Second World War RAF Distinguished Flying Cross group and archive of Flt Lt Albert Roach, £4000 at Great Western Auctions.

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Sometimes it will be a particular regiment, or maybe a certain campaign or family.

For the buyer of a wonderful archive offered at Great Western Auctions (24% buyer’s premium) of Glasgow on June 23 the fascination lay in an honour connected to aircraft apprentices – and particularly those with pre-war named medals in their later service.

That combination is understandably hard to find but the collection that belonged to Flt Lt Albert Roach sold via a phone bid on the low estimate of £4000 met the criteria.

Consigned by Roach’s son, the Second World War RAF Distinguished Flying Cross group of honours with corresponding miniatures also included an India General Service Medal with North West Frontier 1937-39 clasp.

Two flying log books were offered along with a large collection of paper and canvas maps and charts and a Birmingham silver monogrammed cigarette case to mark his DFC award.

Not only that, the comprehensive lot also featured RAF badges (including a Iraq 1936 embroidered cloth patch) and even a headset and accompanying mouthpiece/ respirator, 1941 pattern sheepskin flying boots, early-war Irvin sheepskin flying jacket and a Beadon flying suit (size no 6).

Rare example

The buyer told ATG: “My interest in the Roach medals was the fact that it is very difficult to find a DFC group with a pre-war named medal and the Roach medals are only the second example of this combination of medals to an aircraft apprentice that I have recorded or seen.

“Many aircraft apprentices re-mustered as NCO pilots and observers in the run-up to the Second World War and in the early part a considerable number perished on operations. Very few of them will have been awarded a pre-war campaign medal.”

Once recruitment into the RAF Volunteer Reserve started to provide trained aircrews, the pre-war apprentices were invariably posted away from operational squadrons to training units which carried a much-reduced risk of death.

The buyer added: “In my collection I have managed to acquire several Air Force Cross (AFC) medal groups with pre-war named medals, representing the fact that a lot of the pre-war aircraft apprentices were posted to training units rather than operational squadrons.

“I also have a few groups where the recipients were released to operational flying but much later in the war when the survival rates for bomber aircrew had improved, particularly after D-Day. These individuals were invariably awarded the ‘France and Germany Star’ rather than the ‘Aircrew Europe Star’ which represents aircrew service on an operational unit prior to D-Day.”

Warrant Officer Roach’s postings mirror this pattern. Having trained as an air observer (navigator/ bomb aimer), he was posted to 15 Operational Training Unit which primarily used to train crews for the Bomber Command squadrons.

He must have requested a transfer to an operational squadron, and it appears that in February 1943 his request was granted and he was posted to 138Sqn which had responsibility for dropping agents and supplies into occupied territory.

His next posting was to 1575Flt which was also a special duties unit, set up in Algeria, to provide support to the partisans in Greece, Albania and Yugoslavia.

After a few months P/O Roach was then posted back to the UK to the Telecommunications Flying Unit at RAF Defford. This was also a secret unit, specialising in the development of aircraft radars and radar jamming equipment, the unit being based well away from operations and therefore a relatively safe posting.