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Fighter pilot's medals sold

PUBLISHED: 10:17 03 July 2009 | UPDATED: 14:18 03 July 2010

Auction surprise: Medals awarded to Sgt John Lansdell.

Auction surprise: Medals awarded to Sgt John Lansdell.

SGT John Lansdell had only flown a few sorties as a young fighter pilot before his squadron was dropped into the frontline of the Battle of Britain in 1940.

Sgt John Lansdell

SGT John Lansdell had only flown a few sorties as a young fighter pilot before his squadron was dropped into the frontline of the Battle of Britain in 1940.

Daily dog fights became commonplace but for some the end was sudden. The young man took off from RAF Tangmere, West Sussex, in a flight of nine Hurricanes at 3.05pm on September 17.

Barely half an hour later he was dead - shot down by a Messerschmitt Me 109 which attacked with others from above and behind while the squadron was on patrol at 17,000 feet over Gravesend.

Lansdell, 23, from Great Yarmouth is buried at St Margaret's Church, Hemp-nall, in south Norfolk. His three service medals, one with a clasp for the Battle of Britain made £5,412, well over the £2,500-£3,000 estimate at auction in London last week.

David Erskine-Hill, a specialist at Dix, Noonan and Webb, who catalogued the group said this week: “This was an extremely poignant item. Men like this saved us all. What made these medals sell so well was the accompanying archive.

“There was his birth certificate, family and service photographs, drawings of aeroplanes, a note from Great Yarmouth Grammar School - even the box used to send his medals to his family in Great Yarmouth.

“Normally these medals on their own would make £200-£300 but this supporting material made the collection very strong.

“There was a lot of bidding, both on commission and in the room because this archive brought the whole thing alive and showed what a sacrifice these boys made.”

Lansdell was born in March, 1917, the son of a local headmaster. After Great Yarmouth Grammar School he gained a first class honours diploma in aeronautics at Loughborough College and was elected an Associate Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

He enlisted in the RAF Volunteer Service in late 1937 and was selected for pilot training, joining 607 (County of Durham) Squadron in July, 1940. Meanwhile, the Battle of Britain was reaching its climax and 607 was moved to Tangmere in September.

The fighter station was one of those in the frontline in the fight against the Germans.

The squadron's operational record book on the day of his death describes how Lansdell and a fellow pilot fired short bursts at close range at a Me 109. Lansdell bailed out after his aircraft was hit but he did not survive.

The Hurricane crashed into a hop garden at Beltring, Kent.

The crash was seen by a local man and 40 years later he identified the site, now a wheat field, to the Shoreham Aviation Museum.

Volunteers found the wreckage of the cockpit section 16ft below ground. The armour plate behind the pilot's seat was removed to reveal the instruments and showed the gun button on the control column was still set in the firing position.

Sgt Lansdell evidently went down with all guns blazing.

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