It was his Lancaster which took control of the Bomber Command attack and stayed with it.
In a book about the raid Searby was also keen to praise Norman Scrivener, “…small of stature and with more than a hundred heavy bomber sorties behind him”, who “had been my navigator for some time: his role tonight was a vital one for he had to get the aircraft to the target alone and ahead of all the others with precisely five minutes in hand. We would need this to complete our survey of the aiming points before the real show started.”
After the Path Finders had marked the area of attack with yellow and green flares the bombers followed in. Searby and Scrivener’s Lancaster had to orbit several times to ensure that targets were being hit – at great risk from RAF bombs falling from above them.
Peenemunde was one operation in Squadron Leader Scrivener’s impressive and lengthy Bomber Command service during the Second World War, earning him the DSO and DFC.
Offered at Lewes saleroom Wallis & Wallis (22% buyer’s premium) on October 18 was Scrivener’s medal group, along with an extensive array of items such as his Path Finder Force badge (December 18, 1943) and Flying Log Book (Air Observer) covering the period January 1940 to August 3, 1945, and signed by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, Flt/Lt David Shannon, Flt/Sgt Burpee (all to be Dambuster pilots) and W/Cdr John Searby.
The group sold for £34,000 to a private buyer against an estimate of £20,000-30,000, underlining the reputation that the once ignored Bomber Command servicemen have now earned (such as the memorial in London’s Green Park), the elite Path Finder Force appeal and Dambuster interest – not to mention a personal story of bravery involving the famous Peenemunde raid.
Glenn Butler of Wallis & Wallis said: “The vendor bought the medal group in our auction around 22 years ago and recently decided to offer them again with us.
“They sold for £5000 first time round, now £34,000 in 2022, so while being a custodian of such a fine group, a piece of history, they have proved to be a very good investment indeed.”
Four-figure air force options
The headline prices being fetched by Second World War RAF medal groups or ephemera at auction such as the Scrivener group could be enough to put off all but the most well-heeled collector.
However, beyond the five- and six-figure Battle of Britain pilots, Dambusters, aces and now Bomber Command servicemen are plenty of interesting options at lower levels.
A good example came on September 21 at North Yorkshire auction house Tennants (22% buyer’s premium) consigned from a private north of England source.
This group of medals belonging to Wing Commander William Anderson Beaumont of the RAF, RAAF and ROC, topped the Militaria & Ethnographica Sale in Leyburn when they sold via thesaleroom.com for £2500 to a UK private bidder against an estimate of £800-1200.
The lot included the Ordinary Companion of the Order of the Bath (Civil Division) neck badge, OBE Breast Badge (Military) and Burma Star, as well as a logbook, Beaumont’s badges and a crest badge of Christ Church, Oxford, his alma mater.
While flying on September 2, 1945, to drop supplies to a PoW camp, Beaumont and his crew were forced to bale out of their damaged Liberator aircraft. The war had already officially ended. Beaumont survived by perching on a platform he had built to raise himself above the flood waters of the Ganges Delta. He had no food but drank rainwater dripping from the leaves. He was rescued after spending four days and nights in the jungle.
Later in life he became the Speaker’s Secretary.
The Beaumont lot also included membership cards for the Caterpillar Club and Goldfish Club.
The Caterpillar Club is an informal association of people who have successfully parachuted out of a disabled aircraft. The Goldfish Club forms a worldwide association of those who have escaped an aircraft by parachuting into the water, or whose aircraft crashed in the water, and whose lives were saved by a life jacket, inflatable dinghy or similar device.
Another member of the Caterpillar Club was bomber pilot Sgt Mark Mead. He was shot down in his Halifax and spent years in a Stalag PoW camp, writing regularly to his mother, before being forced to take part in the ‘Death March’ in the closing days of the war.
It is estimated that nearly 100,000 Allied prisoners had to march around 1000 miles in the bitter winter of 1945 across Poland and Czechoslovakia to Germany; thousands died along the way.
A moving archive of poignant letters, medals and other ephemera belonging to Sgt Mead came up for sale at Canterbury Auction Galleries (27% buyer’s premium inc VAT) on October 1-2.
Estimated at £3000-5000, it failed to sell but was then bought as a post-sale. The saleroom said: “It sold for £2600 to a local medal collector who was so moved by the story he bought it to potentially put on display.”