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 £2,200

Estimate: £1,600 - £2,000

An interesting and scarce 1919 ‘Pioneering Flight’ A.F.M. group of three awarded to Corporal G. E. West, Royal Air Force and Royal Naval Air Service, for his work during the movement of three entire squadrons’ aircraft flying from France to Egypt - ‘This whole transferring of complete squadrons to ‘foreign shores’ - in particular, the aerial transit by the 0/400 units - had no equivalent precedent in R.A.F. annals, and was to prove a daunting test of the involved aircrews’ skills and endurance’

Air Force Medal, G.V.R. (219086 Cpl. G. E. West. R.A.F.) suspension slightly loose; British War and Victory Medals (F.19086 G. E. West. A.M.1 R.N.A.S.) good very fine (3) £1600-2000

Footnote

Provenance: Glendining’s, June 1992.

A.F.M. London Gazette 12 July 1920, the recommendation states:

‘For excellent work carried out under very difficult and trying circumstances, during their flight from England to Egypt in July and August 1919. It was largely owing to their keenness and devotion to duty that made the flight so successful.’

George Edward West was born at Aldershot, Hampshire, in June 1898. He enlisted in the Royal Naval Air Service as an Air Mechanic 2nd Class in August 1916. Initial postings included to Crystal Palace, Yarmouth and Manston, before serving with ‘A’ Squadron, R.N.A.S., in France from November 1917. West was promoted Air Mechanic 1st Class in April 1917, and was born on the books of H.M.S. Daedalus at Dunkirk from February the following year. He served with his squadron (re-designated 216 Squadron, Royal Air Force after April 1918) for the remainder of the war. The Squadron latterly being equipped with Handley Page 0/400 bombers and forming part of Trenchard’s Independent Force.

After the war, West was posted to the Armament School at Uxbridge before returning to 216 Squadron in April 1919. The Squadron was based at Marquise, France, and West was about to take part in a pioneering flight with them. The Squadron’s Operations Record Book records:

‘On 1 May 1919, it having been decided to transfer five squadrons, including two of Handley Pages, from France to Egypt, No. 216 Squadron were ordered to hold themselves in readiness for this move.

It was arranged that the machines should undertake the journey by air, flying by way of Buc, Lyon, Istres (Marseilles), San Guiliano (Pisa), Rome, Taranto, Dekelia (Athens), Suda Bay (Crete), and Matruh, while the ground personnel and stores proceeded by rail and sea some days earlier.

After seven weeks of active preparation the ground detachment left for Cairo on 22 June 1919, and a fortnight later, on 10 July 1919, the first three machines set off for their long and adventurous journey. Unhappily none of these were destined to reach their goal. One of the three after reaching Istres on 12 July was so severely damaged in a gale three days later that it had to be written off as wrecked. The second Handley Page fell into the sea at Monterosso near Spezia resulting in the death of Lt. Col Dins, and injuries to the other members of the crew, while the third, after several delays, crashed and was completely wrecked at Pisa on 3 September 1919.

The second batch of machines which left Marquise a week later, on 17 July, were more fortunate, for all four, after various delays en route, eventually reached their destination. One piloted by the CO, Maj. W. R. Read, M.C., landed at Kantara aerodrome on 12 August 1919, a second arrived 23 August, the third on 14 September, while the last owing to the necessity for fitting a new engine at Vienne near Lyon, did not rejoin the Squadron until 16 October.

Of the last three machines to leave France, on 21 July, the first, piloted by Lt. Sawyer, after a particularly successful flight, reached Kantara on the same day as Major Read, having covered the distance in three weeks. The second reached Egypt on 24 August, but the third, after many delays, only got as far as Taranto. Thus by the middle of October 1919, the strength of the Squadron consisted of six Handley Pages and, stationed at Kantara, south of Port Said, was utilised for conveying passengers and mails between Egypt, Palestine and Iraq.’

The whole exercise of moving the squadrons from France to Egypt was seen as pioneering work in the development of the Royal Air Force and worthy of substantial rewards for the personnel concerned. 216 Squadron were awarded 6 A.F.C.’s and 9 A.F.M.’s (including to West) for the operation. The results as a whole were mixed, as Handley Page Bombers records:

‘This whole transferring of complete squadrons to ‘foreign shores’ - in particular, the aerial transit by the 0/400 units - had no equivalent precedent in R.A.F. annals, and was to prove a daunting test of the involved aircrews’ skills and endurance.

No. 58 Sqn’s move to Egypt was completed by 2 July, while eight HPs of 214 Sqn had reached Cairo by 2 August. The third 0/400 unit, 216 Sqn, completed its move to Cairo by mid-October, and on 28 October, 1919, Gen Seeley reported to Parliament: “At the present moment 51 Handley Page machines have left for Egypt. Of these, 26 have arrived, 10 are on later stages of the route, and 15 have been written off....”

Each HP crew involved in this move to Egypt could have told a lengthy tale of problems, frustrations and sheer determination... The overall move of 0/400s to Egypt in 1919 cost the R.A.F. no less than 18 Handley Pages written off in accidents, or from other causes, and the lives of eight crew men...’

Having advanced to Corporal, West transferred to 58 Squadron, Heliopolis, in November 1919. After a period in hospital he was posted back to 216 Squadron in October 1920. Subsequent postings included to 208 Squadron at Ismailia, before West’s eventual discharge 17 March 1921.

Sold with a file of copied research.