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Auction: Orders, Decorations and Medals (13 December 2007)
was auctioned on: 13 December 2007
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A superb Second World War B.E.M. group

Estimate: £1,400 - £1,600
ca. US$2,830 - US$3,235
Price realised:  £1,900
ca. US$3,841
Lot number 1018, Views: 4

A superb Second World War B.E.M. group of five awarded to Squadron Leader J. Purcell, Royal Air Force, who twice qualified for membership of the “Goldfish Club”, the first occasion resulting in three days adrift in a dinghy - and his B.E.M. for saving the life of his pilot British Empire Medal, (Military) G.VI.R., 1st issue (1169029 Sgt. Jack Purcell, R.A.F.); 1939-45 Star; Air Crew Europe Star; Defence and War Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf, generally extremely fine (5) £1400-1600 Footnote B.E.M. London Gazette 6 January 1942. The original recommendation states: ‘Sergeant Purcell was the front-gunner of an aircraft which, whilst carrying out an attack on Ostend, received a direct hit from heavy anti-aircraft fire. Although an attempt was made to bring the aircraft back to England, it eventually crashed in the sea some ten miles off Orfordness. On impact the captain was thrown down into the bomb compartment but, after being submerged in 15 feet of water, he eventually escaped, in semi-drowned condition, through the broken off tail of the aircraft. Sergeant Purcell, who was suffering from burns about the face and hands, had helped the captain to climb out of the wreckage and then supported and encouraged him for about half an hour until it was possible to reach the dinghy. In spite of the captain’s continual suggestions that Sergeant Purcell should leave him and get to the dinghy himself, the Sergeant refused to do so. There is little doubt that the captain’s life was saved as a result of the determination and bravery shown by Sergeant Purcell. He subsequently displayed courage, cheerfulness and powers of endurance during the three days which the crew spent floating in the dinghy.’ Jack Purcell was born in Clapham, London in May 1920 and enlisted in the Royal Air Force in July 1940. Qualifying as an Air Gunner in the following year, and having attended No. 11 Operational Training Unit, he was posted to No. 218 (“Gold Coast”) Squadron, a Wellington unit operating out of Marham, Norfolk in August 1941. And his introduction to the perils of operational flying were swift, his aircraft being compelled to ditch on his very first sortie, an attack on Ostend on 2 September. 218’s Operational Record Book takes up the story: ‘Nothing was heard from this aircraft after it left base. The entire crew were posted as missing. Later it appeared that the aircraft had come down in flames over the sea, nose first, as a result of being hit off Ostend. The pilot’s cockpit was about ten feet under water, the only part of the aircraft not on fire. Squadron Leader Gibbs, D.F.C., struggled to get out of the pilot’s escape hatch but it was jammed. After various things seeming to fly past him and very weak as a result of trying to hold his breath in between the intervals of taking in water, he found he was too weak to open the astro hatch when he located it. Eventually, after what seemed like an age, he found a break in the fuselage, where the Sergeant Front Gunner was just getting through. They struggled out and the Sergeant tried to blow up the Squadron Leader’s flotation jacket with his mouth, but he could not manage it. The Squadron Leader cannot remember getting into the dinghy, his only memories being an endless moment in which he had his head under water for what seemed like an eternity. For three days and nights the crew drifted. On the first morning they heard a bell buoy, but the tide swept them past it. They rationed their supplies. On the third day they could see buildings and could hear trains but they were still being washed in and out by tides. Eventually, they were washed ashore near Margate. For four of the crew, including the Front Gunner, this was their first operational flight. It was Squadron Leader Gibbs’ 36th raid.’ No doubt as a result of the burns he sustained, Purcell did not fly again until 4 November 1941, when he was once more detailed to attack Ostend. Then on the 26th of that month, in a raid against Emden, in Wellington Z.1103 A

Informations about the auction
Auction house: Dix Noonan Webb
Title: Orders, Decorations and Medals (13 December 2007)
Date of the auction: 13 Dec 2007
Address: Dix Noonan Webb
16 Bolton St, Mayfair
W1J 8BQ London
United Kingdom
[email protected] · +44 (0)20 7016 1700 · +44 (0)20 7016 1799