Limitless bravery: Medals for an exceptional WWII pilot and SAS Sergeant to auction

This year has been a very strong one for medals in general. At time of writing Dix Noonan Webb's rare medals auction is still going on, including medals given to a founder member of the SAS and exceptional awards associated with the Battle of Waterloo.

Earlier in the year, Victoria Crosses went under the hammer, and last month Baldwin's auctioned two rare Chinese Double Dragon medals got bidders all hot and bothered (see below for stories).

At the end of this month, Bonhams is making a contribution of its own, including the medals of an SAS hero and those of an exceptionally (and exceptionally lucky) WWII pilot:

Captain A H Donaldson
Captain A H Donaldson
(Click to enlarge)

Captain Donaldson, who was shot down twice and lost his fingers, miraculously survived a third plane crash into the sea of Gibraltar as he was being flown out of Malta on a stretcher. He was only one of three survivors and lived to tell the tale, whilst going on to have a highly successful career in the Royal Air Force.

Ten medals including the Distinguished Service Order and Distinguished Flying Cross belonging to Group Captain A H Donaldson will be offered in Bonhams' sale. They are expected to sell for £15,000-20,000.

Other items in this lot include log books from April 1934 to October 1942 as well as his flying helmet which was damaged in action. The helmet has featured in various newspaper cuttings, which have also been kept in his log books.

WWII Group Captain A H Donaldson
Captain A H Donaldson WWII medals group
(Click to enlarge)

During Captain Donaldson's later career he trained Spitfire crews after watching the Luftwaffe attack the airfields in Malta and subsequently trained his crews to dive from a startling 8,000ft to 2,000ft.

Five medals, including the WWII Distinguished Conduct Medal belonging to Colour Sergeant G M Boyle will also be offered in the sale, estimated at £12,000 - 15,000. Based in Burma, Sergeant Boyle was recognised as an outstanding leader who put his men's safety before his own. Whilst under fire he rescued a wounded man and took him to safety, whilst consistently giving encouragement to his platoon. 

A further highlight of the sale includes the Queen's Gallantry medal awarded to Special Air Service (SAS) Sergeant Tommy G C Palmer for his part in storming the Iranian Embassy on 5th May 1980.

The medal will be sold as a group with Sgt Palmer's other medals from Northern Ireland, Dhofar, and the Falklands. The group of three medals is estimated to sell for £90,000 to £120,000.

In desperate hand-to-hand fighting during the siege of the Embassy, Tommy helped to subdue the terrorists in a building that was in darkness and on fire in places, and his machine gun jammed at a crucial moment. He was also shot at but the terrorist missed him, so using his pistol strapped to his leg he chased down the terrorist and shot him.

John Millinsted, specialist at Bonhams Medals department comments: "Whilst with auctions you never know what will come through the door to be offered for sale, this year however has been outstanding in the quality of the medals I have been privileged to put up for auction at Bonhams.

"It is hard to comprehend each individual situation that the medal recipients found themselves in, yet given the details taken at the time incredible stories of bravery and heroism will be remembered for generations to come, this makes the collecting of medals so interesting."

For Valour: British Gallantry and Collectors' Medals sale will take place at Bonhams in London on September 29.


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