An archive sold at Kent saleroom C&T (22% buyer’s premium) underlines the dangers. This very comprehensive collection related to Major Joseph Clifford Griffiths’ (known as Cliff) service in the Royal Flying Corps, the forerunner of the Royal Air Force.
Commissioned in December 1915, he gained his pilot’s licence in 1916 and appears to have served with 23 Squadron in France and the research suggests he flew both combat and photo reconnaissance missions.
On the September 24, 1916 his aircraft (4857 FE2b) was damaged in the air and his observer Lt RS Osmaston killed.
Then on December 4 Griffiths was brought down near Beaumont Hamel by anti-aircraft fire and landed just 200 yards behind the British front line, although both he and his observer, Lt R Affleck, were unharmed.
According to a copied newspaper report Griffiths had been “engaged in numerous air fights and succeeded in bringing down several hostile machines”.
He relished danger: later in his career he was reprimanded for flying under bridges on the Tyne.
After the war he became Armstrong Whitworth’s first chief flying instructor and acted as a test pilot. Having survived the perils of battle, in October 1923 he was killed aged 27 when test flying a Siskin (single-seat fighter aircraft launched in 1919) and it spun into the ground.
Among the large collection were three photograph albums with a number of excellent images of wartime pilots, various aircraft, some in the air, and the inevitable crashes, together with individual photographs of Griffiths, one in uniform.
Also included were a rare message streamer, weighed with lead possibly, coloured blue, white and red, apparently used by Griffiths to drop messages from his aircraft, a large flag about 2ft 4in x 17½in (70 x 45cm) of 191(N) TS, a First World War Home Defence unit based at Newmarket, and a rare copy of RAF Instruction Notes on the Vickers Gun, May 1918.
Estimated at £900-1200, it sold at £2200 to a private collector in the Books, Ephemera & Photographs Auction on December 8 in Kenardington.
Ephemera in demand
Matthew Tredwen of C&T said: “It is a wonderful complete grouping of a type which were so often broken up over the years, as often it was a case that especially medal collectors did not always want associated ephemera-type items and so on. However, this is something that seems to be changing as the years go on.
“Also, the recipient was awarded medals from the Liverpool Shipwreck & Royal Humane Society which are extremely popular; we have seen really strong results in recent auctions for life-saving awards. The photograph album which accompanied the lot had really good images. These albums turn up quite a lot but they do not often have quite such good images in.”