Special Collections

Sold on 12 December 2012

1 part


The Collection of Second World War and Modern Gallantry Awards formed by the late William Oakley

William Raymond Oakley

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№ 631


13 December 2012

Hammer Price:

A fine Second World War evader’s D.F.M. group of five awarded to Flight Sergeant Roger Gardner, Royal Air Force, a Wireless Operator who had all but completed his operational tour in Halifaxes of No. 10 Squadron when downed on a raid on Dusseldorf in April 1944 - in common with five of his crew he evaded capture and returned to the U.K. that September

Distinguished Flying Medal, G.VI.R. (1380415 F./Sgt. R. Gardner, R.A.F.); 1939-45 Star; Air Crew Europe Star; Defence and War Medals 1939-45, good very fine and better (5) £2500-3000

D.F.M. London Gazette 6 March 1944. The original recommendation states:

‘Sergeant Gardner was the Wireless Operator of a Halifax aircraft detailed to attack Düsseldorf on the night of 22 April, 1944. On the return flight after the target was successfully attacked, his aircraft was shot down by enemy night fighters. He succeeded, however, in evading the enemy and eventually reached this country in September 1944. This N.C.O. had previously taken part in 28 sorties against the enemy including several attacks on some of the most heavily defended targets in Germany such as Berlin (twice), Leipzig, Magdeburg, Ludwigshaven, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf and Essen. He carried out these operations with great skill and determination, proving himself to be a courageous and dependable member of an aircraft crew. His skill played a good part in the success of his operational flights. I consider Sergeant Gardner a Wireless Operator of high merit and strongly recommend that his consistent skill, courage and strong devotion to duty be recognised by the immediate award of the Distinguished Flying Medal.’

Roger Gardner, who was born in January 1922 and a native of Par, Cornwall, commenced his operational career as a Wireless Operator when posted to No. 10 (Blackburn’s Own) Squadron, a Halifax unit operating out of Melbourne, Yorkshire, in May 1943, when he completed his first sortie - against Dortmund - on the 23rd.

Having then participated in strikes against Dusseldorf, Essen, Gelsenkirchen, Le Creusot, Krefield, Mulheim and Wuppertal in June, and carried out a single operation against Munich in August, he transferred to a mid-tour crew skippered by an Australian, Squadron Leader Jack Trobe, D.F.C., in early November 1943 - luckily for posterity’s sake, much of Gardner’s subsequent operational career is catalogued in the the wartime memoirs of his Bomb Aimer, George Fernyhough.

Thus accounts of his sorties to Berlin over the winter of 1943, in addition to such targets as Magdeburg and Leipzig, and of operations against French targets in March 1944; so, too, of further German targets, among them Frankfurt and Essen, in the course of which sorties flak damage was sustained on at least three occasions. But it was on returning from Dusseldorf on the night of 22-23 April that he gained membership of Caterpillar Club. Fernyhough takes up the story:

‘The first hour over the mainland was rather quiet. We approached the target and prepared for the bombing run with the bomb doors open. I was guiding the aircraft onto the target with the mantra, left-left-right-right-steady, when we flew into a burst if flak. The result was the port outer engine was hit and caught fire. We kept up the bombing run and I released the bombs on the target. The skipper turned immediately out of the target area and headed for home. The engine was still burning but we were leaving the Ruhr and the flak. Then the unexpected happened. The propeller of the burning engine flew off and penetrated the next engine, the port outer, and put it out of action and also entered the rear of the cockpit. With two engines dead, the bomber went into a spin. The skipper gave the order to abandon the aircraft and all other crew members acknowledged him. The Rear Gunner Doug Smith said he had a damaged turret and could not get out and was taking the crash position. The skipper tried to fit on his own parachute, but as soon as he took his hands off the control column the spinning returned. Things were becoming desperate and we seemed to be going down with no chance of escape, but escape was imperative ...

Escape from the twisting turning bomber was concentrating everyone’s mind and Andre the Navigator began to open the front hatch which was near his position. Due to the intensity of the spin, Andre was having great difficulty in opening the hatch which was the escape route for the Navigator, Bomb Aimer, Wireless Operator [Roger Gardner] and Flight Engineer. The pilot was to leave out of the hatch above his seat. The Rear Gunner would traverse his turret 90-degrees and drop out; the Mid-Upper Gunner would leave through the main door. As the struggle continued the Flight Engineer went to the rear of the aircraft and baled out of the main door. By this time Andre had blacked out with the unequal struggle of opening the hatch against the spin and as a result was slumped over the hatch itself. I took a quick look through the front of the aircraft to see if there was still enough time to bale out. What I saw was the horizon going up and down - we were still in a spin. Roger and I dragged Andre from off the escape hatch and Roger held him while I then opened the hatch. The next problem was to get Andre out as he was still unconscious. I held the rip cord handle of his parachute and pushed him out of the aircraft, quickly followed by Roger ... ’

As it transpired, Squadron Leader “Jack” Trobe then decided to crash land, and, though injured, managed to seek out assistance from a Dutch farmer. In fact, with the exception of the two gunners, who became P.O.Ws., the entire crew evaded capture and were liberated by the advancing Allies in Brussels, but not before many adventures. For his own part, Gardner, like Andre Duchesney, the Navigator, appears to have travelled alone. Be that as it may, he reached the U.K. in late September 1944. He was recommended for the D.F.M.

Sold with a quantity of original documentation, comprising official telegram reporting the recipient missing in action, dated 24 April 1944, together with follow-up Air Ministry letter dated on the 30th; a letter from Gardner to his parents, from Brussels, letting them know that he is safe and sound, together with a family telegram, dated 19 September 1944 - ‘Roger safe. It’s grand’; and two or three letters exchanged between Gardner and the mother of George Fernyhough.

Also see Lot 629 for the C.G.M. awarded to Sergeant T. E. Bisby, the Wireless Operator Gardner replaced in Squadron Leader Jack Trobe’s crew when he was seriously wounded in November 1943.