medal code j3074

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AN EXTREMELY FINE WW1 GROUP AWARDED TO A SERGEANT PILOT IN 20 SQUADRON ROYAL FLYING CORPS, WHO DURING THREE MONTHS IN LATE 1917, CLAIMED THREE CONFIRMED AERIAL VICTORIES, WAS SHOT DOWN TWICE AND WOUNDED, FOR HIS GALLANTRY DURING THE LATTER, HE WAS AWARDED THE DISTINGUISHED CONDUCT MEDAL A VERY RARE AWARD TO THE FLYING PERSONNEL, WITH ONLY 33 SUCH AWARDS TO THE ROYAL FLYING CORPS

DISTINGUISHED CONDUCT MEDAL GV, UNNAMED, 1914/15 STAR ‘2015 1.A.M. F. HOPPER. R.F.C.’, BRITISH WAR AND VICTORY ‘2015. SGT. F. HOPPER. R.F.C.’

D.C.M. London Gazette 28 March 1918. The recommendation reads:

"2015 Sjt. F. Hopper, R.F.C. (Burnley). For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Whilst on reconnaissance duty, he, with his formation, was attacked by five enemy 'planes. Though stunned by a wound in his arm, with his engine out of action and controls shot away, he succeeded in evading three of the enemy scouts which had closed on him, and crossed the line at a low altitude. He landed his machine without injury to himself or his observer. Later, he shot down two enemy planes completely out of control, and throughout he has shown the greatest vigour, determination and courage.”

M.I.D. 9 May 1919. Noted in Service Record only

Francis Hopper, was born in Burnley in 1892 and was a junior partner at Goodshawfold Cotton Mill prior to enlisting into the Royal Flying Corps on 2 November 1914. Briefly serving in France (Squadron unknown), between 14 January and 3 February 1915 as an AM1, he applied for pilot training in 1916, undertaking training at Central Flying School, UpAvon. Between early June and early July 1917, he was attached to 69 Australian Squadron, then based at Carlton Aerodrome, having graduated with the grade of First Class Pilot on 27 June 1917. With the rank of Sgt Pilot, his next posting is unknown, except it was UK based. What is known is that in early September 1917, he fell foul with authorities for flying off to a party at a neighbouring squadron. Clearly a valued pilot, to avoid court martial, his C.O. ordered him to France the following morning. Undeterred, young Hopper cheekily enquired whether he could attend a show in London that evening, which was surprisingly granted. Sgt Hopper subsequently joined 20 Squadron at St Marie Chappel, France on 8 September 1917.

That month, 20 squadron had just been equipped with F2b (Bristol Fighters), a formidable fighter and one that by the end of the War, would make 20 Squadron the highest scoring (by a fair margin) and possibly most decorated British fighter squadron on the Western Front, with 613 combat victories. Needless to say, over the coming months, Sgt Hopper was in the thick of the action, though not without incident. On 21 September 1917, during combat with enemy aircraft, Hopper, piloting Bristol Fighter B1110, with 2nd Lieut R.S. Morris as Observer, had his fuel tanks shot up. Hopper was forced to land inside the British lines, a little northwest of Hill 60. On 6 October, his diary noted; ‘Had a fine scrap… but there were too many of them , 30 at least and only three of us’. A few days later, he went up in the morning but ‘the Hun hit his aircraft in nearly fifty places’, shooting away the ‘right outside struts and spars in bottom of the plane and aileron’ and hitting his engine in three places. A bullet also hit his head, splitting his flying helmet in two but he ‘got back ok’.

Hopper was forced to land after combat twice, the above mentioned and another time during which he landed in a British gun emplacement. ‘Refreshed by a stiff drink, he was happy to be given the opportunity of firing one of their field guns’.

On 6 December 1917 Sgt Hopper, piloting Bristol Fighter A7250, with Capt R.H. Warden as Observer. During combat with enemy aircraft, Hopper was forced to land and crashed in shelled ground. Sgt Hopper was severely wounded with a gunshot wound to the arm and Capt Warden was injured. It was for his gallantry during this flight, that would he would be awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Spending a month in hospital in France and back in the UK, after recovery, he reverted to the rank of Sergeant and his wounding seems to have ended his wartime operational duties. On joining the Royal Air Force in April 1918, he was re ranked, Sgt Mechanic but would not be discharged from the R.A.F. until 25 November 1922, having been remustered as Sgt Pilot from 1 January 1919. Presumably during 1919 and 1922, he was flying again. Post War, he was a volunteer in the Reserve, being called out during the General Strike and during the Second War, he served as a Captain in the Home Guard. Francis Hopper died in Burnley on 28 November 1981.

SERGEANT HOPPER’S AERIAL VICTORIES

During his service with 20 Squadron, Sgt Hopper had three confirmed aerial victories:

One Albatros DV, shot down ‘Out of Control’ 25 September 1917
Two Albatros DV, shot down ‘Out of Control’ 2 October 1917
All three victories were with Capt L.W. Burbidge as Observer, a six victory Ace. It seems from his citation, at least two of these victories were by the guns of Sgt Hopper but with as with all such victories, they were credited to both pilot and observer. The following has been extracted from 20 Squadrons records:

“2 October 1917, Photo-reconnaissance, 10.50am-1.02pm, four Bristol Fighters: The reconnaissance had obtained 46 plates over the Army Counter-Battery area when about fifteen Albatros scouts attempted to interrupt the work. They were at the same height (15,000 feet) and Captain Johnston at once led his formation into them. In the ensuing fight Sgt Hopper and Captain Burbridge (A-7164) dived onto two HA and both were driven down hopelessly out of control over Dadizeele at 11.55am. Sgt Hopper (pilot) was then forced to leave the fight with elevator controls shot away and guns jammed. Lt. Dalley and Lt. Rowan, however, drove another HA down out of control over Moorslede. The three Bristols drove all the remaining HA away and the photography was then completed and our formation returned. The Bristol Fighter out-manouvred the Albatros scout in that it did not lose as much height in the fighting."

Additionally, he was shot down/forced to land twice and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The latter one of just 92 such awards to the R.F.C. of which only 33 were for flight duties. Service records note an additional Mentioned in Despatches on 9 May 1919, this however cannot be located in the London Gazette.

Medal trio correctly named R.F.C. as entire service in France and subsequent medal entitlement was with the Royal Flying Corps. Distinguished Conduct Medal and original but unnamed example which has been mounted with the trio for display purposes.

Condition GVF. Sold with copy RAF service papers, D.C.M. recommendation, 20 Squadron Operations Record (basic), MIC etc (on CD). Also a copy of Sothbey’s auction catalogue, 25 July 1991, which contains a listing for sale of Sgt Hoppers single DCM, logbooks, certificate of service, pilot certificate and other documents. The whereabouts of these are unknown, though needless to say, would make a fantastic re-unite. The vendor of the trio has had these in his collection for many years.

Code J3074        Price £