Medals of Battle of Britain fighter ace squadron leader 'Bolshie' Bartley to be sold at Dix Noonan Webb

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Medals of Battle of Britain fighter ace squadron leader 'Bolshie' Bartley to be sold at Dix Noonan Webb
Original portrait of A. C. ‘Bolshie’ Bartley in charcoal and white chalk by Cuthbert Orde, signed and dated by the artist, 10 October 1940, framed and glazed. Courtesy Dix Noonan Webb.

LONDON.- An important group of seven awarded to Battle of Britain Fighter Ace Squadron Leader A. C. ‘Bolshie’ Bartley of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve will be sold by Dix Noonan Webb in their auction of Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria on Wednesday, December 8, 2021. They are expected to fetch £100,000-140,000.

Squadron Leader A. C. ‘Bolshie’ Bartley was one of the founder members of the famous 92 Squadron, and is credited with at least 12 Victories, 8 damaged, a number of probables and possibles, and countless unclaimed.

Mark Quayle, Specialist (Associate Director) Dix Noonan Webb commented: “Bartley’s was a life of extraordinary adventure, during which he was involved in a number of iconic incidents, all of which are reflected in his Log Books and autobiography - a veritable who’s who of stars of the stage, screen and sky. From Winston Churchill to Clark Gable, Noël Coward to Laurence Olivier, and Bob Stanford Tuck to ‘Sailor’ Malan - all ultimately leading to his marriage to the film star Deborah Kerr, of The King and I fame.”

Anthony Charles Bartley (1919 – 2001) was born in Judge’s House, Ramna, Dacca, Bengal, India in March 1919. He was the son of Sir Charles Bartley, KT, a Judge in the Calcutta High Court. Bartley was educated at Stowe, and took up an apprenticeship at a Chartered Accountants in London with a view to joining the East India Company. A useful athlete, Barclay played for Blackheath Rugby Football Club - where his skipper encouraged him to learn to fly at West Malling Flying Club, Kent in 1938. With a sense of impending conflict Bartley applied for a commission in the Royal Air Force, and in May 1939 was posted as an Acting Pilot Officer.

Bartley cut his teeth over the beaches of Dunkirk, shooting down two enemy aircraft after his first dogfight, 23 May 1940 - his aircraft riddled with bullets as a result. On the way home, ‘as I was racing back across the Channel, another Spitfire flew up beside me, and the pilot pulled back the hood and started pointing at my aircraft. Then, Bob Tuck came on the intercom and chortled, ‘You look like a sieve, chum.’ I scanned his fuselage and answered back, ‘Just wait until you get a look at your crate.’

Bartley survived a remarkable episode during the height of the Battle of Britain, when he shot down a Do 17, 15 September 1940. As he recalled: ‘I heard a cannon shell explode behind my armour-plated seat back, a bullet whizzed through my helmet, grazing the top of my head and shattering my gun sight, while others punctured my oil and glycol tanks. A 109 flashed by.

Fumes then started to fill my cockpit, and I knew without doubt that I had had it, so I threw open my hood, undid my straps and started to climb over the side. As I braced myself to bale out, I saw my enemy preparing for another attack, and knew it meant suicide to jump with him around. Escaping airmen over their own territory were fair game in some combatants’ log book, and a friend of mine had been shot down in his parachute. So, I decided to bluff it out, climbed back into my aircraft, and turned on my attacker.

My ruse worked; he didn’t know how hard he’d hit me, but he did know that a Spitfire could turn inside a Messerschmitt, and I fired a random burst to remind him, whereupon he fled for home. By this time I was too low to jump, so I headed for a field and prayed.

At a hundred feet, my engine blew up, and I was blinded by oil. I hit the ground, was catapulted out, and landed in a haystack, unharmed. I hit the buckle of my parachute to release it, and as it fell to the ground, the pack burst open spewing forth the silk which had been shredded by splinters of cannon shell. I said a hasty prayer before the first of the rescue party could reach me.’

Bartley’s time as a test pilot was possibly also an introduction to his later career with the film industry. During this time he struck up a friendship with Laurence Olivier, then serving with the Fleet Air Arm, and Ralph Richardson as well as Roger Livesey. Bartley also met Leslie Howard, and went and went on to perform aerobatics for his film The First of The Few (1942) which chronicled the life of the Spitfire’s designer, R. J. Mitchell.

Whilst stationed in America, Bartley spent time in Beverly Hills and socialised with stars such as Clark Gable, whom he had met in London. Gaining introductions to Toni Lanier, Betty Hutton, Kay Williams, Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney, a world of opportunities formed. Bartley met the actress Deborah Kerr (later nominated six times for the Academy Award for Best Actress, and awarded a Golden Globe for her performance alongside Yul Brynner in The King and I) in Brussels in March 1945. Back in London, Bartley bumped into David Niven in the Savoy in July 1945, and together they wrote a telegram of proposal! The couple were married in 1947.

Bartley’s marriage ‘brought a change of direction and he moved to Hollywood. After studying film production with MGM, he formed European-American Productions and wrote and produced television films for Fireside Theatre, MCA and Douglas Fairbanks Presents.

The medals, which are being sold by Bartley’s family are accompanied by a selection of items and documents including a gold wristwatch, engraved ‘Tony From Deborah 11-28-53’, a No. 1 Squadron Leader’s Service Dress, as well as many log books and photographs.

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