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Horace Leslie Birks (1897-1985)

Biography of Major General Horace Leslie Birks (1897-1985)

Horace Leslie Birks enlisted in the London Rifle Brigade in 1915 and was commissioned to the Machine Gun Corps Heavy Branch in 1917, fighting in the Battle of Cambrai the same year. During the Battle of the Somme, Birks was injured by shrapnel chipping from the internal armour of his machine gun. In the inter-war period, he served in India and was an instructor at the Staff College, Quetta in 1937.

From 1940, Birks took command of the 4th Armoured Brigade in Egypt and the 126th Infantry Brigade from September 1941. As Commander of the 11th Armoured Brigade from November 1941, Birks led his brigade at the Battle of Tobruk. In January 1943, Birks became General Officer Commanding the 10th Armoured Division in North Africa and Commander of the Royal Armoured Corps for the Mediterranean Force in Italy in 1944. Birks became a member of the Caterpillar Club when his plane crashed in the Alps on his return from his Mediterranean Command. Club records state:-

Major/Gen Birks, 3 Brigadiers and his 'servant' were flown by a crew of 3 in Hudson No 723 of the RAF from Naples to Berlin, when over Innsbruck the aircraft became unmanageable owing to severe icing, the passengers and crew were obliged to bail out in thick cloud, 6 of the crew and passengers landed in the valley of the Vomper loch and were more or less unhurt, but he and one other man came down in a neighbouring mountain and Major General Birks broke his leg.1

Founded by Leslie Irvin of the Irvin Airchute Company in 1922 the Caterpillar Club is an informal association of people whose lives have been saved by use of a parachute to exit a disabled aircraft.  Members are provided with a certificate and distinctive lapel pin in the form of a caterpillar in reference to the silk threads its produces in order to make parachute silk.


1. With thanks to Elain Thomas, Sales Operations Systems UK, MoD Airborne Systems Ltd.

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Lot SC16/135

Lot SC16/135: A Fine Medal Group Awarded To Major General Horace Leslie Birks CB, DSO (1897-1985)

A fine medal group awarded to Major General Horace Leslie Birks CB, DSO (1897-1985), Military KCB Star, DSO, 1914-15 Star, War Medal, Victory Medal, 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, Italy Star, Defence Medal, War Medal 1939-45 with oak leaf, Coronation Medal 1937, with corresponding miniature group and Caterpillar Club badge, mounted in a glazed case.

Estimate: £6,000 - £8,000
Realised: £5,000