“A hero, straight from the pages of W.E. Johns”, is how one of our staff described the member of the Royal Flying Corps, whose medals we sold in our August 2009 auction. The WWI Distinguished Flying Cross and 1915 Star trio group to Lieutenant Arthur Rowe Spurling, Bermudan Volunteer Rifle Corps and Royal Flying Corps, estimated at £3,000, realised the magnificent figure of £12,650, including the buyer’s premium.
Arthur Rowe Spurling was born in Hamilton, Bermuda, on 19th May 1896. He attested in the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps (BVRC) on 11th February 1915 with number 989 and sailed with the first War Contingent of 1 officer and 88 NCOs and men for England on 8th May 1915. They were posted to the Lincolnshire Regiment, where Pte Spurling was allocated the number 17150.
A postcard, dated 1916, is addressed to “Ethel”
Dear Ethel, At last I am in England again but I had to go back to the line again after getting wounded in the hand on July 3rd and on the 13th I was wounded in the foot & buried for a few hours, so I was sent down to hospital with shell shock & wounded in the foot but now I have just come out of hospital in London & I am on leave.
He was commissioned on 29th July 1917, posted to the Royal Flying Corps School of Instruction at Hendon on 30th July 1917 and joined 89 Sqn on 30th August 1917. He graduated from the Military Wing and qualified for service in the RFC on 26th September and was posted to 40 Training Sqn Croydon on 7th October 1917. He was posted to France and joined 49 Sqn on 13th July 1918.
The award of the DFC was announced in the London Gazette dated 2nd November 1918.
On his return from a recent bombing raid, this officer was separated from his formation owing to clouds. After flying for some twenty minutes, and thinking that he was over our lines, he came down to find his position; seeing an aerodrome, he was preparing to land when, at 2000 feet, a Fokker biplane attacked his machine; Lieut Spurling than observed some thirty machines of the same type heavily camouflaged; with great gallantry he dived through the centre of the formation, shooting down one machine in flames; two others were seen to be in a spin, one of which crashed. Five of them then closed on his machine, but by skilful manoeuvring Lieut Spurling enabled his observer to shoot down two of these in flames. The three remaining aircraft broke off the combat and disappeared in the mist. A fine performance, reflecting the greatest credit on this officer and his observer. His observer, Sgt F.W. Bell, received the Distinguished Flying Medal for this action.
The Bermuda Colonist newspaper dated 18th October 1918 provides more detail.
A formation of British machines had been carrying out some important operations well over the German lines. On the return journey the weather suddenly became hazy, and one of the pilots lost touch with the formation in the clouds. The British pilot set his course due west, and flew on for some time. Having made what he thought was sufficient allowance for the distance to the British lines, he put down the nose of his machine and saw beneath him an aerodrome. The wind, however, freshened considerably, and so far as covering the ground was concerned he had been making only half the speed shown on airspeed indicator. As he circled over the aerodrome, preparing to land, a German Scout machine suddenly appeared from the clouds above him, and immediately to attack. Marveling at the unusual temerity of the German in daring to attack over an English aerodrome, the British pilot checked his descent and opened fire on his attacker. At this moment he became aware that no fewer than thirty German machines were actually climbing towards him from the aerodrome. Realising now that he was over an enemy aerodrome, he dived towards the first group of German squadrons, both he and his observer firing on every machine upon which they could get their guns to bear. The enemy pilots appeared too bewildered by the outstanding audacity of the British airmen to attack them effectively at first, and their own tremendous numerical superiority seemed further to confuse them. One German plane burst into flames in the air, two more went down spinning and side slipping completely out of control. Four enemy scouts had by this time got into position to attack, clinging to the tail of the British machine. Two of these were sent blazing to earth. Shaking himself clear of the remainder, the British pilot opened his throttle and sped homewards leaving on that German aerodrome three blazing wrecks, and two other crashed machines as a highly satisfactory outcome of what might have proved a fatal mistake.
He was credited with 6 victories, the 5 Fokker D.VIIs on 23rd August mentioned in the DFC citation and a further D.VII on 25th July 1918 all while flying a D.H.9 bomber. He was transferred to the unemployed list on 19th September 1919 and returned to a hero’s welcome in Bermuda on 22nd September. On March 3rd 1920 General Sir James Willcocks, the Bermudan Governor presented his DFC in the Hamilton Council Chambers.
In WWII he obtained his commission again and served in Canada with RAF Ferry Command. The Mid Ocean News newspaper dated 27th October 1942 records
Rowe Spurling, former Extra Revenue Officer, later in charge of transport censorship at Darrell’s Island and now Security Officer of RAF Ferry Command at Dorval with the rank of Flight Lieutenant, is credited with unearthing a Nazi spy, a radio operator, in the Ferry Command. Flt Lt Spurling learned from a woman enemy alien that her knowledge of the movements of aircraft came from English-born Brian Percy Pettit who represented himself to her as a member of the German Gestapo and had offered her a $100 a week job in California.
The group was sold on behalf of the family and had never before been on the market.
The full medal details are WWI Distinguished Flying Cross and 1914-15 star trio to Lieut A.R. Spurling R.A.F. (17150 Pte Linc R on star) good very fine to good extremely fine. Sold with a superb range of supporting documents including 1917 Commission Warrant, RFC Graduation certificate dated 26th September 1917, DFC case of issue, box envelope and transmission slip for pair, aviator’s certificate, soldier’s pay book, Training Brigade Transfer Card, hand written book of flying notes, set of 16 gilt RFC buttons, 10 silver coloured RAF buttons, 2 ribbon bars, typed notes for directing artillery fire from the air, RFC wings altered to RAF, RAF wings, 10 Bermuda newspapers all relating to Lt Spurling, etc.