Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Medals of Britain’s leading Jewish fighter ace of WW1 up for sale

The gallantry awards of the highest-scoring British Jewish fighter ace of the First World War — hailed for daring exploits against large enemy formations — are coming up for sale at an estimate of £15,000-£18,000.

Captain Solomon Clifford Joseph claimed 13 victories flying Sopwith Camel single-seat fighters on the Western Front. He won the Distinguished Flying Cross twice in a matter of weeks, aged 25.  

Mark Quayle, medal specialist at Noonans, the auctioneers selling the airman’s medals, said: “Joseph was a ‘gung-ho’ pilot whose aggressive flying style and skill accounted for at least 13 aerial victories between May and October 1918. He was no stranger to taking risks, and was wounded in aerial combat, and nearly shot down on many occasions.”  

Solomon Clifford Joseph was awarded the DFC and bar for his service in 1918. Photo: Noonans

Joseph was one of 66 airmen awarded the DFC and bar — the bar representing a second DFC — for Great War service. The citation for the first award, in the London Gazette of September 21, 1918, describes him as: “A gallant pilot who has accounted for eight enemy aircraft within the past four months.”

It continues: “On many occasions the enemy were numerically superior to Lieutenant Joseph’s patrol, but this did not prevent his attaining success.”

On November 2, the citation for his bar stated: “He led his formation under a large force of enemy aircraft with a view to inducing them to descend to attack him. In this ruse de guerre he was successful, and, in accordance with arrangements previously made, another formation of our machines then appeared on the scene, and a combined attack was made on the enemy, resulting in the destruction of four Aeroplanes and three more being brought down completely out of control.

“Since the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross was conferred on this officer less than two months ago he has personally destroyed one enemy machine, brought down another out of control, and has helped to destroy a third. Captain Joseph was wounded on the occasion of the combined attack.”

Joseph was born in Birmingham in April 1893, the son of an art dealer. He joined the Royal Naval Air Service in August 1917 and carried out pilot training at Crystal Palace and at the British Flying School, Vendôme, attaining his Royal Aero Licence (No.5475) on October 7, 1917.

After a brief posting to 12 (N) Squadron RNAS in February 1918, Joseph then went to 10 (N) Squadron RNAS later the same month. He was posted to 210 Squadron in March 1918 and transferred with the squadron into the Royal Air Force the following month.

A British Sopwith Camel single-seat fighter on the Italian front during the First World War. Photo: Imperial War Museum, © IWM Q 27239

The squadron, in which he was to become a flight commander, was engaged in ground-attack duties to help stop the German Spring Offensive and subsequently in offensive patrols and bomber escort missions.

Joseph’s first victory came on May 8, 1918, when he forced down an Albatros DV out of control. A combat report gives an early indication of his close-up style of fighting: “In general engagement with 14 Albatros and Pfalz scouts over Armentières got on tail of one of former and after firing 90 rounds from 50-10 yards E.A. [enemy aircraft] went down out of control.”

He had his most successful day to date on June 6, when he shot down one enemy aircraft and shared in the destruction of another. The combat reports illustrate the brutal realities of early dogfights. “Attacked wireless E.A. near Neuf Berquin diving & firing 300 rounds at 80-40 yards, observer was killed & collapsed in the cockpit, Lieut. Joseph followed E.A. down to 800ft. & saw him still descending when at 200ft. Pulled off thereafter to attack 2 other E.A. circling over Estaires. Wireless E.A. is confirmed by A.A. ‘J’ Battery to have crashed near Neuf Berquin…

Joseph was up against German pilots flying fighters such as the Albatros, pictured above with ace of aces Manfred von Richthofen in the cockpit and members of Jagdstaffel 11. Photo: Imperial War Museum, © IWM Q 42283

“Lieut. Joseph then with Lieut. Campbell attacked (another) wireless machine at 4,000ft. Over Morris, Joseph dived & fired 400 rounds at 60-40 yards range. Observer was killed & collapsed in the cockpit. Lieut. K.Y. Campbell fired burst of 50 rounds at pilot from close range from side of E. A. which was followed down to 800ft. Owing to machine-gun fire from the ground, Pilots had to pull off & did not observe results. E.A. confirmed by A/A ‘J’ Battery to have crashed near Vieux Berquin.”

The DFC and bar (left) and other First World War medals of SC Joseph. Photo: Noonans

The respect pilots sometimes felt for courageous enemies is expressed in the report after Joseph added a Fokker DVII to his score on September 3. It reads: “While on Offensive Patrol, ‘C’ Flight was attacked by one Fokker Biplane over Roulers. The Flight engaged E.A. which went down in a dive changing to a slow spin. The whole Flight confirms this E.A. out of control. Capt. Joseph went down to 3,000ft. And saw it crash. The pilot of this E.A. was exceptionally good. He engaged the Flight of 8 machines for 10 minutes and handled his machine with remarkable skill and daring.”

Three days later Joseph’s own aircraft was damaged by anti-aircraft fire near Zevecote. Having survived that, his luck almost ran out when he was wounded in combat with Leutnant Wilhelm of Jagdstaffel 4 on September 24, 1918. He was forced to crash land, with the German claiming him as one of his two victories of the conflict.

After recuperating from his wounds, Joseph was back in the air by the end of October, when he claimed a final Fokker DVII, destroyed, near Rombies-Estreaux on October 30.

Joseph returned to Birmingham after the war and had a successful career in manufacturing. His company Clifford Aero and Auto manufactured parts for the Avro Lancaster bomber and Supermarine Spitfire fighter during the Second World War.

He died in Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital in March 1966 and is buried at Witton Jewish Cemetery. His DFC and bar are being sold with his British War and Victory Medals at Noonans Mayfair on October 13. The vendor is a collector and the lot also includes a file of research materials.

Joseph was one of over 40,000 British Jews who served in British forces during the First World War. The British Jews in the First World War website has detailed information about their contribution, including the service of Jews in the RAF and its predecessors, the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service.

The photograph at the top of the article shows a replica 1918 Sopwith Camel in a display flight at Old Warden, Bedfordshire. Credit: Kev Gregory/Shutterstock

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