Medals of heroic RAF officer reach £1,100 at auction

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Medals of heroic RAF officer reach £1,100 at auction

Flight Lieutenant Gerald Wilton's family fled the Nazis in Austria in 1938. He was a member of the exclusive caterpillar club, renown for using a parachute to escape a disabled aircraft

Pic: RWB Auctions
Pic: RWB Auctions

The medals of an RAF Officer who took part in the Battle of Berlin and spent more than a year in a German prisoner of war camp have sold for £1,000 at a Wiltshire auction house.

Gerald Wilton was born Gerhard Wolkenstein in Vienna in 1924 and was the third son of Jewish businessman Bernhard Wolkenstein whose assets were seized by the Nazi State and who, with his family, fled to London in 1938.

His medals and his tiny gold brooch – known as a caterpillar brooch – were sold to an anonymous online bidder as Lot 877 at a two-day ‘Coins, Medals & Militaria’ sale at RWB Auctions in Royal Wootton Bassett on Wednesday May 8 and Thursday May 9. The items come from a private collection of a seller who was not a relation. The starting bid was £640.

Gerhard, an apprentice tailor, was interned and released in 1940 before enlisting into the Royal Air Force. Around this time, he started using the anglicised version of his name: ‘Gerard Wilton’. He trained as a wireless operator and joined 429 (Bison) Squadron RCAF from 1659 Heavy Conversion Unit RCAF.

On the evening of 24 March 1944, Wilton boarded a Halifax BIII Bomber and took off from RAF Leeming, North Yorkshire, destined for Berlin. This night mission represented the last large British raid on the German capital as part of the Battle of Berlin.

Caterpillar brooch. Pic: RWB Auctions

Wilton’s bomber was lost and he was one of six crew to survive, parachuting over Germany and into captivity. He was sent to Stalag Luft I near Barth in Germany alongside future actor Donald Pleasence and fighter pilot and later racing driver Roberta Cowell.

Wilton was released from the POW camp at the war’s end and opted to remain in the RAF. He won a 1939-1945 Star, an Air Crew Europe Star, and a 1939-1945 War Medal for his service. He was also awarded a tiny gold-coloured pin by a club that few airmen want to join – the Caterpillar Club.

Members of this exclusive club have successfully used a parachute to escape a disabled aircraft, thereby saving their own lives. The club was founded in founded in 1922 and is open to airmen from all nations who are given a membership certificate and a gold-coloured commemorative pin once their jump has been verified. The pin is to be worn on the collar and is engraved with the recipient’s name.

Wilton’s Caterpillar Club badge is to be sold with his medals and the box they were posted in. Pic: RWB Auctions

The Caterpillar Club’s name is a reference to the silk used to make early parachutes, the fibres created by the caterpillar of the domestic silk moth. The motto of the club is ‘life depends on a silken thread’. Famous members include aviator Charles Lindberg and astronaut John Glenn.

Kimberly Day of the Britannia Coin Company said: “It is an amazing story and we’re privileged to be able to offer these items for sale. We have tried to trace any descendants of Gerald Wilton but we’ve not been successful. We know he had a brother who may have had children. We hope that these items go to someone who will truly appreciate their heritage and significance.”

Sadly in 1949, aged just 25, Flight Lieutenant Wilton was killed in tragic circumstances, falling from a fourth-floor window of a Selfridges department store in London.

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