War hero's sword returns to Great Chesterford

Close up of a dress sword

The dress sword, scabbard and ribbon with a gilt brass guard - Credit: Sworders auctioneers

A ceremonial sword owned by a war ace has sold at auction for £2,000, and the new owner intends to put the item on public display in Great Chesterford.

Wing Commander Leonard Fitch Ratcliff (1919-2016) from Great Chesterford, was the recipient of a DSO, a DFC and Bar, the Croix de Guerre Alec Palme and the Lêgion d’honneur.

Wing Commander Leonard Ratcliff

Wing Commander Leonard Ratcliff (1919-2016) - Credit: Sworders auctioneers

Wing Commander Ratcliff flew secret wartime missions into continental Europe during the Second World War, missions which were extraordinarily dangerous.

His 161 Special Duties Squadron had around 200 men and craft. They were based at the secret RAF airfield at Kempsford in Bedfordshire, and were responsible for dropping secret agents and equipment to aid resistance movements into Nazi occupied Europe.

During its wartime activities, there were 600 casualties - effectively meaning the whole of 161 squadron was wiped out three times.


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Wing Commander Ratcliff took part in 70 moonlight missions, flying Halifax Havocs, Hudsons and Lysanders.

Most famously, his cargo included Yvonne Cormeau (1909-1997), codename Annette, whose work as a wireless operator with the French Resistance was immortalised in the best selling book Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks.

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The dress sword, scabbard and ribbon with a gilt brass guard bearing the RAF insignia had a guide price of £800 to £1,200 in the Sworders online auction on December 8-9 but sold for £2,000 plus buyers premium.

The new owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, also lives in Great Chesterford and said: "Len Ratcliff was a quite extraordinary man, a war hero. He lived his final years in Great Chesterford and his ashes are interred in the churchyard of All Saints’ in the village.

"I am delighted to honour his memory by returning this magnificent sword to the village. I intend to arrange for it to be put on public display in 2021.” 

a dress sword

Wing Commander Ratcliff's dress sword, scabbard and ribbon with a gilt brass guard - Credit: Sworders auctioneers


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