Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Daring World War II pilot's medals auctioned

Bristol Beaufighter, 1943

Daring World War II pilot's medals auctioned

 "A real 'Boy's Own' hero" is how the pilot at the centre of this story has been described and never was a truer word spoken!

In fact the recent auction of the late Wing Commander Ken Gatward's World War II medals seems almost incidental to the history of how they were earned, as part of an operation that could have come straight out of a Biggles book.

The RAF pilot who dropped the Tricolor on occupied Paris 

Only now, nearly 15 years after his passing and with the selling of his decorations, have the full details of the story come to light - and what a story! Although in the grand scheme of the war probably a minor mission (however deemed, somewhat redundantly, "unsafe") its morale value was obviously considered enough to make it worthwhile, as it did indeed turn out to be. In fact minor this action was not, requiring incredible flying skills, accuracy and above all bravery - to fly down the Champs-Élysée in enemy-occupied Paris at ridiculously low level and drop a French flag on the Arc de Triomphe, then shoot up Gestapo HQ. I can still hardly credit it, even several days after first reading about it! Fantastic is the only word for it.


Daring World War II pilot Ken Gatward's medals auctioned for £41,000

It should come as little surprise, then, that Wing Cdr Gatward's medals and associated souvenirs far exceeded the initial £8,000 pre-auction estimate when they were sold last week - eventually making five times as much!  While it is something of a shame that the medals weren't passed on to one of Mr Gatward's family (perhaps there were no close relations) or a museum (unless the buyer was such - no mention is made of it) the fact that it sold for so much more than the estimate hopefully proves that the new owner, whoever he is, recognises the value in how they were earned.

For the rest of us there is the delight in having read, after 70 years, the amazing exploits of Wing Cdr Gatward (and the extra bonus fact from my point of view of him being a local Essex lad!) that are truly in the best traditions of the service and prove truth really is stranger than fiction.  Biggles would have been proud!


  1. I often wonder about how things like that come to be sold. The only way I'd part with my Grandfather's would be cold dead fingers.

    1. It never ceases to amaze me how treasures to the likes of you and me can be considered old toot by others, or how heirlooms or an ancestor's belongings can have no personal value to some people. I'm reminded of the Tower Bridge photos that were found in a skip last year (and some of the finds other bloggers have made while skip-diving almost beggar belief!), or an old notebook full of 19th century newspaper clippings, jokes and poems that my stepdad was going to throw out before he thought of me.


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