Victoria Cross interest, a fine Edwardian presentation silver-gilt Monteith bowl and stand, by Elkington and Co, Birmingham 1907, circular form, part fluted decoration, the castellated rim with cherub masks and scrolls, lion mask drop ring handles, on a raised circular foot, with similar decoration, engraved with a Victorian Cross, dated '1918' and inscribed, ' To LIEUTENANT ALAN JERRARD, V.C., the first Member of the STAFFORDSHIRE TERRITORIAL FORCE to Win the Honour. PRESENTED BY MEMBERS OF THE Staffordshire Territorial Force Association IN RECOGNITION OF A GREAT SERVICE and in Appreciation of A VERY GALLANT ACTION', on a wooden plinth, height on plinth 35cm, diameter 33cm, height off plinth 27.2cm, approx. weight 130oz.
Provenance: Lieutenant Alan Jerrard, and thence by descent to the present owner.
Alan Jerrard, the so-called 'Pyjama VC', enjoyed the distinction of being the only aerial Victoria Cross recipient of the long and bitter campaign fought on the 'Italian Front' during the Great War. Italy, one of Britain's allies in that conflict, had been engaged in a lone struggle with her northern neighbour, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, since May 1915 but, in October 1917, suddenly found herself in desperate need of military assistance. Five British and five French divisions were immediately sent to her aid and, along with some air support, the tide was eventually turned to victory. Despite numerous operations involving the men and aircraft of the Royal Air Force, including many 'dogfights', only one Victoria Cross was awarded for action in the air during that final year-long phase of the campaign involving British forces. That single decoration went to Alan Jerrard, whose story is one of the most remarkable of the War.
Jerrard was born in Lewisham, south London, on 3rd December 1897 and educated at Bishop Vesey's Grammar School in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, where his father was headmaster. Subsequently going to Oundle School in Cambridgeshire, he then went on to Birmingham University but left soon afterwards to join the Army. On 2nd January 1916, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the South Staffordshire Regiment but spent only a matter of months as an infantry subaltern before applying for a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps. After a short spell of ground training at the School of Military Aeronautics near Oxford from 16th August 1916, he was told to report to No 25 (Reserve) Squadron at Thetford, Norfolk, on 23rd September for initial flying training. Less than two months later, on 20th November 1916, he was sent to No 9 (Reserve) Squadron at Mousehold Heath, Norfolk, to gain further experience. On 5th December, he transferred to 59 Squadron at Narborough, Leicestershire, but fell ill just as the unit was preparing for active service in France. As he battled for fitness, he moved again, this time to 50 (Reserve) Squadron and his last transfer was to Upavon Central Flying School in Wiltshire, where he finally graduated as an RFC pilot on 14th June 1917. He showed above-average abilities in his additional training and, on 2nd July, was promoted to lieutenant. Jerrard was then notified of his first operational posting and joined 19 Squadron, based at Liettres, France, on 24th July.
His first operational patrol on 29th July ended ignominiously when, after failing to spot the enemy, he lost contact with his formation and had to land at St. Omer. His second patrol on 5th August was somewhat more eventful even though, due to his inexperience, he again lost contact with his formation and had to fly low to check his bearings. In so doing, he sighted a long column of German lorries and raked it with machine-gun fire causing several vehicles to burst into flames. After climbing to 10,000 feet through fog and low cloud, his engine cut out and he was forced to crash-land his Spad A8830 into a railway embankment near St. Marie Cappel. Allied troops reached him and dug him out of the wreckage but he had suffered serious injuries, including a badly broken jaw and nose. After being invalided back to England, he was eventually declared fit for active service once again and, on 22nd February 1918, joined his new unit, 66 Squadron, based in northern Italy. Five days later, Jerrard claimed an enemy Berg single-seater scout as shot down and out of control and, over the next month, scored more successes: shooting down an enemy observation balloon, claiming a pair of Berg scouts (one of which crashed, the other which was damaged) and, finally, shooting down an Albatross scout which also crashed.
On 30th March, Jerrard and two other pilots, one experienced and the other a novice, were ordered up for a sortie in three Sopwith Camels. There are some discrepancies over exactly who did what but, essentially, the three airmen soon found themselves caught up in a massive dogfight with at least nineteen enemy planes. According to the British pilots (whose account was disputed by their Austro-Hungarian opponents), Jerrard shot down three enemy planes whilst the other two pilots shot down a further three between them. Jerrard also launched a courageous attack, flying as low as fifty feet, on an enemy aerodrome, successfully strafing planes as they tried to take off. He only withdrew when ordered to do so by his patrol leader and he was then pursued by five enemy aircraft. However, by now wounded and with his aircraft damaged, he crash landed west of Mansue aerodrome, where he was captured and later interrogated by the enemy. A combat report led to Jerrard being recommended for the Victoria Cross and his award was announced on 1st May 1918, whilst he was still a Prisoner of War (PoW). His citation described the epic dogfight and ended: 'Although apparently wounded, this very gallant officer turned repeatedly, and attacked single-handed the pursuing machines, until he was eventually overwhelmed by numbers and driven to the ground. Lieut. Jerrard had greatly distinguished himself on four previous occasions, within a period of twenty-three days, in destroying enemy machines, displaying bravery and ability of the very highest order.'
Although the precise details of the mission still remain somewhat unclear, one thing is certain: when Jerrard was captured, he was wearing only his pyjamas beneath his bulky flying suit. On that morning of 30thMarch, the weather had been unsuitable for flying and Jerrard thought he had been stood down for the day. Later, when he was suddenly ordered up, he had been asleep and had to dress so rapidly that he simply pulled his flying overalls over his pyjamas. Jerrard’s chivalrous captors expressed surprising sympathy for his predicament as a pyjama-clad PoW and arranged for a note to be sent through the Allied lines, requesting various items to be air-lifted to him. His comrades in 66 Squadron then arranged for two packages to be dropped for the twenty-year-old prisoner, containing everything from his military uniform to cigarettes and even casual clothing. Jerrard did go on to escape from the prisoner of war camp in Salzberg.
After the Armistice in November 1918, Jerrard chose to stay in the air force and, after his investiture at Buckingham Palace on 5th April 1919, he went on to serve with the RAF Murmansk detachment in Russia. He was later promoted flight lieutenant but, due to ill-health, was obliged to retire from the service in 1933. He died in a nursing home in Lyme Regis, Dorset, on 14th May, 1968, aged seventy, and was cremated at Devon and Exeter Crematorium with full military honours. His ashes rest with his wife’s in Hillingdon cemetery.
We would like to thank Michael Naxton for his kind assistance with this footnote.