 20 months, Harris was promoted to Squadron Leader and posted to command 39 Squadron (Wapitis) at Risalpur in March 1930.

39 Squadron - A Command, and 2 D.F.C.’s

Within days of Harris’s arrival the Squadron was on standby for operations against the Mohmands. He led from the front in his Wapiti, when he carried out the Squadron’s first raid, dropping 56 lb bombs, 12 May 1930. Over the following three months Harris was to be found in the same position leading his men on bombing raids, reconnaissance and photographic sorties over various territories as the disturbances moved further north. On 5 and 6 September 1930 the Squadron were also engaged on dropping supplies to the Chitral Relief Column at Khar and Chakdara respectively.

Harris carried out 66 operational sorties, 55 of which were bombing raids, between April - October 1930. His prowess as a bombing formation leader during the latter operations was recognised when he was awarded a Bar to his D.F.C. Harris was eventually presented with the Bar at Risalpur, 1 March 1932. The Squadron re-equipped with Hawker Harts throughout November and December 1931, and the new aircraft were put through their paces in January of the following year.

During January 1932 trouble developed in Dir State and the Mohmand Territory. 39 Squadron flew 12 reconnaissance flights during the month, including on 29 January 1932, ‘the Commanding Officer [Harris] carried out an armed reconnaissance in Laram - Khongi - Sandal Area. The Laram and Khongi Levy Posts were burnt out and, at 1600 hrs, a gathering of about 500 was observed outside Sandal carrying a number of red and white banners. Sixty men at once opened fire on the aircraft and a number also threw stones. The Commanding Officer replied by dropping 8 - 20 lb bombs and firing 200 rounds of Lewis Gun ammunition. Casualties were afterwards reported to be 13 killed and number wounded.’ (Squadron Operation Record Book refers)

Harris continued to fly throughout February and March 1932, undertaking a further 16 operational sorties, including several trips to Bagh over 11-12 March, ‘the Commanding Officer made four raids on the house of the Haji of Turangzai at Bagh. Two 230 lb bombs were carried on each flight and attacks were made by diving down the hillside on to the house and sighting on the front gun sights. Two direct hits were obtained....

The Commanding Officer made five more attacks on the Haji’s house and secured direct hits with 8 - 230 lb bombs. The house being completely destroyed.’ (Ibid)

39 Squadron’s summary of operations for March alone was ‘carried out a total of two Squadron and 36 flight raids and nine raids by single aircraft, dropping , in all 20 3/4 tons of H.E. Bombs and 20 Petrol Bombs, of which 13 tons of H.E. Bombs and 13 Petrol Bombs were direct hits.’

As Delve’s The Winged Bomb, History of 39 Squadron RAF comments, under Harris’s leadership the Squadron ‘transformed from the ‘Flowers of England’s Youth’ to ‘Veterans of the Frontier’...’ Harris had personally carried out a large percentage of the raids flown by his squadron, and this was recognised when he was gazetted for the Second Award Bar to his D.F.C.

The remainder of Harris’s tour on the North West Frontier was to be considerably quieter, taken up with reconnaissance and demonstration of force flights. He was, however, tasked with providing an important escort, ‘special flights were called for as on 16th April 1932 when 39 Squadron acted as escort for the Viceroy and Vicerine of Peshawar from Rawalpindi to Peshawar: ‘On 16th April three aircraft of ‘A’ Flt, led by the Commanding Officer, met the Avro X over Rawalpindi and escorted it to Attock, where they were joined by the remaining flights (of the squadron). The whole squadron then escorted their Excellencies to Peshawar, flying in squadron formation above and behind the Avro X. The squadron dived in salute as their Excellencies were de-planing at Peshawar.’ (Ibid)

Harris handed over command of 39 Squadron in March 1933, and returned to the UK to be employed on air staff duties. He was initially posted to HQ Western Area, Andover in July 1933, before transferring to HQ Central Area, Abingdon, later the same year. Harris advanced to Acting Wing Commander, and was posted onto the Directing Staff of The Staff College at Andover in August 1935. He briefly commanded R.A.F. Hucknall, before being posted to the Air Ministry in the Directorate of Organisation in August 1938.

Having advanced to Temporary Group Captain in January 1940, he held a number of posts during the Second War including: as Senior Air Staff Officer for Technical Training Command throughout 1940; SAO, Air HQ, HQ British Forces in Iraq, R.A.F. Habbaniya, February - October 1941; SAO,HQ No. 217 Group, Cairo, 1943-44; and on the Staff at HQ Middle East Command, Cairo, April 1944 - June 1945. Harris retired in April 1946, and died at Rossken, Heath Road, Woolmer Road, Welwyn, Hertfordshire, in June 1952.

Sold with a gilt and enamel 39 Squadron lapel badge, and a most comprehensive file of copied research, which includes several photographic images (the originals being part of a photograph album held by the R.A.F. Museum) of the recipient during his service on the North West Frontier.