Previous News - Rarities attract top prices in The Canterbury Auction Galleries sale commemorating The Great War


Military conflict through the ages was commemorated at The Canterbury Auction Galleries with a special sale planned to coincide with the centenary of the First World War, a highlight of which recalled the mercy flights by birds from the Government Pigeon Service resulting in countless downed airmen being rescued.

Rare original messages carried by the homing pigeons, four specialised message capsules intended to be fastened to the bird’s leg and an unused message pad book together with a group of related photographs and ephemera belonging to K30556 Francis Luke Brown, of the Royal Navy sold to a London dealer for £2,300. The collection had been sent for sale by Brown’s granddaughter, Mrs Susan Laker, who lives in Chartham, near Canterbury.

Among the messages was one sent in 1918 to “CO Yarmouth” that read: “Have landed with engine trouble. Admiralty trawler about to take us in tow”. Another read “Down engine trouble 4 miles E of St Nicholas”. Others were in code.

Mrs Laker said her grandfather, who was born in 1891, was a keen pigeon fancier who raced the birds as a hobby. She recalled being told that one of his birds was called “Lucky Pilot” because it had carried messages from a total of seven downed pilots, all of whom had been rescued. He owned and ran a butcher’s shop in Ashford after the war and had also been the landlord of what is now the Tickled Trout public house in Wye.

On his death in 1973, the collection had passed to her father, William, who had a butcher’s shop in Ramsgate and later Farnham, before the family moved to Chartham in 1977. He died in 2006, since when it had been kept in a safe. She felt the centenary was an appropriate time to make the collection available for others to appreciate its significance.

Most wanted, however, was the George Medal awarded to London Auxiliary Fireman Frederick Fosker in recognition of his great bravery in rescuing a soldier from a blazing building during the Blitz. The medal is the second highest award for civilian gallantry. It sold to a local collector for £4,300 against an estimate of £2,000-3,000 on behalf of Fosker’s family, who live in Herne Bay, Kent.

The London Gazette of September 19, 1941, recorded the incident as follows: “Incendiary bombs fell on a large house and part of the roof and second floor were set on fire. Auxiliary Fireman Fosker and several soldiers worked on the second floor with a stirrup pump in an endeavour to subdue the flames. The soldiers were advised to leave the building. One, who was nearest to the fire, was overcome by smoke and collapsed and fell forward from the landing into the blaze. There was a very real danger of the roof falling in and the floor collapsing, but, although aware of this, Fosker did not hesitate. Despite the great heat, he plunged into the flames and smoke and brought out the unconscious soldier and dragged him to the stairs. Fosker, who was badly burned while effecting the rescue, fell down the stairs to the first floor landing. He was removed to hospital and detained. Fosker displayed promptness of action and great courage and undoubtedly saved the life of the soldier at considerable risk to his own.”

Frederick Lewis Fosker was born in Islington and moved to Peckham, where he lived with his wife. The couple had two sons. Formerly a porter at Dulwich Hospital, he joined the London Fire Service as an Auxiliary before the war. He was 32 at the time of his heroic rescue, which occurred at a house in Westwood Hill, in Sydenham, South East London.

The sale included a section of military, personal and sporting weaponry, notably a 19th century cased pair of French .50 calibre percussion cap pocket pistols complete with bullet mould and powder flask and a poignard (dagger) with unusual tapered cruciform pattern blade and horn handle, the scabbard for which could be used as a ramrod. All contained in a fitted rosewood case, it sold to a local private collector for £3,200, double its presale low estimate.

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