Rare medals of pilot who served in world wars sell for £4,800

Louis Jarvis

Louis Jarvis, third from right, with fellow pilots from C Flight, 56 Squadron around the time of his first success in February 1918 - Credit: Spink

A collection of rare medals belonging to a Norfolk-born pilot who served in both world wars has gone under the hammer, selling for £4,800.

The nine medals were auctioned at Spinks in London on April 27.

Louis Jarvis, the son of a Cromer hotelier, was credited with seven aerial victories during a spell flying with the most successful British fighter squadron on the Western Front during the First World War.

Louis Jarvis

Louis Jarvis (1891-1951), whose flying exploits during the First World War went unrecognised - Credit: Spink

More than 20 years later he helped integrate the exiled Polish air arm into the Royal Air Force in time to play a key role in defeating the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain in the Second World War.

His administrative ability earned him one of Poland’s most prestigious honours - the Order of Polonia Restituta.

He died in Wroxham in 1951.

Mr Jarvis' circuitous journey to the warring skies over France and Flanders started in Cromer where his wealthy family owned the cliff top Hotel de Paris and nearby Tucker’s Hotel.

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He then progressed to Gresham’s where he shone at all sports but most notably as an award-winning member of the school shooting team. 

Working at Lloyds of London when war broke out in 1914, he was one of four brothers to join the military, seeing action with his younger brother Alan in the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign before transferring from the Middlesex Regiment to the Royal Flying Corps. 

Mr Jarvis was posted as a 26-year-old captain to 56 Squadron, an elite fighter unit, in October 1917. 

Louis Jarvis

In the cockpit of his SE5 fighter, Louis Jarvis, a seven-victory ace. He rose to become a flight commander in the highest-scoring British fighter squadron of the First World War - Credit: Spink

He bore a charmed life, surviving crashes and countless combats as well as desperate attacks on heavily defended observation balloons and death-defying strafing sorties. 

He achieved his first victory on February 19, 1918. Following an inconclusive tussle with a German fighter, he spotted four more enemy machines and immediately dived to attack. 

In his characteristically prosaic account of the combat that followed, he stated: “I fired 30 rounds… at an Albatross two-seater… The observer fired about six shots at me and then disappeared in the bottom of the fuselage.  

“The EA [enemy aircraft] then turned about halfway through my burst and went down out of control in a slow lopping spiral.” 

Louis Jarvis

Louis Jarvis, whose flying exploits during the First World War went unrecognised - Credit: Spink

Three more victories followed in March, a month of swirling dogfights and hazardous low-level sorties that helped slow the enemy’s spring offensive. As the titanic battle raged below, 56 Squadron was at full stretch with Mr Jarvis and his comrades flying as many as two patrols a day when ever conditions allowed. 

Casualties rose sharply and on April 12, just a day after scoring a fifth success to ensure his official ace status, he came close to disaster when bullets struck his engine resulting in a crash-landing from which he was lucky to escape uninjured. 

His progression from novice to veteran was marked by promotion to command C Flight, the section that had previously been led with great distinction by his friend and mentor ‘Beery’ Bowman. 

He duly celebrated by notching two victories during a single patrol on May 2. Leading his flight in a diving attack on a 10-strong enemy formation, he took just 20 rounds to send one of three Fokker triplanes crashing to earth before sharing in the victory over a second aircraft that was last seen falling away ‘decisively out of control’. 

Though he continued, in the words of one of his junior pilots, “to amuse himself playing hide-and-seek” with the enemy, he was unable to add to his score before his eventful if exhausting operational career ended with him being sent back to the UK. 

Louis Jarvis

One of the crash-landings from which Louis Jarvis escaped uninjured - Credit: Spink

In the 1920s, he was posted to Iraq.

During the darkest days of the Second World War he earned the highest accolades of his long service. 

Tasked with assimilating the large contingent of Polish airmen who had reached Britain following the collapse of France in 1940, he was pivotal in ensuring their successful integration into the RAF. 

Their subsequent influence on the outcome of the Battle of Britain and the air campaign that followed were due in no small measure to his “energy and tact” as subsequently noted in 1943 when he was made a Commander of the Order of Polonia Restituta.