A World War II hero in a second-hand market

José Fernández Molina, with the pilot's helmet he bought for 15 euros at a second-hand market.
José Fernández Molina, with the pilot's helmet he bought for 15 euros at a second-hand market. / Ñito Salas
  • The helmet, which cost 15 euros and included the oxygen mask, contained documents showing its owner's awards and medals

  • A collector found a helmet which is thought to have belonged to RAF pilot John Braham at a market in Benalmádena

He loves markets, although he doesn't always have time to go to them. Especially on Wednesdays. That's the day that a market selling second-hand goods takes place in Benalmádena. However, a couple of weeks ago, collector José Fernández Molina did manage to get there to see if he could find a treasure, although he realised that it would probably be full of junk.

He was wrong. Amid a pile of utensils and items which wouldn't have been out of place on a rubbish dump, he found exactly what he was looking for. "It seemed to gleam, like the sun at dawn," he says, trying to find a metaphor to describe how he felt when he saw a leather aviator's helmet which appeared to be from the Second World War. He thought it was in good condition, and it also included the pilot's oxygen mask and audio connections. They wanted 15 euros for it and he didn't think twice about buying it.

When he looked at it at home, he found another suprise: inside the helmet were some original documents relating to John Randall Daniel Braham, the most successful RAF pilot of World War II. A hero of aviation, in other words.

The documentation José found in the military helmet included the list of medals and other distinctions awarded to its owner between 1939 and 1945.

"It was normal to give the soldiers this type of document to show the medals they had been awarded during their service," explains José who, as well as being a collector, is an accredited judicial expert in archaeology and an antiques valuer.

These credentials specified that this pilot had been awarded four campaign stars and two medals for taking part in the Battle of Britain and for combat in the Atlantic, France and Germany. The certificate also includes an inscription with the initials J.R.D.B, which coincide with those of decorated pilot John Randall Daniel Braham, who brought down 29 enemy planes in World War II and was a specialist in night air battles.

With all this documentation and the helmet itself, José Fernández says he is "99 per cent sure" that it belonged to John Braham, "although we need to have that certificated and that isn't an easy task," he says.

His next step will be to contact the pilot's descendents to try to complete the process of authenticating this piece, which is in such good condition. "We can tell that someone has really looked after this helmet and mask for many years," says José, who also tried to obtain information about the piece from the stall-holder at the market in Benalmádena, but without success.

"He couldn't give me any clue about how it came into his hands," says José, who would love to find out how this helmet made its way from the battles of World War II to the Costa del Sol.

This antiques expert, who has experience in valuing army uniforms from the Second World War - he recently valued a jacket which had belonged to a Nazi cavalry officer - says the current value of the helmet and mask of the RAF pilot would be about 1,000 euros because of its excellent condition. However, José, who admits he has a weakness for collecting military uniforms and distinctions, doesn't intend to part with it.

"If we were able to certify that it was the property of John Braham, its value would be difficult to calculate because personal items are very much in demand and it would really depend on how much a collector was prepared to pay for it," he says.

Not in this case, however. This helmet has been acquired by a collector for whom it now has great sentimental value. It has already found its new home. It is not for sale.