The story of how one of the first SAS soldiers escaped from a German desert camp during the Second World War has emerged, 30 years after his death, as his medals for bravery are put up for auction. Sergeant Ernest Thomas Lilley – known as Bob – found himself alone and unarmed behind enemy lines after a raid on German warplanes in Libya saw him separated from his comrades.
The 28-year-old sergeant was spotted by a guard but after a life-and-death struggle he overpowered his enemy and managed to escape, a brave action which awarded him the Military Medal in 1942.
Brave soldier: Sgt Lilley was awarded the Military Medal for his actions during an SAS raid in Libya during the Second World War
Sgt Lilley’s group were operating as part of the Long Range Desert Group a reconnaissance and raiding unit of the British Army during the Second World War. Shortly before Sgt Lilley became separated from them, the Long Range Desert Group had blown up numerous aircraft and spare engines in hangers and workshops in Benghazi. The group was discovered by the enemy and was forced to split up. Sgt Lilley, from Wolverhampton, West Midlands, found himself alone and unarmed inside the German camp and was trying to find a way out when the Italian soldier saw him.
Surrounded by enemy forces, he knew an alarm would risk the lives of himself and his comrades, and had no choice but to quickly overpower and strangle the guard. He managed to escape the camp and was reunited with his group after a 12 mile walk in the desert
Sgt Lilley had served in the SAS since it was first formed in 1941 and won numerous awards for his bravery and service during his time in the army.
Hero: Sergeant Bob Lilley in the Western desert during his time with the 21st SAS regiment
Collectors’ gold: Sergeant Bob Lilley’s war medals, including the Military Medal, British Empire Medal, Africa Star, Italy Star, France Star and Germany Star, are set to fetch £50,000 at the auction later this month
Sgt Lilley won the Military Medal in November 1942 for his bravery during the raid before continuing to serve the SAS until his discharge in 1958 He was appointed Regimental Sergeant Major of 21 Special Air Service Regiment in 1950 and was awarded the British Empire Medal for his services in 1952. In his recommendationm=m Commander Lieutenant Colonel A.C. Newman, called him a ‘legendary soldier greatly deserving the medal for his services to the 21st SAS Regiment’.
Sgt Bob Lilley died in August 1981 at the age of 67.
The collection of medals, which includes the Military Medal, British Empire Medal, Africa Star, Italy Star, France Star and Germany Star, are set to fetch £50,000 when they are put up for auction next week.
Loyal crew: Sergeant Bob Lilley (second from right) with his fellow SAS soldiers on New Year’s Eve in 1942
Christopher Hill, medal expert at auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb said: ‘Sgt Lilley was a member of the original SAS squad, or what is now known as the SAS. ‘They were all tough heroic-type characters, you had to be that sort of chap to be in the SAS. ‘This episode reflected his resourcefulness and his determination to do what had to be done.
‘He was a legendary soldier, a real tough character and one of the first ever SAS men.
‘These medals have always been kept in his family, until now. It has been decided to find it a good home so the children can use it for inheritance.’ The auction at The Washington Hotel in London on December 13, is expected to set a new British record.
The medal collection, which includes Sgt Lilley’s awards, predicted to sell for £1.3million
In uniform: Wearing traditional clothes in Cairo 1941, around the time of the raid on enemy planes in Libya