Exemplifying how the value of a military honour is so often determined by the story behind it rather than the item itself was this Caterpillar Club 9ct gold pin which set a record when offered at 1818 Auctioneers (20% buyer’s premium).
The ¾in (2cm) pins, representing a silkworm with red amethyst eyes, were awarded by Anglo-American parachute maker Irvin Air Chute to anyone who successfully bailed out of a stricken aircraft. During the Second World War more than 30,000 were presented and these usually sell for three-figures sums.
The one at the Milnthorpe, Cumbria, online militaria sale ending on October 4 sale took £4700.
It bore the name of Spitfire pilot Kapitan Stanislaw Zygmunt Krol, one of the thousands of Free Poles who fought alongside the British on all fronts, from the Battle of Britain to the Rhine via such epic battles as Monte Cassino and Arnhem.
Kapitan Krol was shot down over Europe in 1942 and, after several attempts to escape PoW camps, was imprisoned in Stalag Luft III. There he took part in the famous Great Escape in 1944 but was recaptured after 12 days and was one of the 50 escapers murdered by the Gestapo on Hitler’s orders.
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Remarkably, the previous high for a Caterpillar Club badge was that presented to the Dutch air ace Bram van der Stok who, out of 75 who attempted the Great Escape, was one of only three who made it to freedom. His badge took a five-times-estimate hammer £2700 at Lockdales’ (19.5% buyer’s premium) sale in Ipswich in November 2018.
Kapitan Krol had named a Lancashire couple who had befriended him his official wartime ‘next of kin’. After news came of his bailing out from his Spitfire they were presented with the Caterpillar pin along with a letter dated Feb 27th, 1942 saying: “We hope that he will soon be able to come home and claim it.’’
After the war, the couple and their family tried in vain to trace Kapitan Krol’s family and finally entered the pin for auction. Offered with documents and a photograph of the flyer in uniform, it was estimated at £800-1200. It attracted an impressive 89 online bids.