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 £3,400

Estimate: £2,000 - £3,000

A fine Great War 1917 fighter pilot’s M.M. pair awarded to Sergeant Pilot, later Lieutenant, L. A. Herbert, 40 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force, who in his singler-seater Nieuport Scout and S.E.5A accounted for 3 enemy aircraft forced down out of control and 1 Kite Balloon destroyed. After being severely wounded in aerial combat he was posted for flying duties to the Experimental Squadron at Farnborough - whilst at the latter he was killed in a mid-air collision during experimental flying, 14 July 1919

Military Medal, G.V.R. (2866 Sjt: L. A. Herbert. 40/Sq: R.F.C.); British War Medal 1914-20 (Lieut. L. A. Herbert. R.A.F.) mounted for wear, toned, extremely fine (2) £2000-3000


Provenance: Group Captain F. Newall Collection, Christie’s March 1985.

M.M. London Gazette 28 September 1917, the recommendation given by Major L. Tilney, O.C. 40 Squadron, for an immediate M.M. states:

‘This pilot has proved himself absolutely steady and capable, and has shown great devotion to duty.

On 21/7/17 when on offensive patrol over Douai with a Nieuport formation, encountered 10 E.A. Albatross Scouts which were engaged. He climbed and attacked one E.A. firing at 50 yards range and E.A. immediately made off East - apparently damaged - as E.A. did not return to its formation.

Particularly on 9/8/17 when he took part in a Special Mission against hostile Kite Balloons. He crossed the trenches at under 20 feet and approached the balloon from beneath and behind, being fired on by machine guns using tracers. The observers were seen to jump from the basket with parachutes when Nieuport approached. He opened fire on the balloon and it fell to the ground flaming.

He was heavily archied on re-crossing the lines at 50 feet with engine missing very badly, also being fired on by machine guns and small arms.

He has had numerous minor combats, in which devotion to duty has been distinctively outstanding.’

Approximately 167 M.M.’s, and 2 Second Award Bars were awarded to the Royal Flying Corps for the Great War.

Leonard Arthur Herbert was born at 10 Fernhead Road, Paddington, London, in April 1891. He was employed as a Motor Driver and Mechanic prior to attesting as 2nd Class Air Mechanic for the Royal Flying Corps in January 1915. He served during the Great War with the Royal Flying Corps in the French theatre of war from December 1915. Herbert initially served with 16 Squadron, based at a number of locations in France, and advanced to 1st Class Air Mechanic in February 1916. He was promoted Corporal in April of the same year, before returning to the Home Establishment in November 1916.

Having returned to the UK, Herbert was posted for pilot training to the Central Flying School at Upavon. He was graded as 1st Class Pilot on 16 March 1917, and promoted to Sergeant. He returned to France and was posted as a pilot for operational flying to 40 Squadron (Nieuport Scouts), Bruay. Prior to Herbert’s arrival the Squadron had suffered a complete patrol of nine F.E.8’s shot down over enemy lines, leading to 40 Squadron being re-equipped with the more effective Nieuport. As reflected by the recommendation above, and the combat reports for the relevant dates, Herbert was quick to put his new single-seater aircraft to good effect.

Herbert was commissioned Temporary Second Lieutenant in October 1917, and stayed with 40 Squadron for the arrival of another new aircraft - the S.E.5A. As his combat reports for the period testify, it would appear that Herbert was equally at home in this single-seater fighter, 22 November 1917:

‘Whilst on low reconnaissance [S.E. of Douai] observed a 2-seater E.A. following S.E. Turned on E.A. when it was about 200 yards away, and fired about 50 rounds as it approached.

E.A. turned to the left and S.E. stalled up underneath and fired another 50 rounds at from 50 to 20 yards range. Most of the tracer were observed to enter E.A.’s fuselage.

E.A. sidestall and dive, apparently out of control, and also observed two large black objects fall off front of machine. S.E. then passed above E.A. and while trying to avoid fire from flaming onions lost sight of E.A.’

Herbert engaged more enemy aircraft whilst on a patrol over Pont-a-Vendin, 29 December 1917, and was let down by his guns 13 January 1918:

‘Whilst flying at 15,000’ over Metallurgique Works observed an E.A. 2-seater flying below at 14,000’

Dived immediately and fired about 100 rounds at 100 yards range when Vickers Gun jammed. Chased E.A. to Carvin but whilst trying to change Lewis drum was unable to reach E.A. which went off East.’

Whilst on Escort duties Herbert’s formation encountered 7 Albatross Scouts, one of which he managed to separate and engage, 18 February 1918:

‘Got on to E.A.’s tail at about 10,000’ and fired about 50 rounds at 50 yards range from Vickers Gun.

E.A. tumbled sideways and fell from side to side for about 200ft. After this S.E. was attacked by other E.A. and could not observe E.A. longer. “A” Battery A.A. heard the above fight taking place in the direction of Wingles at about 12 noon but were unable to see owing to ground mist. About 15 mins after commencement of fight saw 5 Albatross Scouts emerge.’

After the above engagement Herbert had to make a forced landing, with his aircraft having suffered extensive damage including shots through the radiator. The aircraft was sent to No. 1 Aircraft Depot for repair, and Herbert continued on his patrols in other squadron aircraft. This did not last for long, however, as Herbert was wounded in action during another aerial combat on 24 February 1918. He was invalided back to the UK, and a Medical Board found him Permanently Unfit for General Service on 2 May 1918. Having transferred to the Royal Air Force as a Lieutenant in April, Herbert was graded Fit for Home Service Flying Duties and was posted to C.F.S. Upavon in October 1918.

With the conclusion of the Great War, Herbert was posted for flying duties to the Experimental Squadron at Farnborough. On 14 July 1919, a day after his arrival at his new unit, he is recorded as being killed in an aircraft accident during experimental flying for the Director of Research. His aircraft collided with another in mid air.

Sold with a file of copied research.