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CAPTAIN PETER TOWNSEND: Royal lover's medals sold

Friday 30th July 2021

IT WAS a story forbidden love which gripped the nation's hearts.

The tale of a princess besotted with a dashing Battle of Britain pilot became the stuff of acres of newspaper coverage.

In 1944, Group Captain Peter Townsend was appointed as equerry to King George VI, and began a secret affair with Princess Margaret, the current Queen's sister.

It was an enormous scandal of its day as Townsend was a divorcee, a status frowned upon by the Church of England.

As the news of the liaison became public knowledge, the princess was told, bluntly, that if it were to continue, she would lose her titles and royal status, so she reluctantly called it off.

While he was notorious forever because of his association with the young princess, he had already cut a dash in the skies as one of Churchill's 'The Few'.

Stationed at the RAF base in West Malling (Kings Hill) in 1943, where he was commander, Burmese-born Townsend was already a war hero.

During the Battle of Britain in the summer and autumn of 1940, he was the first to shoot down an enemy plane, the first of eleven 'kills' in 300 plus sorties. Townend made his escape twice by parachute, once while injured, his aircraft having been hit both times.

He won the Distinguished Flying Cross for intercepting an enemy aircraft at dusk and shot it down after a protracted fight. The citation acclaimed his leadership, skill and determination.

That medal and ten others, along with logbooks covering his flying career have gone under the hammer at auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb, London-based experts in medals and militaria.

His fame was more recently rekindled when his doomed romance was portrayed in Netflix hit, The Crown.

The medals' auction, which was due to take place on July 21, as Downs Mail went to press, was expected to make up to £200,000.