Helmet and bravery medal haul belonging to war hero sells for £18,600

Indestructible Spitfire ace’s helmet that was blown off his head by flak blast during low-flying attack on Nazi airfield in France in 1941 sells with his bravery medals for £18,600

  • Group Captain Arthur Donaldson survived flak strike while flying at 300mph
  • Captain also managed to land his plane after losing two fingers during dog fight
  • Damaged helmet sold along with bravery medals and typescript of unpublished autobiography which details his heroic efforts throughout Second World War 

The helmet and bravery medals awarded to a Spitfire ace who survived being struck by flak while travelling at 300mph have sold for more than £18,000. 

Group Captain Arthur Donaldson, of 263 Squadron, a hero of the defence of Malta during the Second World War, withstood being hit by flak which blew off his helmet and knocked him unconscious.

The airman also had two digits on his left hand severed during a dogfight which landed on his lap.

The helmet (right) of a Second World War hero Arthur Donaldson (left) who survived being struck by flak while flying at 300mph has sold with his bravery medals for £18,600 at auction

G/Capt Arthur Donaldson’s medal group consists of the Distinguished Service Order, Distinguished Flying Cross with Second Award Bar; Air Force Cross, 1939-1945 Star; Air Crew Europe Star; Burma Star; Defence and War Medals 1939-45; Coronation 1953

But he still somehow brought his aircraft home despite his gruesome injury as blood gushed all over the cockpit.

He later survived a plane crash off Gibraltar that resulted in 17 deaths, and a bout of malaria during a stint in the Far East.

His bravery medals – including a Distinguished Service Order, Distinguished Flying Cross with bar and an Air Force Cross – were sold with London based auctioneers Spink & Son.

The sale also featured his log books, the damaged flying helmet and a typescript for his unpublished autobiography aptly named ‘Finger Trouble’.

The collection achieved a hammer price of £15,000, with extra fees taking the overall figure to £18,600.

Marcus Budgen, head of the medals department at Spink & Son, said: ‘The final price of £18,600 for the awards of Group Captain Donaldson reflect his quite unique service and sacrifice during the Second World War.

‘The injuries he suffered in the fight against the enemy were rewarded with a plethora of decorations.’

G/Capt Donaldson was born in Weymouth, Dorset, in 1915. He was the youngest of three brothers, all of whom were awarded Distinguished Service Orders during World War Two.

He joined the RAF in 1934 and was a flying instructor at Central Flying School in RAF Upavon, Wilts, when war broke out in 1939.

G/Capt Donaldson took command of 263 Squadron in February 1941 and carried out daring ‘hit and run’ strikes on occupied France and Belgium in Westland Whirlwinds.

He destroyed a number of aircraft on the ground and inflicted considerable damage to buildings and dispersal pens.

Once while returning to base with his squadron, he attacked six anti-aircraft barges, sinking one and damaging three others.

Group Captain Arthur Donaldson was a heroic Spitfire ace (pictured) and carried out a number of daring high-risk missions during his service throughout the Second World War (file photo)

In September 1941, he had his first brush with mortality. During a low-level attack on an enemy airfield at Morlaix, Brittany, in September 1941, his aircraft was hit by flak and an explosive round ripped apart the top of his flying helmet.

He was temporarily knocked unconscious, coming to his senses after travelling four miles over the sea at 300mph.

Recounting the incident in his memoirs, he wrote: ‘I remember the intense flak getting uncomfortably close, when suddenly one of them hit me.

‘I felt this one because it was in the fuselage, then a colossal bang and I lost consciousness. It was a funny feeling – rather like a severe blackout.

‘I couldn’t see. I remember, all in a flash, thinking ‘Christ, I’m hit,’ and my one thought was not of death but of becoming a prisoner of war.

‘I can remember opening the throttle and pulling the stick back. The next thing I remember was gradually coming to.

‘Here again, my sense recovered before my sight and, when I could see, I noticed that I was out to sea, meaning that I had travelled three or four miles at about 300mph.’

G/Capt Donaldson received a Distinguished Flying Cross before being installed as wing commander at RAF Colerne, Wiltshire, and Spitfire wing leader at Fairwood Common, South Wales.

In August 1942, he was sent to Malta to become wing commander at RAF Ta Kali, leading the island’s heroic rearguard against the Luftwaffe.

During an eventful tour, he shot down at least seven German aircraft before losing two fingers in his left hand during an attack on a group of Junkers Ju 88 on October 15.

Describing that awful moment, he wrote: ‘My Spitfire was riddled with bullets. One came through the side, took away the throttle and then entered the engine, putting it out of action.

‘I looked down and to my horror I saw two of the fingers of my left hand lying on my lap!

‘There was blood everywhere, petrol was streaming into my eyes and I wasn’t at all happy.

‘The controls seemed OK so I rolled over, stuck the nose down and beat the hell out of it.

‘I cannot say that at that moment I felt any pain. I was in a state of shock and all I wanted to do was remain alive. As I had dived down I was thinking of what to do.

‘I decided to try and make Ta Kali since if I baled out by parachute it would be minutes before the RAF Air Sea Rescue picked me up.

‘However efficient they were, no doubt I would bleed to death before rescue arrived, not only was my left-hand bleeding profusely but I had numerous other wounds to my head, arms, legs and face.’

He was rushed to hospital and operated on before watching the rest of the battle ‘from the veranda’.

Group Captain Arthur Donaldson, pictured, also survived a plane crash off Gibraltar that resulted in 17 deaths, and a bout of malaria during a stint in the Far East while in the RAF

G/Capt Donaldson was flown out of Malta as a ‘stretcher case’ on October 31.

Tragically, the Liberator transporting him back to Britain crashed into the sea during take-off following a stopover in Gibraltar. He emerged from the wreckage with burns to one of his arms.

His time in Malta saw him add a bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross, with his citation highlighting how he also orchestrated a ‘highly successful’ attack on three Sicilian aerodromes.

G/Capt Donaldson’s final tour of duty was in the Far East from June 1945, where he commanded a fighter wing near Rangoon, Burma. He was evacuated home with malaria after four months.

Following the war, he fulfilled several high-ranking roles including station commander at Biggin Hill, south London, and deputy director of air defence at the Air Ministry before retiring in 1959.

He settled into the quiet life, running a village shop and post office near Dorchester, Dorset, before his death aged 65 in 1980.

G/Capt Donaldson’s medal group consists of the Distinguished Service Order, Distinguished Flying Cross with Second Award Bar; Air Force Cross, 1939-1945 Star; Air Crew Europe Star; Burma Star; Defence and War Medals 1939-45; Coronation 1953.

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