Monday, June 18, 2012

"We should thank God that such men lived"

The title of this post is taken from a well-known quotation by General George S. Patton.  It expresses my sentiments when I read about an upcoming auction sale of the medals of Group Captain Mike Stephens of World War II fame.  The Telegraph reports:

Squadron Leader Mike Stephens was climbing out of his burning Hurricane high above the Western Desert. He had been injured in both feet and much of his fighter’s engine and half the cockpit had been shot away by an enemy aircraft.

But when the Luftwaffe pilot who had attacked him flew past, Stephens climbed back into his plane and shot the enemy Messerschmitt down.

It was only then that he jumped to safety, and by that stage he was on fire himself. He beat the flames out as he parachuted to the ground, landing just 300 yards from the German front line. He hobbled towards friendly lines in the Western Desert before being picked up by Polish troops.

Stephens was awarded a Distinguished Service Order for his heroics. He was just 22 years old.

The action, in December 1941, over Acroma, Libya, was one of many acts of bravery carried out by the “ace” who shot down an estimated 22 enemy aircraft during the war.

As well as the DSO, he won the Distinguished Flying Cross with two bars.

His medals, as well as other mementoes including his log book, photographs and a flying helmet with oxygen mask are being sold by his son, and are expected to sell for £50,000 at the Dix Noonan Webb saleroom in Mayfair, London, on June 27-28.

Stephens, who went on to become a group captain, holds a special place in wartime aviation because he was admitted to three informal “clubs” for RAF pilots.

They were the Caterpillar Club, for those who bailed out with a parachute; the Goldfish Club, for those who bailed out into water; and the Flying Boot Club, for those who came down in the desert and had to walk to friendly lines.

David Erskine-Hill, of Dix Noonan Webb, said: “The remarkable wartime career of Mike Stephens epitomises the sustained gallantry displayed by the young pilots of Fighter Command.

It was a career encompassing several hundred combat sorties and the award of four decorations for gallantry – only 15 airmen received the combination of a DSO and DFC with 2 Bars in the 1939-45 war.”

There's more at the link, including a photograph of his impressive collection of medals (his British awards for valor in action are equivalent to the US awards of one Air Force Cross and three Silver Stars).  More details of Group Captain Stephens' life may be found in his obituary.

He was a man of remarkable courage.  I think General Patton's words make a fitting epitaph for such as he.



trailbee said...

No one likes to have to go to war, but it is exactly that event that brings out the true, inbred character of the hero. Most of us stand in awe of such men, wondering if we are capable of performing as well under such dire circumstances, and die, wondering.

Old NFO said...

One hellva set, and well deserved. Hopefully these will end up in a museum, NOT in somebody's private collection...

Anonymous said...

Old NFO, I think the RAF and the Imperial War Museum try to get those awards for their memorial displays, as they do with the V.C. (when family members are willing to part with them).