The Millionaires’ Squadron
Author: Tom Moulson
Publisher: Pen and Sword Aviation, paperback edition 2021, RRP £15.99
ISBN: 978 1 78346 339 8
Tom Moulson's story of the exploits of No 601 (County of London) Squadron came out in 1964 as The Flying Sword, a reference to the squadron's badge. In 2014, The Millionaires’ Squadron, a heavily re-written version of the same book, appeared, the title now perpetuating a squadron nickname. Now we have a paperback edition.
Supporters of the Memorial Trust will, I predict, enjoy reading, or re-reading, the tales of the pilots, some of them wealthy, who fought in 1940, including Willie Rhodes-Moorhouse, his brother-in-law, Dick Demetriadi, the baronet, Sir Archibald Hope, “Mouse” Cleaver, Max Aitken, the Riddle brothers (“Huseph” and Jack), “Little Billy” Clyde and Billy Fiske.
They might also find entertaining and informing the account of the achievements and eccentricities of Lord Edward "Ned" Grosvenor, the squadron's begetter. Today he would no doubt be seen as a frightful snob, probably many felt that in the 1920s, yet he was much loved by men who served under him. His CV included a spell in the French Foreign Legion, hence his tendency to regard the squadron as "the Legion" and the members as "Legionnaires". Moulson suggests, without much fear of contradiction, that this overseas adventure was probably unique in the English aristocracy.
Grosvenor apparently enjoyed recounting and, Moulson considers, embellishing, the story from when he was serving in the RNAS at Eastchurch. His instructions to a new pilot heading for a squadron at Ostend included such detail as “when you get to France turn left”. His disregard for the orthodoxies of navigation came to haunt him when the pilot telephoned to say his aircraft was parked on the tram lines at Hammersmith Broadway.
When the story reaches the Battle of Britain the author demolishes some stories in print elsewhere about the squadron's attitude to the American volunteer Billy Fiske, and writes: “Fiske was quickly liked as a man and admired as an aggressive and fearless fighter pilot. As his flight commander [Archie] Hope would later say ‘In all my flying experience I have never come across a pilot with such completely natural flying ability and quick reactions. He made his aircraft become part of him and had the potential of an ace.’”
Fiske, of course, had no requirement whatsoever to be displaying his flying expertise in the thick of Britain's battle. His memorial, tucked away at St Paul's Cathedral, pays tribute to him as, "An American citizen who died that England might live".
A small matter has gone wrong between the original and later versions of the book. Some errors have been introduced affecting, for instance, a peer’s title and the order in which post nominals are listed. As Tom Moulson served with 601 I doubt that he is to blame. A glitch in editing presumably. Both versions of the work have trouble in establishing the correct spelling of "Rhodes-Moorhouse".
I recommend The Millionaires’ Squadron. As with many books from the world of Pen and Sword, it will be difficult to miss on book shelves and websites, having one of Jon Wilkinson's distinctive cover designs.