Medal _10

London. September 6, 2012. The outstanding collection of medals and memorabilia relating to Group Captain John 'Cat's Eyes' Cunningham, the highest-scoring night fighter ace of the Second World War and pioneering chief test pilot for de Havilland during the jet age, sold at Spink today for a staggering £384,000, more than double their pre-sale estimate of £140,000-180,000. The proceeds of this and the other 57 lots in the charity auction will go directly to the Bentley Priory Battle of Britain Trust Appeal.


Mark Quayle, Head of Spink's Medals department, said: "We are delighted with the result of the sale, which has generated a huge sum of money for such a worthwhile cause. We hope that the funds raised will go some way to helping the trust achieve its' overall target and encourage those still to donate, to do so."

Speaking on behalf of the Bentley Priory Battle of Britain Trust Appeal, Brian Burridge, said: "The trust is hugely grateful to Spink for facilitating this auction, which has generated enormous interest. This underscores just how important the Battle of Britain is in our national memory. The creation of a museum and learning centre at Bentley Priory is designed to ensure that this memory never fades. The funds raised today will help us to travel the last mile of our final target of £1.2 million."


Cunningham's Honours and Awards include the C.B.E. (Commander of the Order of the British Empire); the D.S.O. (Distinguished Service Order) with 2 Bars; the D.F.C. (Distinguished Flying Cross) with Bar; the 1939-1945 Star, with Battle of Britain Bar; the Air Crew Europe Star; the War Medal, with Mentioned in Despatches oak leaf; the Air Efficiency Award; the American Silver Star; and the Soviet Order of the Patriotic War First Class, and were offered with a large related archive including the recipient's Flying Log Books and various trophies, uniforms, and aviation memorabilia.


The proceeds from the sale are going towards a new education centre and museum, as well as flying scholarships for young people. This is an entirely fitting tribute that ensures the legacy of such men is passed onto the next generation.


Cunningham first came to prominence in the night skies over London during the 1940 Blitz, where he quickly achieved a number of victories and gained national recognition with the British public. Paraded as a hero by the Royal Air Force, he was given the nick-name 'Cat's Eyes'- for the benefit of propaganda his uncannily clear eyesight at night was attributed to the carrots that he ate, when in reality it was due to the top-secret A.I. Radar system.


Bentley Priory served as the Headquarters of Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. It was from here that Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding controlled and directed the Battle between 10th July 1939 & 31st October 1940. It is a battle in which Cunningham excelled and in which the courage of all those who participated was pivotal, as its success averted a German invasion and led the way for European liberation.


As the house was declared surplus by the Ministry of Defence, an opportunity arose to tell its unique and important story for future generations. The role of preserving this architecturally significant building that played such a significant role in national social and international military history was taken on by The Bentley Priory Battle of Britain Trust.  The Trust was created by the Battle of Britain Fighter Association, whose members are made up of the survivors of 'The Few' aircrew that fought in the Battle of Britain. 'The Few' consider Bentley Priory their spiritual home.


After seven years of hard work and negotiation the Trust has secured £11.6 million out of the total project costs of £13.4 million required to secure the long term future of the Priory and to create a sustainable museum and learning centre that will benefit a broad audience. The final hurdle is to raise £1.2 million to fit out the museum.  A bid for a Heritage Grant of £650, 000 has been made to the Heritage Lottery Fund who have already generously awarded £45,000 towards the development work for the museum. 

The museum and learning centre will offer a state of the art programme about the significance of the Battle of Britain and provide information on citizenship and above all, history. The lots offered in today's special charity auction, donated by the families of those that have fallen, or were honoured for outstanding bravery in action, and have since died, will make a significant contribution to this worthy cause.  The Trust is very grateful to Spink for all of their generous support.