So it proved for auctioneer Steven Bosley of Bosleys (20% buyer’s premium) in Marlow when the name Warrant Officer Robert ‘Bob’ Duncan Tait was mentioned.
“When the fellow phoned up from Tait’s family I gasped because if you know a little bit about SAS history you are aware he designed the badge, was a very early member and a friend of founder David Stirling. It definitely has a certain cachet about it,” he said.
Duncan Tait’s Military Medal and bar group sold for £84,000 to the agent of an anonymous buyer in the March 7 auction against an estimate of £40,000-50,000 after a battle between phone bidders.
He was a founding member of ‘L Detachment’, later the SAS, and is credited with the design of the most coveted military badge in the world: the SAS winged dagger.
Duncan Tait was part of 11 Commando before he was invited to join L Detachment under the direction of Col Stirling and survived the regiment’s first disastrous operation in November 1941: a parachute drop in support of the Operation Crusader offensive.
Suitably, the next lot in the Bosleys auction was Duncan Tait’s SAS qualification wings, which made £2200 (estimate £500-800), and then his Fairburn Sykes fighting knife and silk escape map of north-west Europe carried by him following the D-Day landings, sold in one lot for £1400 (estimate £500-800).
All three Duncan Tait lots sold to the same buyer, keeping them together.
More special forces lots impressed at Bosleys – original Special Operations Executive (SOE) and escape and evasion items in a collection amassed over four decades.
This was the first slice of a sizeable group which probably will be sold over three auctions.
“It comes from a private collector who I have personally known for about 40 years or so,” said Bosley. “He is pretty well-established and quite a lot of his items have appeared in various books. There are fakes of these sorts of things appearing all the time, but this is 100% pukka.”
The highlight without doubt was the Second World War Per Ardua Libertas (liberty through adversity): the original MI9 book of gadgets for the SOE/Escape & Evasion, 1942 edition, showing concealed gadgets produced at the time to aid SOE agents and British prisoners of war. It is one of only 100 thought to have been printed.
Bidding started at the low estimate of £2000 with room bidders, several internet bidders and two phones providing the competition. The bids steadily climbed until the hammer fell at £24,000 to a phone bidder.
SOE gadgets with more than a hint of 007 are very popular. Bosleys racked up some strong results with a rare Royal Navy concealed button compass sold for £600 and a rare black Bakelite comb with a swinger compass or saw blade fetching £3000. A selection of concealed weapons – a must for all agents – included a ‘hat pin’ assassination thrust dagger (the very example illustrated in the book Fighting Knives by FJ Stephens) sold for £5500, followed by a concealed small turned spearpoint dagger and scabbard which made for £4400.
An SOE agent camouflage ‘jump’ suit sold for £4200, and to complete the outfit, £3200 was paid for the special pattern helmet and goggles.