'A magnificent example of coolness and gallantry'

Spink's auction, this Thursday, of Orders, Decorations, Campaign Medals and Militaria is already looking like it will be the collectible medals sale of the year.

On offer are not one but two Victoria Cross medal groups: both the first VC ever awarded to a British soldier, Major J S Knox (during the Crimean War) and a posthumous VC awarded to Wing Commander H G Malcolm for a virtually suicidal mission in WW2.

However, there are also a couple of other lots which would be the headline piece in any other auction, none more so that the DSO group awarded to the pilot Captain P H 'Dutch' Hugo for his actions during the Second World War.

Petrus Hendrik Hugo was born in 1917 in South Africa, where his French Huguenot father was a shepherd. After attending Witwatersrand College of Aeronautical Engineering he came to England for training with the RAF in 1938.

Quickly recognised as exceptionally talented, both as a pilot and a marksman, Hugo was posted to 615 Squadron (Gladiators - though quickly replaced by Hurricanes) in Vitry, France in December 1939, and five months later had his first victory, shooting down a Heinkel III.

It was during the Battle of Britain in July 1940 that Hugo really began to establish his reputation. On July 14 his section engaged three Stukas with all three shot down, two of them by Hugo.

A week later he sent another two 'down smoking', in one case radioing through a rescue message calling for assistance to be sent for the German pilot left bobbing in the water above his sunken plane.

Hugo was injured in a following flight, but returned to the air bandaged up just two days later only to be more seriously injured. Whilst recuperating he was awarded his (first) Distinguished Flying Cross.

Given two more bars to the DFC (in 1941 and 1943), and taking the opportunity to arrange a meeting with Winston Churchill (as the Squadron's Honorary Air Commodore) between the second and third, Hugo was promoted to Group Captain, aged just 24 in 1942.

WW2 Pilot Dutch Hugo DSO DFC
WW2 Pilot Dutch Hugo's DSO and DFC (to the left) with others

Within weeks, messages went back recommending he be further honoured for his immediate mastery of the position, including the following from his Air Officer Commanding:

"He has at all times set a magnificent example for coolness and gallantry when on active operations, and I very strongly recommend him for the D.S.O."

Together with his triple-barred DFC, 1939-1945 Star (with Battle of Britain Bar), Air Crew Europe Star (with France and Germany Bar), Africa Star (with North Africa 1942-43 Bar), Italy Star, Defence and War Medals, American Distinguished Flying Cross and French Republic Croix de Guerre 1939-45, the DSO is expected to attract bids of £100,000-120,000.

The auction takes place in London on Thursday 22 April, and we will bring you the results here.


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