Author – and Battle of Britain Trust supporter – Kristen Alexander’s latest work, Australia’s Few and the Battle of Britain, is due to be released in the UK by Pen & Sword in April 2015.
Kristen’s book tells the stories of Jack Kennedy, Stuart Walch, Dick Glyde, Pat Hughes, Ken Holland, John Crossman, Bill Millington and Des Sheen.
Kristen describes their background, education and formative experiences as they developed into fine young fighter pilots and covers their squadron lives and key battles. She looks at the stresses of training and battle, the sacrifices they made as they fought to protect their new homeland and the impact of their deaths on families and loved ones.
Kristen, the author of a number of books about Australian pilots, has produced abbreviated stories on the eight pilots exclusively for the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust website. They can be enjoyed by following the link to the introduction and then clicking on the individual names of the pilots. Alternatively use the menu system to the left.
Kristen Alexander’s Jack Davenport Beaufighter Leader was included in the RAAF Chief of Air Force’s 2010 Reading List. She won the Military Historical Society of Australia’s Sabretache Writers Prize in 2012 and 2013. Her articles and book reviews have appeared in Sabretache, the Journal of the Military Historical Society of Australia, Aviation Heritage, the journal of the Aviation Historical Society of Australia, Wings, the official publication of the RAAF Association, Britain at War and Flightpath.
An introduction by author Kristen Alexander
It has never been easy naming all the men who flew in the Battle of Britain. There have been many attempts over the years and lists differ – even the Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall at the National Memorial to the Few is not immune to changes prompted by new information.
It has been just as hard determining the number of Australians entitled to the Battle of Britain clasp. The official historian of the RAAF’s activities in Europe during the Second World War noted in 1954 that “some 30 Australians” served in Fighter Command during the Battle. By 1957, the Medals section of RAAF Overseas Headquarters determined that 29 Australians were eligible.
The Australian War Memorial’s online encyclopaedia states 25 and the RAF claims 26. The Battle of Britain Monument records 32 Australians but on 15 September 2011, a Battle of Britain honour board unveiled at RAAF Base Edinburgh, South Australia, recorded 36 names. Whatever the total, recent research indicates one acknowledged Australian is Irish. With no conclusive total, the RAAF’s Office of Air Force History refers to “30 or so” Australians.
Why the discrepancies? For a start, none served with the RAAF during the Battle. Although some had trained before the war as cadets at 1 Flying Training School, Point Cook, Victoria, they were discharged from the RAAF at the completion of their courses and removed from the air force list. There was no national identification or grouping of Australians within the RAF at that stage, and Australian pilots were scattered throughout a handful of squadrons.
Another complication was the issue of Australian identity. The term ‘Australian citizen’ did not exist until 1949. Those airmen who had been born in Australia carried passports designating them British subjects and they were listed as British on their service records.
In addition, the different family circumstances, national ties and varying degrees of ‘Australianness’ made it difficult in some cases to state that someone was Australian. Some, for example, had British parents, some had Australian. Some were born in Britain but grew up in Australia. Some were born in Australia but raised in Britain.
Follow the links below to learn more about eight of the Australian men who served in this most vital of battles.
John Dallas Crossman was born in North Queensland, on 20 March 1918 and grew up in Newcastle, New South Wales. He was a decent student and a great swimmer. He enjoyed music, collected stamps and was a voracious reader. He had elegant hands and his deft fingers were good at electrical work but his greatest enthusiasm was for flying. He was mad about aeroplanes from the time he could walk and loved making balsa wood models. Soon, he turned to the real thing. When he was 14, Australian aviation legend Charles Kingsford Smith came to Newcastle to give joyrides. Ted Crossman took his young son to the aerodrome and John watched as Smithy thrilled passenger after passenger in hour-long flights. Soon it was his turn, and he was hooked. From that moment on, all he wanted to do was fly.
John firmly set upon a career in the air and, when he was 20, applied to join the RAF but was rejected. He reapplied, was accepted and set sail for England on 12 August 1939. He docked at Southampton on 13 October and took his first training flight on the 31st. ‘It was great.’ He did not look back and wanted to fly at every opportunity. His greatest moment was the day he received his wings.
The Battle of Britain commenced before John finished his training. He was initially posted to 32 Squadron then sent to an operational training unit to convert to Hurricanes. He did not see action after his return to the squadron. When it was sent north, he was posted to 46 Squadron at Stapleford Tawney in Essex, arriving on 12 September 1940.
John’s first action was on the 14th when the squadron attacked “a formation of about 60 Messerschmitt 109s at 20,000 feet”. He “got one decent burst into a 109 but was unable to see if I got him as [I] had to get out of the way of a few more.”
John was in the air again on 15 September when he “ran into hundreds of Jerry kites at about 19,000 feet. Three of us were going round to do head-on attacks on some Dorniers. I lost speed, spun down 6000 feet, came out near 20 more escorted by about 60 Messerschmitt 109s. Three of the 109s came after me. I evaded then came round [and] did a stern attack on the Dorniers. Put all my shots into one of them, set his port engine on fire and saw him go down”. He was credited with a probably destroyed.
As September advanced, John was in the air two or even three times a day. By the time he took to the air on 30 September, he had flown 18 sorties, including one that morning where a “large formation [of] ME 109s passed us but we did not attack—[we] were looking for bombers”. At 1.15 p.m., the squadron took off in partnership with 249 Squadron to patrol the Hornchurch line.
They encountered a gaggle of Messerschmitt 109s and John was bounced. Witnesses claimed he engaged 20 fighters, exhibiting “stupendous courage”, as he clung to the tail of one of the Messerschmitts. He fired, “shooting down one which fell over the [Ashdown] Forest”. But he in turn became the victim of the stricken Me 109 and his Hurricane crashed in flames at Tablehurst Farm, Forest Row, East Sussex. Twenty-two year old John Crossman was the 11th Australian to die in the Battle of Britain.
Richard Lindsay Glyde was born in Perth, Western Australia, on 29 January 1914. Known as Dick from a young age, he developed an early interest in flying and was accepted for a RAAF cadetship. He was discharged medically unfit in March 1934 because of a slight curvature of the spine. It was a surprise as it had not been detected earlier and had in no way hampered Dick’s active sporting life. He sought medical advice and rectified the problem.
In early 1937, he sailed to England to join the RAF and was granted a short service commission. On 24 October 1938, he was posted to 87 Squadron to fly Hurricanes. Shortly after the outbreak of war, his squadron was posted to France.
On 14 November 1939, Dick and his squadron leader were running out of fuel after a patrol. They landed in neutral Belgium by mistake and were interned. A short time later they mounted a daring escape which proved successful. After returning to his squadron, Dick saw action in the Battle of France. His total score in May 1940 was 2¼ destroyed and a third probably destroyed but his DFC citation recorded that he “accounted for four enemy aircraft”.
After they evacuated to England, 87 Squadron had a brief period to rest and rebuild. On 11 July, Squadron Leader John Dewar was leading three Hurricanes, including Dick. At about noon, Dewar sighted a number of Messerschmitt Me 110s approaching Portland from the south. Dewar called the attack, surprising the enemy aircraft as they dived on them. Dick closed onto the nearest Me 110. He fired two deflection bursts then positioned himself on the Messerschmitt’s tail. He fired again as it turned. White vapour streamed thickly from the stricken aircraft.
He saw a Hurricane engaging another 110 and fired at it as well. He attempted several deflection shots but to no apparent affect. Another Hurricane joined in as the Me 110 tried to escape seawards. Dick chased the enemy aircraft and ‘got in a burst which produced white vapour from his engine’. It dived to sea level and Dick fired again from behind and slightly to one side. He watched it sink, then returned to base.
There followed a period of night flying and leave in early August, during which the young Australian was presented with his DFC. A ‘panic call’ came through on 13 August and B Flight took off at 6.40 a.m. They were vectored to the Selsey Bill–Portsmouth area. Dewar, Dick and Pilot Officer Dudley Jay had been in the air for about fifty minutes when they sighted a lone Junkers Ju 88 flying east. Dick and Jay attacked from astern and Dewar from quarter and above. The Ju 88’s starboard engine stopped and, about 30 seconds later, Dick, Dewar and Jay watched it plummet into the sea.
Dick was in the rear as they returned to base. Jay looked behind and noticed white vapour pouring out of Dick’s aircraft: the Junkers had hit the glycol tank. Within a blink, the Hurricane plunged into the water off Selsey Bill. Dick Glyde was the fifth Australian to die in the Battle of Britain. His total wartime score was 3¼ plus another third destroyed, a third probably destroyed and one damaged.
Kenneth Christopher Holland, known as Ken, was born in Sydney on 29 January 1920. Fair-skinned, with sun-tipped blond wavy hair and good looking in a fresh-faced way, he had grown up in Sydney’s coastal suburbs. He was a keen and strong swimmer and in October 1935 joined the Tamarama Surf Life Savings Club as a junior member. As soon as he turned 16 he began working towards his surf bronze medallion.
At the club he met the man who would become his guardian, Major Hugh Ivor Emmott Ripley, known as Toby. Toby invited his young protégé to accompany him on his next trip home to England. At some point Toby suggested that Ken live there under his guardianship. Ken’s parents agreed and, after a brief return to Australia where he passed his examination for the surf bronze medallion, he farewelled his family in early 1937.
He enrolled in the aeronautical engineering course at the college based at the Airspeed factory in Portsmouth and enlisted in the RAF Volunteer Reserve. He was called up before completing the course and, after flight training, Sergeant Holland was posted in August 1940 to 152 Squadron, a Spitfire squadron based at Warmwell. On 17 September, he was credited with a third share of a Ju 88. Two days later, he was credited with another Ju 88.
Just before 11.30 a.m. on 25 September, Squadron Leader Peter Devitt led Ken and Green Section to intercept enemy aircraft. It was an aggressive engagement with roiling dogfights.
It was later reported that “Sergeant Holland came up at great speed, circled once to identify his quarry and opened fire at approx. 400 yards from the rear and slightly to the port side. His first burst apparently took effect for the He 111 rapidly began to lose height and circled as if looking for a landing. Sergeant Holland turned quickly and got in a second burst, turned again and at 2000 feet came up on the enemy’s tail. This was his only mistake and was fatal as the rear gunner had not been silenced and was able to get in one burst at short range.”
A witness to the battle saw the Heinkel and Ken’s Spitfire plummet. The wreckage was strewn across the fields of Church Farm, Woolverton, a village about four miles north of Frome, in Somerset. The witness recalled that “the Spitfire broke its back as it crashed. I sent the gardener out to see if the pilot was all right—nothing could be done for him—he had been shot right through the head”. Ken was the tenth Australian to die in the Battle of Britain and, at 20 years old, the youngest.
Born on 19 September 1917 in the Monaro, a region of pastoral and mining riches at the foot of Australia’s Snowy Mountains, located in New South Wales, Paterson Clarence Hughes, known as Pat, was the youngest son in a large family. In 1928 they moved to Sydney.
Pat loved sport and devoted much of his leisure to field, court and pool. He was in the premier team of the fourth grade Rugby League competition and later moved up to first grade. He played tennis, swam for his school and attained the surf life saving bronze medallion. He spent hours constructing crystal radio sets and tuning into programs from all over the world but his great love was flying. He was forever making balsa wood model aeroplanes and, in adulthood, his boyhood enthusiasm translated to something more substantial. He believed the RAAF would “be the thing in [a] couple of years” so he applied for a cadetship at the RAAF’s training school at Point Cook.
He was accepted into 19 Course and soloed on 11 March 1936. When he completed his pilot training in November he was assessed as “energetic and keen” but with “no outstanding qualities”. He decided to join the RAF rather than stay in Australia as he wanted to “try and do something special”. He completed additional training in England and was posted to 64 Squadron in June 1937. In November 1939, two months after the declaration of war, he was posted to 234 Squadron as a flight commander. Within months, the 22-year-old was looked on as the squadron’s de facto leader.
The young Australian developed an uncompromising combat style; he believed in getting as close to the enemy as possible. It was dangerous—and his Spitfire was hit on many occasions—but it was highly effective and his personal tally continued to mount after his first victory on 8 July 1940.
On 7 September, the first day of the London Blitz, Pat thrust his Spitfire towards a formation of Dornier Do 17s and picked out a straggler. His machine gun fire was so concentrated a large piece flew off. One of the wings then crumpled and the stricken aircraft plunged into a fatal spin. Pat baled out as his Spitfire plummeted too, but no one knows if it was hit by enemy fire, knocked by falling debris or if the aggressive pilot had deliberately rammed the Dornier. His parachute failed to open. The young pilot fell to his death in a suburban garden 12 days before his 23rd birthday. He was the eighth Australian to die in the Battle of Britain.
Pat was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He had accrued 14 and three shared destroyed aircraft, one shared destroyed unconfirmed, and one probably destroyed. With all the part shares, he was a triple ace and was later ranked in the top ten Battle of Britain pilots, in the top three Australian aces of the Second World War, and in the RAF’s top 50.
John Connolly Kennedy was born in Sydney, New South Wales, on 29 May 1917. He was called John within the family but at school and in the air force he was always known as Jack. He was a champion gymnast and swimmer at school and excelled on the football field. He had a good sense of responsibility, especially towards his sporting commitments and was made a prefect in his fourth and final years.
Jack left school at the end of 1934 and studied accountancy at night but soon realised he did not want to spend the rest of his life at a desk. He applied for a cadetship with the RAAF and was accepted. He joined 1 Flying Training School’s 20 Course on 15July 1936 and received his wings on 29 June 1937. He was offered a short service commission with the RAF with effect from 26 August 1937. After three months advanced training he was posted to 65 Squadron on 19 December. The squadron took delivery of its first Spitfire in March 1939. Jack was promoted to flying officer on 26 May, three days before his 22nd birthday. He was posted to 238 Squadron in May 1940 as acting Flight Lieutenant. There was initial indecision about whether or not the squadron would be equipped with Spitfires or Hurricanes but it was eventually designated a Hurricane squadron.
238 Squadron officially became operational on 2 July from Middle Wallop when fifteen uneventful sorties were flown. Jack’s first with his new squadron were on 3 July. During the day’s third patrol his section detected Junkers Ju 88A fast bombers. The enemy aircraft opened fire and Jack’s Hurricane was hit. Bullets penetrated near his seat and struck the radiator system below the centre section. He was unhurt and landed safely. Jack thought he had hit one of the Junkers and wrote to a friend: “I was over your way … and shot one of the buggers.” It was not officially acknowledged as an enemy casualty but post-war research has ascertained that he had damaged one of the Ju 88As.
Convoy and local patrols continued in earnest over the next few days but Jack did not again encounter the enemy until 13 July. That morning, 238 Squadron were flying from their Warmwell forward operating base. Three Spitfires from 609 Squadron and twelve Hurricanes from 238 Squadron were despatched in the afternoon to escort a westward convoy.
Jack and A Flight was about 12,000 feet over Portland Harbour when they spotted one of two Dornier Do 17s heading out to sea in a shallow dive. Jack, who was leading, ordered Red section into line astern to follow the diving Dornier. When they were over Chesil Beach, he attacked and killed the gunner. The damaged Dornier then turned towards the shore as Jack began losing height. He had either been wounded, or his Hurricane hit by return fire from the Dornier, or both.
Jack continued to lose height and his Hurricane’s wings clipped high tension cables. It crashed into a hillside at Southdown Farm, north of Lodmoor, just outside Weymouth. Jack was the first Australian fighter pilot to die in the Battle of Britain. He was 238 Squadron’s first death in combat. Jack was officially credited with a third share in the Dornier. This was his only acknowledged combat victory.
William Henry Millington Jr was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland, on 11 August 1917. His family migrated to Australia in 1926 and settled in Adelaide, South Australia. Bill was an active child. He enjoyed seaside trips, played soccer, and, as he grew older, took up tennis, squash, golf, rugby and sailing. He loved to help his father in the garden and took pride in planting prize dahlias. He was mechanically adept and, as an adult, was more than capable of pulling apart an old motorbike to renovate and redecorate it.
Bill was keen on aviation in general and was mad about aeroplanes. Flying had been a childhood dream and after he was rejected by the RAAF he sailed to the United Kingdom. He berthed at Tilbury docks on 15 June 1939 and secured a commission in the RAF four days later. When his training was completed, he was posted to 79 Squadron, flying Hurricanes. His first victory was on 9 July 1940.
At about 10.30 a.m. on 30 August, a large formation was detected off the French coast. Eight aircraft from 79 Squadron were despatched to intercept bombers before they reached the English coast. Bill claimed a destroyed Heinkel He 111, one He 111 probably destroyed, and a Messerschmitt Me 110 damaged.
Bill was in action twice on the 31st. During his first encounter, he accounted for one Me 109 destroyed. Later that day, Bill and his section were tasked with aerodrome guard duties when 15 Dornier Do 215s, escorted by large numbers of Me 109s and 110s, were sighted.
Bill attacked, setting alight the port engine of one of the Do 215s. Three Me 109s then attacked him. He damaged one and shook off the other two. Although he was on his own by that stage, he fired at the bombers again. He was beset by two Me 109s. He shook off one and shot the other down. In doing so he was targeted by another Me 109 and was wounded in the left thigh. His engine started to burn and flames licked his skin. As the flames caught hold, Bill had two choices but his decision was obvious. “I considered it unwise to bale out,” he later explained, “as my machine would probably have crashed into a small village.”
Bill’s Hurricane crashed in flames at Conghurst Farm, Hawkhurst, completely missing the village of Tenterden and he scrambled out before his Hurricane exploded. He was awarded an immediate DFC for this chivalrous action.
On 19 September 1940, Bill Millington was posted from 79 Squadron to 249 Squadron at North Weald. His victory tally continued to mount until his last action on 30 October when he went missing over the Channel. Bill was the 13th Australian to die in the Battle of Britain.
From his first victory, Bill had accumulated a total of nine and two shared destroyed, four probables and three damaged. His squadron attributed him with an official score of ten German aircraft but added: “it is likely that he brought others down, which could not be confirmed, during ‘private excursions’.” Either way, he was a double ace—perhaps even a triple ace, like Pat Hughes, if we stretch the definition and count the probables—and the fourth highest scoring of those Australians of the Battle of Britain acknowledged by the Battle of Britain Monument.
Desmond Frederick Burt Sheen, known as Des, had wanted to fly ever since, as a nine-year-old, he had witnessed the exciting aerial display at the opening of Australia’s Parliament House, in Canberra in May 1927. He applied for and was granted a cadetship in the RAAF when he was 18. Like Pat Hughes, he was on Point Cook’s 19 Course and at its completion he joined the RAF on a short service commission.
Des was posted to 72 Squadron on 30 June 1937. He took his first flight in a Spitfire on 14 April 1939. In the early afternoon of 21 October, an enemy force was detected approaching a convoy off Spurn Head. Led by Des, Green Section scrambled at 2.30 p.m. and soon sighted a loose formation of 12 to14 Heinkel He 115 floatplanes.
Des pounced. Striking from dead astern, at about 100 yards distance, he “fired all I had at one of them”. He was credited with a confirmed victory. Just 19 days after his 22nd birthday, he had become the first Australian to engage the enemy in combat.
Des and B Flight were ordered to patrol Montrose on 7 December. They spotted a formation of seven Heinkel He 111s and Des was credited with a third share. He was later awarded the DFC, which recognised both his 21 October and 7 December successes. He was the third Australian to receive the DFC, and the first Australian in Fighter Command.
In April 1940, Des transferred to a photographic unit where he carried out secret reconnaissances over Europe. When Hitler launched his blitzkrieg on 10 May, the Australian was sent to the south of France to photograph Italian bases. After Italy declared war on France, the unit evacuated to Britain. He rejoined his old squadron on 29 July.
On 15 August, the squadron met the large formation of Heinkel He 111s and their Messerschmitt Me 110 escorts head on. The enemy formation split up as 72 Squadron attacked. Des eased himself into a defensive circle of Me 110s. He closed on one and opened fire. The Messerschmitt “exploded in a mass of flying debris”. He emerged unscathed then climbed and spotted another circle of Me 110s. He fired at one but missed. He then attacked another head on and the stricken fighter attempted to ram Des. He dived steeply to escape and the Me 110 disappeared, burning furiously.
The squadron transferred to Biggin Hill at the end of the month. On 1 September they encountered 30 Dornier Do 17s escorted by Me 109s. As Des lined up a bomber, his Spitfire was hit by a cannon shell and burst into flames. He baled out and landed safely in a field at Ashford.
During battle on 4 September, Des “carried out a quick attack from above on a Me 110 going into the circle. White smoke immediately began to come from the port engine”. He saw his 110 flying inland in what seemed like a shallow dive and he claimed it as probably destroyed. This was his last claim during the Battle of Britain; his total to date was 31/3 destroyed and one probable. Within days, his promotion to Flight Lieutenant came through.
72 Squadron was ordered to Hawkinge for the day on 5 September to carry out patrols over the airfield. At 2.25 p.m., they encountered two formations of Messerschmitt 109s. Des’ Spitfire was hit and he passed out. When he came to, his aircraft was out of control and so he baled out. He landed in a wood near Canterbury, his fall broken by branches but he had injured his legs and back and was soon off to hospital.
Des returned to 72 Squadron in mid-October 1940 but his part in the Battle of Britain was effectively over. He was appointed flight commander of A flight and then squadron commander on 28 March 1941, soon after claiming a destroyed Junkers Ju 88 on the night of 13/14 March. In August 1941 he led his squadron on a successful fighter sweep over France. His actions that day were recognised by the award of a Bar to his DFC.
The Australian’s last claim during the Second World War was a probably destroyed on 2 October 1941, his 24th birthday. His official total was 41/3 destroyed, two damaged and two probables. He attained his final wartime rank of acting Wing Commander in January 1942. He saw out the war in command and administrative posts and was repatriated to Australia in July 1946. He returned to Canberra where he joined the public service but flying was still his passion and so he rejoined the RAF in July 1949. A successful career followed until retirement as a Group Captain on 2 January 1971. He remained active in the aviation industry until 1982. He died in April 2001, aged 83.
Stuart Crosby Walch was born on 16 February 1917 at Hobart, Tasmania. During his school years, he was considered prominent in football and cricket and was later remembered as one of the best footballers and oarsmen.
Stuart left school at the end of the 1934 academic year to join his family’s company as a clerk. He spent some time in the militia but wanted to fly and so he applied for a cadetship with the RAAF. Along with Jack Kennedy he joined 1 Flying Training School’s 20 Course. He sailed to England in July 1937 to take up a short service commission in the RAF. After completing advanced flying training, he was posted on 8 January 1938 to 151 Squadron. The squadron converted to Hurricanes in December that year. Stuart was promoted to Flying Officer on 26 March 1939 and, by the outbreak of war, he was Sub Flight Leader of A Flight. On 15 May 1940 he and Jack Kennedy were posted to 238 Squadron as a flight commander. He was promoted to acting Flight Lieutenant the next day.
On 11 July 1940, the Luftwaffe sent a large formation from the Cherbourg Peninsular towards Portland. Stuart was one of six aircraft from 238 Squadron, along with three from another squadron, ordered to intercept. At noon, Stuart and his section fired on a Messerschmitt Me 110 south of Portland. Smoke began to pour from its engine before it burst into flames. They were credited with 238 Squadron’s first confirmed ‘scalp’.
It was a busy time and over the next few days Stuart flew a number of sorties. He followed his 11 July success with an unconfirmed third share in a downed Me 110 on 13 July, the same day Jack Kennedy died. On 20 July, he shot down a Messerschmitt Me 109 and was credited with a half share in its destruction. The next day he destroyed a Messerschmitt Me 110 and damaged another 110. On 26 July, he destroyed a Messerschmitt Me 109. Stuart continued to fly sorties over the next few days, but this was his last victory.
Shortly after 10 a.m. on 11 August, 238 Squadron left to patrol Portland. They met a large enemy force and about five miles south of Swanage, the whole of Blue section, led by Stuart was lost. Twenty-three year old Stuart was the third Australian to die in the Battle of Britain.