First World War honours at auction after just 18 months

FOUR medals awarded to a tragic Sheffield-born war hero who was one of Britain's first RAF pilots are up for sale again just 18 months after they were sold for £1,900.

Now the medals of Second Lieutenant Ernest Brownhill could fetch even more when they are auctioned at one of Britain's most prestigious auction houses, Spink in London, on Thursday. Experts predict that, this time, they could sell for up to 2,400.

Second Lieutenant Brownhill, who was born in Sheffield in June 1893, joined the RAF just weeks after it was formed towards the end of the First World War. He qualified for his “wings” in June 1918, around the time of his 25th birthday.

But just six weeks later he was dead, after his De Havilland plane was shot down on his way back from a raid.

A Spink spokesman said: “On August 16, 1918 Brownhill was part of a morning raid on the railway of Darmstadt. The original target had been Koln, but low cloud made the leader choose the alternative target of Mannheim instead.

“As conditions improved they pressed on a little further and hit Darmstadt. On their way home, near Mannheim, they were attacked by 20 fighters who shot four planes and wounded other crew.”

Brownhill and his observer, Second Lieutenant Madge, were killed, shot in the head and chest. Brownhill’s body is buried at Niederzwehren cemetery in Germany, 400 miles from his beloved Sheffield.

Second Lieutenant Brownhill was one of the first RAF pilots to be killed and one of the last Sheffield men to be killed in the First World War, which ended three months after his death.

Before he became a pilot Second Lieutenant Brownhill was a stretcher-bearer and had been twice decorated for gallantry, receiving the Military Medal and Bar which are now up for sale at Spink.

His first Military Medal was awarded in 1916 “for gallant conduct on September 5, 1916, in going out several times from a sap in Thiepval Wood to collect casualties from No Man's Land who had been lying out for 36 hours”. He received his second Military Medal - the Bar - later the same year “for gallantry on the evening of November 19, 1916, in attending to wounded men under heavy shell fire”.

Brownhill had married his wife, Annie, at St Barnabas’ Church in Highfield just eight months before he was killed.

Annie later remarried and moved to Long Eaton, Derbyshire, where she and second husband, George, had five children. She was 80 when she died in the 1970s and had kept and treasured the medals of first husband all her life.

They were then inherited by grandson, John Epton, who sold them at an auction in London in September 2005, for 1,900.