Old Marlburian’s medal goes under the hammer
A medal awarded to a former Marlborough College pupil for his part in the Dambusters raid in 1943 is to be auctioned in aid of the charity Wateraid, in a bid to build a new dam that will provide 95,0000 Ugandans with clean drinking water.
The Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar awarded to Flight Lieutenant John Vere ‘Hoppy’ Hopgood, who subsequently became one of the central figures of the legendary Dambusters raid in 1943, is to be sold by specialist auctioneers Morton & Eden in London on the afternoon of Tuesday December 15.
The medal is estimated to fetch £30,000 to £40,000 and is being sold by Flight Lieutenant Hopgood’s family.
The proceeds from the sale will be donated to the charity WaterAid and will be used specifically to contribute towards a WaterAid project in Uganda. The project, which includes the building of a sand dam, aims to reach more than 95,000 people with safe, clean water.
Flight Lieutenant Hopgood, joined the RAF in 1940 and quickly became a skilled pilot whose considerable courage and cool nerve earned him the respect of his peers. He took part in numerous dangerous sorties over enemy territory and, in October 1942 Hopgood was awarded the DFC and a few months later, in January 1943, he received his second award Bar.
The citations for Hopgood’s Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar both testify to his daring and expertise in low-level flying and herald the ultimate bravery that he would display when he flew with 617 Squadron in the famous attack on the Möhne Dam on the night of the 16th-17th of May, 1943.
Hopgood was one of the first to fly the new Lancaster bombers and arguably became one of the Lancaster’s greatest pilots. In fact it was Hopgood - ‘Hoppy’ as he became known - who gave Guy Gibson, his Wing Commander in charge of 106 Squadron, his first instruction in flying the Lancaster.
Gibson and ‘Hoppy’ became firm friends. Not surprisingly, when Gibson was asked to form the elite 617 Squadron – now known as the famous Dambuster Squadron and immortalised in the classic 1955 British film The Dambusters – he immediately selected Hoppy as an obvious choice for the top-secret operation.
Code-named Operation Chastise, the ‘Dambusters’ were faced with the task of destroying the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe dams in Germany, in order to cripple the industrial heartland of Germany. This was to be achieved by releasing the now legendary ‘bouncing’ bombs especially designed for the mission by British scientist and engineer Barnes Wallis.
‘Hoppy’ was Guy Gibson’s deputy on that fateful night of 16-17 May 1943, flying his Lancaster M-Mother behind Gibson in G-George. Gibson, writing in his memoir Enemy Coast Ahead, described the scene as they left:
‘The night was so bright that it was possible to see the boys flying on each side of me quite clearly. On the right was John Hopgood, in M Mother, that grand Englishman whom we called ‘Hoppy’; one of the greatest guys in the world.”
Even before M-Mother had reached the target, however, it came under heavy fire and, not only was the plane damaged, but the crew sustained considerable injuries. Although suffering a serious head wound, Hopgood was able to maintain the aircraft’s position in the attack formation.
Once Gibson had successfully released his own bomb, which unfortunately failed to breach the dam wall, Hopgood pressed on with his own attack in the face of heavily-increasing enemy flak.
Despite having one wing on fire and extensive damage to the aircraft, Hopgood released his bomb. While it narrowly missed the primary target, it exploded to effect in the valley below, hitting a power station and disabling a number of the opposing anti-aircraft guns.
Knowing his personal chances of survival were now gone, and against all odds, Hopgood bravely took his doomed Lancaster into one last climb, thus enabling three of his crew to bail out before the plane finally crashed to the ground. Two crew members survived and became prisoners-of-war. Hopgood was only just 21.
Despite the considerable loss of life, the Dambusters’ raid was regarded as a success with both the Möhne and Eder dams being destroyed. While Guy Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross, and a few of the other surviving pilots and crew members given medals, the extreme courage and sacrifice of those who perished was never officially recognized by the issue of decorations.
It has latterly been suggested that ‘Hoppy’ Hopgood might have been considered for a posthumous Victoria Cross, in view of his heroic and selfless actions in saving the lives of his crew.
Hopgood’s Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar therefore remains the only testament to his extreme valour. It is being sold together with contemporary photographs and related memorabilia, including the original letter from Guy Gibson to John's mother Grace confirming his death and letters between Hopgood and his sister Marna, who herself was serving in the ATS.
A facsimile of Hopgood’s Pilot’s Flying Logbook will also be included, the original logbook having been presented by his family to the Imperial War Museum.
David Kirk of auctioneers Morton & Eden said: “This is undoubtedly one of the most iconic DFCs to come to auction in recent years. Flight-Lieutenant Hopgood’s family has agonised over the decision to part with the medal but feel that John Hopgood himself would approve.
“He was evidently a very thoughtful and idealistic young man who, we believe, would be glad to know that the proceeds from the sale of his medal will go towards the building of a much-needed sand dam to benefit thousands of people in Uganda.
“The new dam will form a fitting memorial to Hopgood’s heroism and self-sacrifice on the Dambusters’ mission, of which his family can be duly proud”.
Thomas Benn of WaterAid said: “WaterAid is delighted that the family of Flt. Lt. John Hopgood will pay tribute to him through supporting our lifesaving work. This fantastic gift will help to secure a better future for thousands of people in Uganda, where one in five lacks access to clean water and 85% of the population have nowhere safe to go to the toilet.
“On behalf of everyone you will help to reach with access to safe water, toilets and good hygiene practices, thank you so much.”