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Auction: 24001 - Orders, Decorations and Medals
Lot: 221

A fine Second World War A.F.C. group of eight awarded to Flight Lieutenant R. T. Stokes, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve

A long-served pilot in No. 24 Squadron's V.I.P. Flight - his passengers including Lord Mountbatten and General Sikorski - he was also a pioneer of what became known as the 'Malta-Gibraltar Shuttle Service' at the height of the island's siege in 1942-43: dangerous times indeed to be caught out at the helm of a Hudson or Dakota

Air Force Cross, G.VI.R., the reverse officially dated '1944'; 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; Africa Star, copy clasp, North Africa 1942-43; Burma Star; Defence and War Medals 1939-45; Air Efficiency Award, G.VI.R. (Flt. Lt. R. T. Stokes. R.A.F.V.R.), mounted together with riband for the K.C.V.S.A., good very fine (8)

A.F.C. London Gazette 1 September 1944. The original recommendation states:

'This officer is one of the pioneers of the Malta-Gibraltar Shuttle Service and has performed most valuable work at a difficult and dangerous period. He has undertaken 30 trips overseas involving a total of 1,653 hours flying, 532 of which were at night. His skill and devotion to duty have been most praiseworthy. On one occasion, when eighty miles off the Cornish coast, an engine in his aircraft failed at 15,000 feet. An S.O.S. was sent out and Flight Lieutenant Stokes proceeded to make for his base on one engine, descending through 12,000 feet of cloud. He landed, with a distinguished passenger on board, successfully.'

Ralph Thomas Stokes was born in Birmingham on 6 June 1941 and enlisted in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in August 1936.

Having qualified as a pilot, he was serving as an instructor at R.A.F. Elmdon on the outbreak of hostilities but, in April 1940, he was posted to No. 81 Squadron in France, where he flew in the unit's unarmed aircraft on communication duties. In early June 1940, he was posted to No. 24 Squadron and thence to No. 2 Servicing Flight, in which latter capacity he flew his final sortie in France on 12 June 1940.

Back home, he was posted to the Training Flight at R.A.F. Halton, where he remained likewise employed until rejoining No. 24 Squadron in May 1941, the commencement of a protracted period of V.I.P. flights in the U.K., in addition to the movement of casualties. Operating in a variety of aircraft, often civilian types, his passengers included Wing Commander the Duke of Hamilton, Marshals of the R.A.F. Lord Trenchard and Lord Salmond, General Sir Alan Brooke, Lord and Lady Londonderry, General Sikorski, Prince Paul of Yugoslavia, and many others of note or interest; on one return flight, from Belfast to Hendon, in March 1942, his Hudson was struck by lightning and his W./T. set burnt out.

In May 1942, Stokes's agenda took on a new dimension: the commencement of a flurry of 'shuttle-service' flights to Malta, via Gibraltar, in which he conveyed assorted personnel and freight back and forth at great risk from enemy fighters. Had he encountered such opposition, his chances of escape in a Hudson were next to nil, likewise in the Dakotas he started to use in early 1943. Typically, such trips lasted for a week, for he would make several return flights to the besieged island on each outing launched from the U.K.; on 25 May 1942 he reported - and photographed - a surfaced Italian submarine.

Over the next 12 months, Stokes would undertake around 30 such trips and extend his field of operations to North Africa. His passengers, faithfully listed in his flying log book, included some distinguished R.A.F. pilots, R.N. and Merchant Navy types, and the wives and children of military personnel. So, too, further V.I.P.s, including Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, who he flew from the U.K. to Tunis in early and mid-July 1943; another noteworthy passenger was General Sir Carton de Wiart, V.C., whom he flew to Delhi from Habbaniyah in October 1943.

Stokes's pioneering work on the Matla-run was rewarded by a Commendation for Valuable Services in the Air (London Gazette 2 June 1943), the recommendation stating:

'As a pilot on transport duties, this officer has now completed 30 flights to Malta, many of them by night. He has consistently rendered service of high merit and had done much valuable work on overseas flying from the time of the battle of Malta onwards.'

And his continuing good work resulted in a recommendation for a second commendation and ultimately the award of his A.F.C. He was also awarded the Air Efficiency Award in August 1943.

Stokes remained actively employed in 24 Squadron until August 1944, when he took up an appointment at R.A.F. Shawbury. He was finally demobilised in September 1945.

Sold with the following original documentation:

The recipient's R.A.F. Pilot's Flying Log Books (4), covering the periods August 1936 to October 1938; November 1938 to December 1941; January 1942 to August 1944; and August 1944 to December 1956, the entries from June 1946 relating to his work with the Ministry of Aviation and Skyways Ltd., after he was demobilised; together with another R.A.F. Pilot's Flying Log Book, likewise with entries of a civilian nature for the period December 1956 to October 1972.

A Civil Pilot's Flying Log Book, covering training flights in the period August 1936 to April 1939; together with a copy of De Havilland's Pilot's Flight Manual for the Dove aircraft; a U.K. Private Pilot's Licence (Board of Trade, Civil Aviation Department), dated October 1967, and a British Glider Pilot's Association Pilot's Log Book, with entries for the mid-1950s.

Buckingham Palace forwarding letter for the A.F.C. and Valuable Services in the Air certificate, in the name of 'Flying Officer R. T. Stokes, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve', dated 2 June 1943.

Letter of thanks from Lord Mountbatten to the recipient, for a return flight to North Africa from Hendon in a Hudson aircraft, dated 19 July 1943.

A copy of the Gibraltar magazine The Rock, June 1941.

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