On two occasions, in 1941 and 1945, he had to bring his damaged aircraft down on the sea, rescued after being adrift in the dinghy for some time on each occasion.
And as part of No 161 (Special Duties) Squadron he flew Hudsons at low level on night sorties. On his 26th sortie while on SOE Operation Benedict to Germany in March 1945 his aircraft was shot down by a nightfighter, killing all the other crew and SOE operatives on board. Helfer was able to escape but his uniform and parachute pack caught fire and he plummeted hundreds of feet to the ground, into a ploughed field.
He was recovered by US troops and after skin grafts at the burns department in Horton Hospital, Epsom, Surrey, and three months recuperating, he was eager to get back to service.
Helfer’s (1920-2010) RAF group of seven medals – DFC, AFC, 1939-45 Star, Air Crew Europe Star, Defence Medal, War Medal and General Service medal, with corresponding miniatures – was offered at Exeter saleroom Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood (23% buyer’s premium) on March 8 together with a host of related material including four log books, an RAF silk map of Sweden, a pair of RAF epaulettes, buttons and photo album.
Evidence of his great escapes came in the form of Caterpillar Club badge and Goldfish Club card. The former was given to RAF personnel who had baled out successfully wearing an Irvin parachute made by the Irvin Air Chute Company, the latter presented to a worldwide association of people who have escaped an aircraft by parachuting into the water, or whose aircraft crashed in the water, and survived using a life jacket or inflatable dinghy.
The Goldfish Club was formed in November 1942 by CA Robertson, chief draftsman at UK firm PB Cow & Co, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of air-sea rescue equipment.
Estimated at £3000-5000, Helfer’s medals and other items, consigned by family, made £7900.