Posts Tagged ‘medals’

Last surviving Dambusters pilot sells gallantry medals for upkeep of Bomber Command Memorial

March 2nd, 2015

The 95-year-old visited the monument in London’s Green Park in 2013 and said he was inspired to make the sacrifice “out of comradeship” to his fellow servicemen who did not made it back.

Sq Ldr Munro said it was important for the memorial to maintain its condition for the relatives of the thousands of men listed on it and future generations.

The monument was built 67 years after the end of the war to commemorate the RAF aircrew and groundstaff from Britain and Commonwealth countries who died on bombing operations in the war.

The charity, the RAF Benevolent Fund, has the duty to pay for its maintenance and upkeep at a cost of £50,000 a year.

Out of the 19 commanding officers who flew on the famous 1943 raid to destroy three dams in Germany’s industrial heartland, Sq Ldr Munro is the last one alive today.

Eight them were killed during the mission, making up the total of 53 out of 133 crew killed.

Despite the losses, the raid – codenamed Operation Chastise – was a success with two dams breached by Dr Barnes Wallis’ ingenious bouncing bombs, wiping out scores of armament factories in the Ruhr Valley.

Sq Ldr Munro’s Lancaster bomber was struck by an anti-aircraft flak shell on the raid over Holland, knocking a gaping hole in the fuselage and putting all communications out of use, forcing the crew to turn back still carrying its mine.

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for the raid. Sq Ldr Guy Gibson, who led the mission, received the Victoria Cross.

Sq Ldr Munro was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery shown during 58 sorties over Europe.

Squadron Leader Les Munro in the cockpit of a Lancaster (BNPS)

Serving with 97 and then 617 Squadron, he bombed German aircraft and armament factories, V1, V2 and V3 rocket sites, E and U-Boats pens and tunnels all over Europe.

On the eve of D Day in 1944, he dropped aluminium strips in the English Channel to trick German radar operators into thinking the invasion was taking place at Calais rather than Normandy to the south.

The £50,000 expected from the sale of his medals and log books will be enough to pay for the maintenance of the memorial for a whole year.

Sq Ldr Munro, from New Zealand, said: “The memorial is a magnificent tribute to Bomber Command’s fallen. It was a travesty it took 67 years before the loss of 55,573 lives was finally recognised.

“My reasons for donating my medals and flying log books to the fund were prompted by my visit. I could not help but think of the cost of its ongoing maintenance and with the feelings of the descendants of those 55,573 in mind believe that every effort be made to maintain the memorial in the best possible condition.

Squadron Leader Munro’s medals (BNPS)

He added: “My war service moulded me as a man; it gave me the confidence in my own ability and taught me to get on with my fellow men and value comradeship.

“It is because of that sense of comradeship and the equal importance of the act of remembrance that I now part company with my medals for the benefit of the Bomber Command Memorial.”

Mike Neville, director of strategy and fundraising at the RAF Benevolent Fund, said: “We are enormously grateful to Les for his donation. It was very much his decision and he approached us with it.

“Les will consider it a small sacrifice compared to the sacrifice made by thousands of his comrades in the war but to us it really is a big one because the proceeds of the sale should pay for a whole year’s maintenance.”

The medals, which also include the New Zealand Order of Merit, are to be sold by London auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb.

Christopher Hill, a director at the auction house, said: “Les Munro is a remarkable man whose spirit of adventure has never left him.

“It is entirely typical of him that he is selling his medals, log books and other memorabilia to help ensure that the memory of his dead comrades will never fade.”

Les Munro (centre front) with crew before flying on Dambusters raid (Dix Noonan Webb/BNPS)

Sq Ldr Munro’s father was Scottish and emigrated to New Zealand in 1903 and became a shepherd. He joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1941 and arrived in Britain the following year, flying with the 97 Squadron.

He was the captain for bombing raids on aircraft and armament factories in Berlin, Essen, Dusseldorf, Cologne, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Milan and Turin.

In 1943, he volunteered for the 617 “Dambusters” Squadron and was reportedly chosen by Guy Gibson to take part in the dams raid.

Sq Ldr Munro learned to fly Lancaster bombers at below tree-top height at 200mph in preparation for the raid.

On one such flight over Lincolnshire, he was nearly killed when a seagull hit his cockpit windscreen “like a cannonball” and landed between him and his co-pilot.

He went on to practice for the mission over Derwent Water in the Lake District and the Fleet at Chesil Beach.

Two days after the Allied invasion of Europe, Sq Ldr Munro dropped the first “Tallboy” 12,000lbs bomb on a tunnel in southern France that enemy Panzer tanks were using to reinforce Germany army in Normandy.

The RAF’s Dambusters squadron in action during the Second World War

He then led successful raids to wipe out E-boat and U-boat pens in Le Havre and Boulogne, successful missions that helped the Allied take control of Normandy and France.

After the war he returned to New Zealand, studied agriculture and worked for the State Advances Corporation which managed state-owned farms.

He got into local politics and served as mayor of Waitomo, a town on the northern island of New Zealand. He was appointed to the Queen’s Service Order (Q.S.O.) in 1991.

The men of Bomber Command suffered huge losses in the Second World War, with 45 out of every 100 airmen killed.

A permanent memorial for Bomber Command was not built for 67 years due to the controversy of thousands of German civilians who died during the bombings of its cities.

Painting of Lancaster bombers from the RAF’s No 617 Squadron attacking Moehne dam, Germany (PA)

In 2010, German politicians called for plans for the memorial to be abandoned out of respect for the civilian casualties.

Sq Ldr Munro said: “I consider myself a fortunate survivor, ‘Lady Luck’ having sat on my shoulder on several occasions. Yet I think that I left New Zealand on the basic premise that if I was going to cop it, so be it. What will be, will be.

“When fellow officers that I knew relatively well were lost on operations I would feel a brief period of sadness but that had to be quickly relegated to the background of my thoughts.

“There was a job to do and the loss of a colleague could not be allowed to influence how I carried out that job. My duty was to carry out the next operation without emotional distraction. Grief could not be allowed to distract from duty.”

Sq Ldr Munro’s medals are being sold in London on March 25.

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Grandmother honoured with three war medals after a 70-year wait

January 1st, 2015

“I’m deeply honoured but a bit embarrassed too. I’m an old girl now and it all happened 70 years ago, for God’s sake.”

Mrs Banti had no idea that she was eligible for the medals until a chance encounter at Easter with a retired British brigadier, Bill Bewley.

He was staying in an apartment owned by Mrs Banti’s son-in-law, John Pepper, a photographer and theatre director who was brought up in Italy and lives in Palermo, Sicily.

The pair got chatting and Mrs Banti mentioned to the brigadier that as a school girl in Rome under the German occupation she had helped the resistance, distributing anti-fascist literature and even helping to transport dynamite around the city.


Rossana Banti, 1945 (John Pepper)

Hearing by chance of a clandestine British organisation that was looking for recruits, she made contact with British officers and joined up, first with the FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) and then with No 1 Special Forces Unit SOE, where she served as a radio operator.

Brig Bewley did some research in British military archives and discovered that Mrs Banti was entitled to three war medals which she had never received.

She served with the cloak-and-dagger unit from Sept 1943 until the end of the war, maintaining contact with British agents working with Italian partisans behind German lines.

At the time, southern Italy and Rome had been liberated by the Allies but the north of the country was still occupied by German and Italian fascist troops, who fought bitter rear-guard actions all the way up the peninsula.

“We were dealing with secret agents who were parachuted into the north to make contact with Italian partisans. We kept them supplied with weapons, food, clothing, that sort of thing,” she said.

She also helped brief and prepare agents, including anti-fascist Italians and Yugoslavs, who were kept at a secret base in the countryside prior to being parachuted behind the lines.

“It was all top security. They weren’t told until 24 hours before that they were going to be dropped by parachute. It all happened at night – the partisans would light up the drop zone.

“It was the most incredible human experience I’ve had in my life. I was only 19 but I just went with my heart. They saw me as a sister, a mother.

“Sometimes they cried – they had no idea where they were going or what they would find when they got there. It was a very difficult psychological situation. I helped them get into their parachutes and off they went.”

Many did not return. A Yugoslav agent whom Mrs Banti knew was caught and shot by the Germans.


Senora Banti with Major Williams

Initially based near Bari in the southern region of Puglia, and then in Siena in Tuscany, Mrs Banti also trained as a parachutist and hoped to be sent behind enemy lines with the other agents.

“But then the war ended. I was very disappointed.” She ended up marrying one of the secret agents – an Italian named Giuliano Mattioli, who went by the British alias of Julian Matthews.

They married just days before he was sent off on a mission, parachuting behind enemy lines near Bergamo in northern Italy in early 1945.

He fought with the partisans and helped liberate the city from German control. After they were both demobilised at the end of the war, they had two children.


Rosanna Banti aged 89 ( John Pepper)

Mrs Banti, who turns 90 on Jan 8, established a career as a television producer, working for RAI, the Italian state broadcaster, as well as for the BBC in London.

“This brave woman has been unaware of the impact of her wartime service and is finally being given just recognition 70 years later,” the British embassy in Rome said in a statement.

The medals will be presented by Christopher Prentice, the British ambassador.

It will be a long overdue recognition of her contribution to one of Britain’s most fabled clandestine intelligence organisations.

“From humble beginnings, SOE became active in every theatre of war, dispatching thousands of trained operatives to harass enemy garrisons, attack important installations, and encourage, arm and fight beside movements as diverse as communist partisans in the Balkans and headhunting tribes in Borneo,” historian Roderick Bailey wrote in Target:Italy, a recent book on the secret network’s activities against Mussolini’s fascist regime.

Mr Pepper said his mother-in-law had initially been reluctant to receive the medals.

“We had to apply for them in secret. We only told her 10 days ago because we knew that at such short notice she couldn’t back out. She has been very demure about it all but I think she’s warming up to the idea,” he said from Sicily.


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Gang rips medals from army veteran on his way to Remembrance Sunday service

November 11th, 2014

Mr Gill had been walking through Lund Park, Keighley, as he has done for years, at 9.15am on Sunday when the attack happened.

He was wearing his khaki beret, navy blue blazer, maroon and grey striped tie – all three of which bore the regimental badge and the motto ‘Victory Favours the Brave’, with a poppy pinned to his chest and the United Nations Cyprus and Northern Ireland medals on his right lapel.

Mr Gill only recently returned home from hospital following an operation to fit stents in his heart and he is currently on 13 tablets a day for his condition.

He said: “I was walking to the cenotaph in the centre of town for Remembrance Sunday, the same route I have taken every year for as long as I can recall.

“I’d stopped in Lund Park to look at the embers of a fire which had been lit near a sign when out of nowhere I was grabbed or hit from behind.

“My beret was knocked off my head and I stumbled to the ground. I tried to stay on my feet because I didn’t know what would happen if I went to ground.

“I had not seen the gang of about six to eight Asian lads before this and I think they had been hiding in bushes.

“I had not seen or heard them or done anything to intimidate them. They were laughing and joking and speaking in a foreign language, not in English, so I don’t know what they were saying.

“I was shaken and couldn’t understand what was happening. They had taken my beret as a trophy and they were tearing it at like a pack of dogs with a piece of meat. They thought it was funny.”

Mr Gill said that the gang “ran off laughing and joking” out of the park near the bowling green, before he realised his medals were also missing.

“My poppy had been ragged at but they had not managed to steal that,” he said.

“My lip was cut and I was shaken. I can only think I was targeted because of what I was wearing because it was not a mugging or robbery, because I had £200 in cash on me and they didn’t take that or ask for money.”

Mr Gill, who lives alone about 200 yards from the Lund Park gates, said the gang were aged 16-17 years old and he did not recognise any of them.

He dusted himself down and continued his walk to the cenotaph for the 11am act of remembrance.

“There I met my nephew and I told him what had happened and he told me to report it to the police. I didn’t want to make a big fuss about it, but I thought I should report it to prevent anybody else being harmed,” said Mr Gill, who attends monthly regimental meetings at the local Territorial Army Centre.

“After the Remembrance Sunday service I got home at noon and went straight to bed, I was that upset.”

Mr Gill joined up in 1966 and rose from Private to Sergeant until he left following 18 years’ service.

He then got a job in security. He served in Cyprus, Hong Kong, Japan, Gibraltar, Malaysia, and Northern Ireland, where he lost comrades.

He has lived near Lund Park for 60 years and has seen its gradual decline.

“It really has deteriorated. It used to have tennis courts and people played football there, the duck pond has gone and fires are being lit. The bowling green and pavilion have high security fencing to protect them from vandalism,” said Mr Gill.

“I used to have no fears about walking through the park, but I am now reluctant to use it – but if I don’t continue to go in they have won, haven’t they?”

Mr Gill said some of the gang were wearing hoodies, but because of the suddenness and shock of the attack he could not describe them in any better detail.

“I want my medals back, I was proud to earn them and wear them. I also want my beret back, but I think that has probably been torn to bits,” he said.

Inspector Sue Sanderson, who leads the Keighley Area Neighbourhood Team, said: “We would appeal to anyone who saw a group of Asian youths acting suspiciously in the park at around the time of this incident, or anyone who may have seen them leaving the park afterwards.

“We believe there would have been other people around at the time, perhaps also making their way to the Remembrance Day service.”

The police are treating the crime as a robbery, and Insp Sanderson added that although Mr Gill was not injured, “the victim is understandably shaken by the loss of his beret and his medals”.

Edited by Melanie Hall.


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War veteran’s medals are stolen on D-Day anniversary

June 9th, 2014

The victim, a former Grenadier Guard, was at home on Friday morning when a man posing as a water company official conned his way inside, claiming he was checking the water pressure in the area.

The victim, who has not been named, served in the Grenadier Guards during the Second World War and saw action in Italy and North Africa.

He was said to be extremely upset by the theft particularly coming on the anniversary of the D-Day Landings in Normandy.

Police are urging anyone with information to contact police via 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Officers are also warning the elderly and vulnerable to be on their guard for bogus callers.


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Dambusters deserve proper medals not a brass clasp, says wartime bomber hero

April 20th, 2014

There is even a specially commissioned Bomber Command Memorial at Hyde Park Corner, opened by the Queen, to commemorate the 55,573 Allied air men who died during WW2.

Arctic convoy veterans have recently been awarded the Arctic Star medal after a 70 year fight in recognition of what Churchill called the worst journey in the world. Nearly 3,000 perished in the freezing waters supplying the troops on the front.

“A medal was produced for the Arctic survivors. If a medal is good enough for them it’s good enough for us,” said Mr Johnson from Bristol.

“We deserve a medal not a clasp. The 55,000 doesn’t include the injured or those taken prisoner and the sacrifices they made.

“If that’s the last thing I do it will be to get a medal for us.”

Mr Johnson, who flew 50 missions during his 22 years service was the bomb aimer on the night of May 17, 1943, as part of Operation Chastise to cripple the Nazi war effort.

He dropped the bomb on Sorpe dam and was awarded a raft of medals including the Distinguished Flying Medal for his part in the daring 617 Squadron raid.

He is still considering whether to wear his clasp he describes as an “insult.”

“I have got, much to my disgust, one of the clasps but still not made up my mind whether to wear it,” he said.

“All those people died and we get that. To get that little copper job instead of a medal, no, I’m sorry I am not sure I’ll bother to wear it.

“Although I am Conservative through and through I am not quite happy with our present Prime Minister. He should have done more for this medal business. It is the politicians who make the final decision.

“There was all the hassle with politicians to get the Memorial then they had front row seats. It’s hypocrisy.”

Next week, Mr Johnson will be at the London unveiling of his portrait by artist Richard Stone dedicated to the whole squadron and will make a speech about their huge sacrifice.

“I didn’t want to do it but my family told me to!” he added.

“It is amazing to think there is still all this interest in the Dambusters. I have insisted on a dedication to the whole squadron. It will go on the portrait as it is for everyone who took part, not just me.”

In May he will again renew the call for a medal with the release of his life story The Last British Dambuster released to mark the 71st anniversary of the raid on May 16, 1943. He worked on the book published by Ebury Press with a ghost writer.

“I am pleased people still want to know what we did,” said Mr Johnson.

“I go to schools and talk to children about the raid, they are fascinated. It is a part of our history and they really listen to my stories that are real, not like something off the television.

“I can still remember it all quite clearly after all these years. That raid was a turning point in the war.”

Mr Johnson is also an adviser to Hobbit director Peter Jackson who is working on a remake of the classic black and white Dambuster movie that starred Richard Todd and Michael Redgrave.

The widower has gone deaf because of his valiant service in the RAF from the noise of the planes. For his sacrifice he gets a £140 a month war pension in recognition of his service.

“I call it Lancaster Ear, I’m deaf in both ears and have got hearing aids,” he said.

“The noise from all those aircraft didn’t help. They didn’t give us any warnings just blow your nose as you come in so your ears don’t pop.”


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Battle of Britain hero’s medals to go under the hammer

April 14th, 2014

Air Cdre Berry was so highly esteemed that he was one of few airmen chosen to lead Winston Churchill’s coffin at his funeral 20 years after World War Two.

He was awarded the CBE for his services along with the Distinguished Service Order and Distinguished Flying Cross with Bar.

The medal group, along with his log books covering the war and several aviation maps, are now being sold for the first time at auction.

They are tipped to sell for a six figure sum, not least because they belonged to one of the so-called “Few” who Churchill famously credited with saving Britain for a Nazi invasion.

In a speech to the Commons on August 20, 1940, the wartime Prime Minister said: “The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion.

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Oliver Pepys, a medals expert at London auctioneers Spink, said: “Ronald Berry was one of the Few who distinguished themselves in World War II.

“He did have such an amazing tally of kills and probable kills.

“His medals are very significant, in the fact you have a DSO and a DFC with Bar – three superb gallantry awards for World War II.

“The DFC is for the Battle of Britain. He was very much one of the Few who stopped Operation Sea Lion – Hitler’s plan to invade Britain from happening.

“The medals have never appeared on the market before.

“Prices for gallantry medals are very strong at the moment and now is as good a time as any to sell.

“It is a very good fighter pilot’s group but with these it is more about the man behind the medals.”

Air Cdre Berry, who died in 2000 aged 84, was born in Hull and joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve in 1937.

Two months after the outbreak of the war he was sent to Montrose in Scotland to help protect the airfield there and served in 603 Squadron.

Days later he was involved in one of the earliest interceptions of the war when he damaged a Heinkel III bomber.

He went on to shoot down a Junkers 88 bomber into the North Sea and have three shared kills during his time in Scotland.

Due to increasing RAF casualties, 603 Squadron was sent to south east England on August 1940 during the height of the Battle of Britain.

In September 1940 Air Cdre Berry was involved in up to four dog-fights a day and accounted for 14 different enemy aircraft in that time, earning him his first DFC.

After the Battle of Britain he was one of only eight out of the 24 original pilots from 603 Squadron left.

He was promoted from Sergeant Pilot to Squadron Leader and took part in a convoy patrols as well as providing air cover for the disastrous Dieppe Raid in 1942.

His 81 Squadron was the first to land in French North Africa in November 1942 where he had a farcical exchange with a French commander, with each claiming the other as his prisoner.

He continued to wreak havoc with the Luftwaffe, claiming more kills.

By the end of the Tunisian campaign in May 1943, he had accumulated a total of 14 enemy aircraft destroyed, 10 shared destroyed, nine probable kills, 17 damaged and seven destroyed on the ground.

After the war he was in charge of the Air Fighting Development Unit at West Raynham in Norfolk, made OBE in 1946 and CBE in 1965.

He retired with wife Nancy to Hornsea, East Yorkshire.

His medals are being sold in London on April 24.


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