Employing the art of persuasion has enabled Jose Fernandez, 43, to snag what definitely appears to be the pilot’s helmet of one of Britain’s most decorated Second World War fighter pilots.
Fernandez is currently authenticating the item bought recently for £50 from a Costa del Sol flea market. He assumed the helmet was an authentic war relic when he first spotted it. Upon returning home, he found a unique document tucked inside the headpiece, complete with oxygen mask and audio system, with the initials of fighter ace John Braham.
Known as Bob, Braham was credited with downing 29 enemy aircraft including 19 at night and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was considered the most successful British pilot flying twin-engine aircraft save for London-born Branse Burbridge with a record 21 kills, all achieved at night.
Braham’s war ended on June 24, 1944, when he was shot down by a pair of single-engine German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters. Braham was captured but freed in May 1945.
He died at an early age, 53, from an undiagnosed brain tumor in Canada in 1974 where he had emigrated with his family.
Fernandez, employed as an antique’s valuation expert in addition to working as a legal archaeological specialist, explained he bought the helmet from an acquaintance who had quickly bought it for ‘a tenner’ by offering him five times as much prior to heading home.
He estimates the helmet could fetch almost £900 if it can be proven beyond any doubt the helmet once belonged to Braham, full name John Randall Daniel Braham, although Fernandez is adamant he will not sell it.
It is possible another World War II collector put the document inside the helmet, but it would be out of the ordinary, he acknowledges. Authentication will be verified by contacting British RAF specialists.
Fernandez is waiting to hear back from notable collectors of British wartime material to determine if the document was only provided to soldiers or RAF personnel, too.
The stall holder did not know anything about the helmet although he said some friends had passed it onto him, Fernandez said. He suspects it may have been picked up in the trash somewhere.
Someone Fernandez knew got the helmet first and purchased it for 15 euros, but he did not realize what had been bought, so he accepted 60 euros to sell the bit of history.
Since reading about Braham and what he accomplished, Fernandez gained enormous respect for the sacrifices he made for everyone’s freedom and feels satisfied with recovering a part of history.
Braham, born at Holcombe, Somerset, was the son of a Methodist minister who had been a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War.
He was a successful boxer when young and worked as a clerk in Wigan for the Greater Manchester Police before enlisting in the armed forces at 17 for a better career. He is constantly included on lists of World War Two flying aces.
At the war’s end, Braham had completed 319 operational sorties, shot down 29 aircraft, took 11 hits and survived five crash landings.
It is believed a miracle helped him survive the war. He became a prisoner of war after crash – landing his plane on a beach at 150 miles per hour during a daytime flight over Denmark deep into enemy airspace with Australian navigator Don Walsh.
They managed to escape their Mosquito fighter-bomber and take shelter behind a sand dune just before its fuel tanks exploded.
His return to Britain was difficult, and Braham is said to have physically removed journalists from his family home in Leicestershire because he hated publicity so much, Mirror reported.
Braham joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1952 after immigrating to Canada with his family, eventually retiring from military life. He was employed as a civil servant for the Canadian government when he died in his early fifties.