Last updated: 03 May 2018, 15:54
The people who fought and in some cases
died serving with No.255 Squadron, RAF
This section of the website is the subject of ongoing development. Contributions and corrections are invited. Available so far: Mini-biographies of WWI aircrew, the Squadron Leaders during and since WWII, our Nickname Decoder (essential for making sense of the squadron’s unofficial records, especially files AIR27/1520 through 1522 in The National Archives), "Tales from the Dispersal Hut", a modest number of photographs depicting individual squadron members and the first of the WWII survivor biographies.
Mini-Biographies of the WWI Aircrew
LEONARD CHRISTOPHER ANDREWS
Born 15.May.1899 at Ramsgate, Kent, the son of Valentine Christopher ANDREWS and Alice Louise ANDREWS née CARPENTER. Married Gladys BLACKBURN in 1931 and had one son Graham Eric ANDREWS (1932-2005). In the 1939 Register Leonard appears as a Staff Officer of the Inland Revenue. Died 13.Sep.1981, resident of Combe Martin, Devon.
70421 - LOUIS GEORGES ARCAND
Born 31.Aug.1897 in Montréal, a Canadian citizen of French extraction. Eldest son of Narcisse ARCAND, Carpenter and Trade Union activist, and Maria otherwise Marie-Ann ARCAND née MATHIEU. Identified in the French language writings of Jean Côté (Adrien Arcand, Une Grande Figure de Notre Temps, ISBN 2-9801677-3-8 at p.9) to be the elder brother of ADRIEN ARCAND (1899-1967, full name as baptised at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Maisonneuve: Joseph Romuald Adrien Narcisse ARCAND), founder in 1934 of the Parti National Social Chrétien (Christian National Social Party, the Canadian Fascists), earning Adrien the nickname "The Canadian Führer". After WWI, Louis returned to Canada and reportedly, in league with his brother and as part of their social circle in Ottawa, introduced Joachim von Ribbentrop to the then Wallis Spencer, later Wallis Simpson. Their subsequent affair, because of its political overtones, heavily influenced the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936.
76717 - PAUL WILLIAM BIRKBECK
Born 03.May.1899 at Looe, Cornwall, son of Joseph BIRKBECK (c.1863-1930), a Methodist Minister, and Ella Blanche BIRKBECK née LIGHTBOURN(E) (c.1865-25.Aug.1943), originally of Nassau in the Bahamas and a British subject by her parentage (being the daughter of Paul and Adelaide Lightbourn(e)). Paul William BIRKBECK married 1925 to Laurena A.L. ROGERS; no known issue. In the 1939 Register, Paul appears as a Health Inspector. His widowed mother was a civilian casualty killed by enemy action during WWII as a result of an air raid on Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire. Paul died 26.Aug.1988.
152473 - REDVERS SYDNEY SOUTHWOOD CHAFFE
Born 06.Apr.1900 at Dundas, Ontario, fourth known child of Sampson Richard CHAFFE and Susan CHAFFE née COLE who came from the Kingsbridge/Plympton St.Mary areas of Devon, UK. Redvers signed up in Toronto whilst still age 17 (19.November.1917) apparently having received a call-up notice in consequence of holding British nationality. His Aviator’s Certificate was issued 03.April.1918 and gives his full address as "Glencairne", Waterdown, Ontario, Canada. He was officially stood down from military service when transferred to the Unemployed List 14.August.1919. By 1921, Redvers was back home with his parents and at college. The University of Toronto roll of alumni who fought in WWI shows him as having served with 255. It seems he studied Applied Science, but that didn’t become his career. Redvers married 06.November.1926 to Flora Regina SLATER at Wentworth, Ontario. From that point on, Redvers’ profession consistently appears as "Valuator". What he valued is unknown, but he travelled extensively and sometimes he took his family with him. For example, the passenger list of the Empress of France (Montreal to Liverpool, arriving 23.Jun.1950) shows him accompanied by his wife Flora R., age 50, Child Richard S. age 13 and "Student" Flora A., age 21 - fairly obviously their adult daughter. All four gave their destination as The Park Lane Hotel, London W1. Redvers died in 1990, the last surviving aircrew from 255 Squadron in World War One.
Born 27.Dec.1892 at Streatham Hill, London (birth registered Q1/1893 as Geoffrey STAPYLTON), son of Miles C. STAPYLTON, Electrical Engineer, and Helen STAPYLTON née PRESTON. Privately tutored at a small school in Westgate-on-Sea, Kent. Married twice; a widower for the first time before the compilation of the 1939 Register in which Geoffrey appears as "Senior Examiner, Aeronautical Inspection Directorate of the Air Ministry". Remarried 1964 to Alice M. SHAW. Died 20.Mar.1972 at Hitchin.
WALTER HUGH STEWART GARNETT
Born 26.Jun.1891 (AIR76 documentation says 25th, apparently in error). Obtained his Aviator's Certificate before the outbreak of WWI. Married Q2/1919 to Enid W. DAWLINS, who died Q3/1936 age 46 apparently without issue and with death mis-indexed as Enid M. GARNETT. Walter remarried Q2/1939 to Mary O. SIDNEY by whom he had one son, Andrew W. GARNETT born Q3/1943. Walter appears in the 1939 Register as "RAF Retired". He died 14.Mar.1972.
HUBERT HENRY GILLINGHAM
Born 14.Nov.1894, son of Sidney GILLINGHAM, a house builder, and Louie GILLINGHAM née HEATH. Married Q4/1917 to Violet E. SWAFFIELD, who died 1923. Hubert died 26.Feb.1932, age 37, apparently without issue, having returned to the family building business in Dorset after the war.
WILLIAM JOHN GEORGE GODDEN
Born 28.May.1899, son of William George GODDEN, a Police Constable, and Annie Elizabeth GODDEN née LANHAM. After the war, in 1922 he married Elsie M. GRIFFITHS. Strangely, their marriage appears to be registered twice: March quarter in Poplar and June quarter in Pembroke. 1939 Register: Working as a Sanitary Inspector in matters relating to the Food & Drugs Act. The London Gazette (30.May.1941, page 3109) lists a person of the same name being commissioned in WWII as an Acting Pilot Officer (Training Branch), Service Number 65900. It remains to be established whether this is the same person as flew with 255 in WWI. Death not traced.
ROBERT GORDON GOULD
Born 26.Feb.1885 (late birth registration, Q3/1885) at Wandsworth, son of Robert GOULD and Florence Jane GOULD née MARSHALL who had married at Limerick, Ireland, in 1880. Appears in the 1901 Census as a boarder at Park House, Tonbridge School. Death registered Q1/1965 age 79 at Hailsham.
RALPH NIGEL HAMILTON
Born 07.Nov.1895 in Johannesburg, South Africa, son of John G. HAMILTON and Elizabeth HAMILTON née ?. A boarder at Winchester School at the time of the 1911 Census. Married Olive Mary TURNER Q1/1920 and became a Stockbroker. Died 25.May.1956.
ROBERT CHOLERTON HAYES
Born 30.Nov.1884 at Eccleshall (Sheffield), birth registered Q1/1885. Eldest child of Simeon HAYES, a steel wire merchant, by his second wife Alice Mary HAYES née ROPER. Married Eleanor Gladys THOMAS at Ongar, Q4/1911, and by her apparently had two children - Robert E. (1912-?) and Gwyn(n)eth Alice (1916-2002) before the parents separated. Awarded the OBE in the New Years Honours List, 1919. Robert Cholerton Hayes committed suicide 03.Jul.1927 in circumstances described in The Straits Times 30.Jul.1927.
152473 - RICHARD CHARLES ALEXANDER HUNTER
Birth registered Q4/1891 at Hackney. Son of Harry Alexander HUNTER, Silk Agent, and Annie Louisa (otherwise Louise) HUNTER née AIRD (1874-?). Richard signed up as a member of the RFC on 15.Oct.1917 at Detroit, Michigan, where he was working as a salesman. No records found after WWI other than that his widowed mother resided at 232 High Road, Leyton, Essex, in 1918.
9327 - ALETH THOMAS SEPTIMUS LEGUEN-de-LACROIX
Born 27.May.1894 at ?. Son of Eugène François Louis LEGUEN-de-LACROIX by his first wife Helen Fleetwood LEGUEN-de-LACROIX née GROOM. Aleth remained in the RAF after the war and became an instructor at No.3 Flying Training School, Grantham. Retired on his 40th birthday, rank Flight Lieutenant. Married Mollie (Molly) Constance MULLENS Q2/1927 at Bridgewater. No known issue. Died Q4/1967, death mis-registered as LEUGEN-de-LACROIX.
ROBERT JOHN MONTGOMERY-MOORE
Born 24.Mar.1896 at ?, son of ? and ?. Remained in the RAF after WWI, transferring from Aeroplane and Seaplane Branch to General Duties Branch. In 1935: Flight Lieutenant (acting Squadron Leader), RAF HQ Palestine and Transjordan. 1936: British Liaison Officer, Syria. Retired in the second half of 1936, shortly after his 40th birthday. The 1939 Register finds him at 219 Kenmore Aveune, Harrow, as a "Squadron Leader on civilian duties at Air Ministry". First marriage: Q3/1925 to Marjorie W. MEEK at Sculcoates, by whom he had a daughter Susan who died in infancy (1934), Second marriage: Q4/1943 to Ann A. GAIRDNER at Chelsea. Died ?
Born 09.Oct.1892, son of Walter L. NICHOLSON, a Gamekeeper and Dog Trainer, and Alice NICHOLSON née SEVILL. Married Amelia BRUNT Q2/1912 at Stoke-on-Trent, by whom he had four known sons, William (1912), Charles (1915), Reginald (1920) and Colin (1924). DoB incorrect in 1939 Register, which gives his occupation as Motor and Aero Engineer. Died Q2/1966.
ARTHUR JOHN DOUGLAS PEEBLES
Born 12.Jun.1898, son of Joseph PEEBLES, a Surveyor’s Assistant, and Rose Ada PEEBLES née PASSMORE. Awarded the AFC in the 1919 Birthday Honours List. Married Q4/1919 to Mabel M. GODFREY at Wandsworth. No known issue. 1939: Working as a Quantity Surveyor. Died Q4/1966 at Carlisle, age 68.
REGINALD RHYS SOAR
Born 24.Aug.1893 (always known as Rhys), son of Hezekiah Greensmith SOAR (Colliery Manager) by his second wife Catherine SOAR née DAVIES. Rhys’s first wife, Kathleen Maud R. SOAR née LANCASTER (M-Q1/1918) died whilst Rhys was serving with No.255 Squadron at RAF Pembroke. He remained in the RAF after WWI and remarried Q2/1921 at Selby to Laura SMITH. His last known posting was No.20 Squadron (No.3 Indian Wing, Quetta) in December 1923. He returned to civilian life in 1924 and became a Quantity Surveyor. The 1939 Register finds him in Cowbridge, Glamorganshire, accompanied by his third partner Lily. Died Q1/1971, buried at Martletwy, Pembrokeshire.
TREVOR LAWRIE WAYLETT STALLIBRASS
Born 20.Jun.1888 at Great Wakering, Essex, son of Robert STALLIBRASS and Amy Jeanie STALLIBRASS née McGAVIN. In the UK, Robert Stallibrass gave his occupation as "Of independent means". In the 1901 Census, Trevor is found at an orphanage/boarding school in Redhill, Surrey. His mother had died in 1893 at Hendon, UK, and his father died 30.Sep.1897 at The City Hospital, St.Louis, Missouri, USA, having contracted Typhoid Fever whilst working as a Horse Trainer. In 1915 he obtained probate in the UK in respect of his late father’s UK assets. Trevor married 23.Sep.1916 to Evelyn Joyce HUMPHREYS (02.Jul.1897 - 13.Nov.1985) by whom he had one daughter Patricia Ruth STALLIBRASS (b:10.Aug.1917, known as Anne, alive May 2016 and a contributor to this record). In 1927 Trevor appears in Kelly’s Directory as residing in the village of Tannington, Suffolk, but for years he worked as a tea planter in India. He died 22.May.1983 at Coddenham, Suffolk.
74503 - HAROLD LLEWELYN TAMPLIN
Born 03.Jan.1899 at Clapham (Wandsworth Registration District), Surrey, son of Morgan TAMPLIN, Newspaper Manager, and Amy Mary A. TAMPLIN née TYSON, Harold’s birth registration uses the more usual spelling of his middle forename "Llewellyn". Soon after Harold’s birth his parents moved to Swansea; the 1901 Census finds them at 31 Trafalgar Terrace, with Harold mis-registered as Harald. Possibly after a return to London (there is some suggestion of them residing in the Croydon area c.1904), Morgan TAMPLIN set out alone for the New World. His family followed in 1910 aboard the vessel "Siberian", landing at Halifax, Nova Scotia. A very garbled entry exists in the 1911 Census of Nova Scotia showing Morgan as a Farmer and Book-keeper accompanied by his family at an address in Cornwallis Township, Kings County. After WWI, Harold returned to Nova Scotia and studied Engineering at Acadia University, Wolfville, winning both the A.M.Wilson Prize and the A.G.McIntyre Prize in his year group. [Marriage, Issue and Death (1989?) still being researched]
Squadron Leaders, 1940-1946
The following table lists all Commanding Officers since the creation of the modern rank structure between the two World Wars. The symbol †
indicates that the officer was killed whilst serving with the Squadron. "Gongs" show only if awarded before or during service with the squadron. Subsequently, Smith was awarded an OBE, Kelly was awarded a DFC, Stewart picked up both a DSO and a CBE (Mil.) and Kempe became a CVO:
|Service Number||War Substantive Rank||Name||Dates commanding|
|37129||Squadron Leader||Roddick ("Dick") Lee SMITH||Nov 1940 - Jun 1941|
|34037||Wing Commander||† John Stuart BARTLETT, DFC||Jun 1941 - Aug 1941|
|26193||Wing Commander||† Charles Mervyn WINDSOR||Sep 1941 - Dec 1941|
|33168||Wing Commander||Dillon Piers Denis Gerard KELLY||Dec 1941 - Mar 1943|
|40316||Wing Commander||John Howard PLAYER, DFC||Mar 1943 - Aug 1943|
|42490||Wing Commander||Hugh William ELIOT, DFC||Aug 1943 - Feb 1944|
|40646||Wing Commander||Charles Leopold Walker STEWART, AFC||Feb 1944 - Nov 1944|
|72078||Wing Commander||John William Rolfe KEMPE||Nov 1944 - Jul 1945|
|39997||Wing Commander||James Ronaldson Herbert LEWIS, DFC||Jul 1945 - Apr 1946|
Nickname Decoder, 1940-1946
The following nicknames, not all flattering, appear in a number of sources. Many will have been duplicated elsewhere in the Royal Air Force. Therefore this Decoder should be regarded as applicable only to No.255 Squadron and those in the immediate chain of command, plus the Radar/GCI (AMES) units acting as the squadron’s Controllers. Ranks are those appearing in the official record at the approximate time that the nickname was in use. Subsequent promotions are not listed - for example, both Bing and Huff-Puff rose to the rank of Air Chief Marshal before retiring. Awards (DFC, MBE and so on) are omitted for brevity and to avoid apparent inaccuracies arising from frequent changes.
|Andy||106674 Flight Lieutenant Walter Thomas CUNNINGHAM||Senior Navigator|
|Bing||29065 Air Commodore Kenneth Brian Boyd CROSS||AOC No.242 Group|
|Blondie||66570 Flying Officer Geoffrey HUMES||Pilot|
|China *||40646 Charles Leopold Walker STEWART||Squadron Leader|
|Cobber||116694 Flying Officer Roland Hope KANE||Navigator|
|Crackers||Flying Officer CRACKNELL||Intelligence Officer|
|Crackle||26193 Wing Commander Charles Mervyn WINDSOR||Squadron Leader|
|Dibber||748632 Flight Sergeant Walter BARKER||Pilot|
|Donald Duck||Flight Lieutenant ROEBUCK||GCI Controller|
|Farmer, also Bastille||121291 Flying Officer David GILES||Pilot|
|Führer, The||33168 Wing Commander D.P.D.G. (Piers) KELLY||Squadron Leader|
|Grandad, also Kneebone(s)||136496 Flying Officer George Wiseman ELEY||Navigator|
|Hickie||109497 Flying Officer Edward Stanley HICKMORE||Navigator|
|Huff-Puff||04113 Air Vice Marshal Sir Hugh Pughe LLOYD||AOC NACAF|
|Incendiary||127032 Kevin Thomas Anthony O’SULLIVAN||Pilot|
|Jeep||158140 Pilot Officer George Pugh SMITH, BSc., PhD||Navigator|
|Jock||973558 Flight Sergeant John WILLINS||Navigator|
|Mary||Air Marshal Sir Arthur CONINGHAM||AOC NATAF|
|Master Scrounger, The||112517 Flying Officer Ronald WYNZAR||Navigator|
|Masterly Manipulator, The||81940 Flight Lieutenant Freddie LAMMER||Navigator|
|Quack||171081 Pilot Officer Frederick Maurice DRAKE||Navigator|
|Sandy||111977 Flying Officer Louis Henry SANDOW||Navigator|
|Stunning Dunning||90543 Flight Lieutenant Peter William DUNNING-WHITE||Pilot|
|Sultan of Sopley, The||74440 Squadron Leader John Laurence BROWN||GCI Controller|
|Tiger||111570 Flying Officer Leslie James LEPPARD||Pilot|
|Tinker, also Snow White||39632 Squadron Leader Dennis HAYLEY-BELL||Pilot|
|Titch||65559 Flying Officer Michael John GLOSTER||Pilot|
|Wally||Flight Sergeant W.G. HOOD||Navigator|
|Wilbur||45393 Flight Lieutenant Percy Charles WRIGHT||Engineering Officer|
This nickname appears in Andy Cunningham’s book Tumult in the Clouds
. Within the Squadron, he was more often known as Stew.
Press reports from August 1942 relating to the Squadron’s time at RAF Honiley suggest that one Flight adopted nicknames taken from the Brothers Grimm story Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
. This is known to have been Dennis Hayley-Bell's Flight; a photograph exists in the Hayley-Bell family archive showing Snow White
painted on the cockpit of his Beaufighter. It implies that the others were Sneezy, Sleepy, Dopey, Doc, Happy, Bashful and Grumpy. Unfortunately no who’s-who survives. Dennis Hayley-Bell’s contemporaneous nickname of Tinker undoubtedly originates with J.M.Barrie’s character Tinker Bell in Peter Pan
, so there was a common thread of children’s fables. The same newspaper reports accurately mention the relative informality that characterised 255 Squadron – men of differing rank regularly addressing each other by their first names even when on duty.
Biographies of individual squadron members (all ranks) who survived WWII.
. Please submit drafts (500 to 1500 words) via the mail link at the foot of the sitemap
page. A style guidance sheet is available on request. This section of the website is intended to answer the oft-heard question “Where did he
go after the war?”
90543 Peter William Dunning-White, DFC
Adapted (with corrections) from an obituary that appeared in The Daily Telegraph 08.Feb.2009.
Peter William Dunning-White was born Peter W.D. White at Hadley Wood, near Barnet, on 16 April 1915, elder son and third child of Edwin John White (1885–1939) and Florie Lavinia White née Moss (1879–1936) who married at Eton in 1909. In the 1911 census Peter’s father described himself as a “Builder’s Merchant, Lime Cement etc”; something of an under-statement concealing a long-standing and financially successful family connection with the development, manufacture and distribution of high quality cement especially suitable for use in the newly fashionable material of reinforced concrete. Later in life, Edwin described himself as an Underwriter.
Peter was educated at Harrow and Jesus College, Cambridge, where he reportedly spent most of his time playing golf and billiards. He also learned to fly, gaining his pilot’s licence and flying his own aircraft.
On 22 April 1936, a matter of months before his mother Florie’s death, his father Edwin published a Notice in the London Gazette announcing a change of name from White to Dunning-White. The family home at this time was a sprawling mansion called The Wintons in Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire. The family also had a country retreat overlooking the sea, located at 8 North Parade, Southwold, Suffolk.
On leaving Cambridge Peter joined No.601 (County of London) Squadron. This unit was known throughout the RAF as “The Millionaires’ Squadron”. There, the billiard-playing Dunning-White acquired the nickname "Stunning Black". Later, when he was in 255 Squadron, this morphed into "Stunning Dunning".
Whilst a member of what was then termed The Auxilliary Air Force, Peter became engaged to marry Flora MacDonald Wright, only daughter of Brigadier-General Wallace Duffield Wright VC, CB, CMG, DSO, (1875–1953), Officer of the Legion d’Honneur, one-time Member of Parliament for Tavistock, and his American wife – forenames also Flora Macdonald – née Bewick. The fate of this engagement remains a mystery; Flora junior eventually married Lieutenant Frank Quale O’Neill of the US Naval Reserve on 31 August 1942 at Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
Quite what the Brigadier-General would have made of his prospective son-in-law Peter being fined £5 in February 1942 for driving an unlicenced motor vehicle one can only imagine. The Court referred to the RAF the matter of investigating where the petrol came from, given that rationing coupons should not have been issued to an untaxed motor vehicle. Probably not 601 Squadron’s secret stash near RAF Biggin Hill; by repute that was exhausted long before. But the story of it does serve as an indication of the extent to which the officers of the County of London Squadron functioned as something of a law unto themselves. Very enterprisingly, just days before the commencement of petrol rationing, they used their apparently limitless collective wealth to buy a nearby filling station that had lost its passing trade, expansion of Biggin Hill airfield having closed the through road on which it stood. They filled the garage’s tanks, then closed the establishment to the public and so enjoyed unrationed supplies for their own sports cars and motor cycles. Such self-serving actions were a product of the social and class norms of their time, a world very different from the more egalitarian society of post-war Britain that some, but only some, would survive to see.
Posted to No.145 Squadron at Westhampnett near Chichester in early July 1940, Peter was soon in action protecting convoys sailing along the south coast, one of the first targets of the Luftwaffe after the conclusion of the "Phoney War". It was in this role that he was involved, on August 8, in some of the most intense fighting of the Battle of Britain, the Battle of Convoy CW9. At the end of the day the squadron had claimed 21 enemy aircraft and was singled out for special praise. Success came at high cost, however, with five of Dunning-White’s close friends killed. A few days later the depleted squadron moved north to recuperate.
Early in 1941, Dunning-White became a flight commander with No.615 Squadron and he shot down a Messerschmitt Bf.109 in April. His own Hurricane was badly damaged and he was forced to ditch in the sea, getting picked up by an air-sea rescue launch. In June, on the basis of his cumulative score, he was awarded the DFC.
After a spell with No.409 Squadron, a Canadian night fighter unit, he joined 255 Squadron at RAF High Ercall on 1 March 1942, staying with 255 throughout the squadron’s time both at RAF Honiley and in North Africa. He returned to the United Kingdom from Tunisia in September 1943 to serve at Headquarters Fighter Command, Bentley Priory (walking distance from the family home at The Wintons, deserted since his father Edwin’s death at Cap Ferrat, France, on 06 August 1939) before moving to HQ 100 Group where he was responsible for training night fighter crews that were to escort bomber aircraft that had been re-purposed for electronic warfare. Peter was released from the RAF in October 1945 but rejoined the Millionaires’ Squadron in May 1947 as a weekend flyer, shortly afterwards marrying Mary Catherine Ferguson (1923–1971) at The Savoy Chapel. In 1957 she bore him one son, David.
After the war, Dunning-White became a gentleman landowner in Scotland and a Lloyd’s Underwriter, residing near Langholm in Dumfrieshire. The Wintons was sold off, subdivided into the four dwellings that exist today. In November 1952 Peter and his wife took an extended holiday in the Caribbean, travelling from Avonmouth to Jamaica aboard the SS Cavina of the Elders & Fyffes Line. In Scotland he enjoyed country pursuits, was a keen shot and fisherman and for 15 years was the field master of the Dumfriesshire Foxhounds. But he found it difficult to settle after his wartime service and he became something of a reclusive rebel and a law unto himself, illustrated by his refusal to complete the 1951 Census form – a misdemeanour that once again landed him in Court.
Following his wife’s death in 1971 and the collapse of his underwriting syndicate, Peter retreated further into the wilds of Scotland, living in a rented cottage near Ardfern in Argyll & Bute. In April 1989 the legal aftermath of an unseemly spat with the local Laird again brought Peter to the world’s attention, a widely publicised legal case floundering on the strict Scots Law requirement for corroboration. There had been no witnesses to substantiate Peter’s allegations. However credible a picture of events he painted, he simply couldn’t win.
Peter Dunning-White died on 27 December 2008. The Battle of Britain, and in particular the loss of his five colleagues shot down in flames that day in August 1940, had brought about a lasting and profound effect on his life. In today’s parlance, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder but, in keeping with many of his generation, he endeavoured to hide his illness and suffered in silence. If ever there was a person who won the war but lost the peace, Peter was that man.
127032 Kevin Thomas Anthony O’Sullivan, DFC
Researched in 2017 by Gillian Pratt née O’Sullivan and Chris Eley
Volume 1 of Shores’ and Williams’ definitive work Aces High
(1994 edition) says of Kevin "...and little is known regarding this pilot save that he remained in the RAF after the war...". Volume 2 adds a little more, but is not wholly accurate. With the help of Kevin’s elder daughter Gillian, let’s put the record straight.
Born 29.Dec.1920 in the Wandsworth registration district of South London, Kevin was the son of Patrick Joseph O'Sullivan (originally from Valentia Island, County Kerry) and Charlotte Teresa O'Sullivan née McGough (originally from Barrow-in-Furness) who married in 1906. Mrs O'Sullivan habitually used her second forename; her death in 1951 is registered only as Teresa. Through his mother, Kevin unambiguously acquired British nationality despite the turmoil of Irish Partition and his father’s origins south of the border.
The family had strong horseracing connections. In the 1911 Census, Patrick appears as a Publisher’s Clerk, but by the time of the compilation of the 1939 Register (the basis of issue of wartime ID Cards) he described himself as a "Pedigree Expert, Thoroughbred Horses". Family members, his son Kevin included, would from time to time cycle between London and the family home on Valentia Island conveying urgent and valuable pedigree documentation. After WW2, Kevin’s elder brother Bernard became Editor of the prestigious magazine The British Racehorse
and he appears in Who’s Who
as such. There is, however, no known relationship to another County Kerry racing family of phonetically similar surname, that of Sir Peter O'Sullevan, CBE (1918–2015).
By way of secondary schooling, Kevin attended Xaverian College, a Roman Catholic school for boys in South London that was also known as Clapham College. His studies included French, which probably stood him in good stead in Algeria in 1942–43. He left school in 1936 having attained the standard School Certificate.
Kevin’s only job between school and commencement of war service was as a Shipping Clerk with Lawther Latta & Co, a company based in the City specialising in the importation of naturally occurring nitrate fertilisers from northern Chile. Fertiliser was a strategic material, needed to boost both existing agricultural output under the direction of the "War Ag" committees and the Dig for Victory campaign, which brought previously uncultivated land into use. Kevin’s work in the nitrate trade may explain the apparent absence of any conscript call-up.
Upon volunteering for aircrew service Kevin was accepted, recommended for training as a Pilot or Observer by No.14 Air Crew Selection Board and also recommended for a Commission. Although commissioned with effect from 29.May.1942, this was not Gazetted until 25.Aug.1942. Hence Kevin is dressed in NCO's uniform in photographs of No.255 Squadron taken at RAF Honiley in July 1942. His NCO Service number was 1383455.
The story of his combat successes in North Africa with 255 are detailed on the Scoresheet page of this website. See also the story of Kevin setting light to his own hair, recounted in Peter Croft’s history of the squadron (written in 1992, RAF Museum document number B3788). This incident, along with his habit of setting fire to enemy aircraft, seems to have been the origin of Kevin’s nickname "Incendiary".
After his one-year tour of front-line duty Kevin left 255, returned to Blighty and undertook a conversion course to become a Mosquito pilot. Next came a stint at 63 OTU in the role of flying instructor.
The rest of Kevin’s war service was with No.125 Squadron, where he again 'scored'. His cumulative total led to the award of a DFC, Gazetted 15.August.1944.
The next major event in Kevin’s life was his first marriage, to Lilian Joyce HIBBIT (known as Joy, mis-recorded at the time of Gillian’s 1950 birth registration as HIBBITT). The marriage took place just days after Victory in Europe, at the Church of the Holy Ghost, Nightingale Square, Balham, SW12.
It is at this point in time that the account in Aces High
goes astray. Kevin remained with No.125 Squadron at RAF Church Fenton until June 1946, but then went through the standard post-war Demob process. His Last Day of Service is recorded as 11.August.1946.
Return to Civvy Street didn’t suit Kevin. As with a number of ex-255 aircrew, several years elapsed before a family was started. Post-war austerity, a slack economy, poor diet and housing shortages affected all, but there is statistical cause to suspect that ex-255 Squadron Beaufighter aircrew also had a fertility issue. For whatever reason, surprisingly few fathered children in the first years after the war.
In May 1949 Kevin applied to re-join the RAF on a Short Service Commission. His application, for reasons not disclosed by Air Historical Branch, was refused. A further application was made in November 1950 and that was successful; he reported for duty at RAF Biggin Hill on 12.March.1951. This was during the Korean War, which began on 25 June 1950. Britain had few aircraft that could match the Soviet MiG-15 in combat. Those without fast fighter jet experience took up position guarding British interests away from the immediate zone of conflict in the Far East. Thus Kevin’s second stint in the RAF took him and his family to RAF El Hamra in the Canal Zone of Egypt and also to RAF Kabrit. In October 1952 he took a permanent commission, Gazetted 31.March.1953. His younger daughter Josephine was born in Egypt, where Kevin once again flew Mosquito aircraft.
Returning to the UK in the spring of 1954, he undertook a fast jets conversion course at 228 OCU RAF Leeming, introducing Kevin to Gloster Meteors – an aircraft type by then nearly obsolete but still a huge change from Beaufighters and Mosquitos.
It was at about this point in time that Kevin’s wife Joy began a long and ultimately unsuccessful battle with cancer. She died 15.January.1958 whilst Kevin was based at the Aircrew Selection Centre, Hornchurch. Thus it was that, at a very young age, Kevin’s daughters were sent to a Convent Boarding School, the Ursuline Convent in Brentwood, Essex.
Kevin remarried 16.January.1961 to Jean Urquhart HUNT née NORTH, a woman some four years his senior and widow of Group Captain Alfred William HUNT, CBE. In the process Kevin acquired a 12-year old stepson, Bruce.
By most accounts, the second marriage was not a happy one. From January 1963 Kevin was posted to No.209 Squadron based at Seletar, Singapore. Despite Seletar having both a Primary and a Secondary Modern school, the girls and Bruce remained at separate single-sex boarding schools in England, flying out to Singapore just once a year for the summer holidays.
No.209 Squadron flew supply runs in support of British Special Forces action in the Indonesian–Malaysian confrontation of 1963–1966, not to be confused with the "Malayan Emergency" of 1948–1960. Kevin was one of the pilots involved in these covert flights into hostile jungle territory, flying the single-engine version of the Scottish Aviation Pioneer.
Kevin returned from the Far East in July 1965, to be stationed over the next two and a half years at RAF Shawbury, RAF Leconfield and RAF Little Rissington. He ceased flying duties on his 45th
birthday, transferring to Ground Branch and training as an Air Traffic Controller.
What happened next is best expressed in Gillian’s own words:
"My sister, a friend and I were home from boarding school for half term. The day we were due to return to school, 20 February 1968, my father was driving us to the railway station in fog. My sister recalls our father saying “I don't like this, I don't like this at all” and slowing right down. The fog then became extremely severe. A roadwork vehicle was parked on the side of the road with no lights on; because of the fog my father did not see it in time and we crashed into the back of it. My sister and her friend were unhurt, my step-mother hit the windscreen suffering a badly cut eyelid, my father sustained a fractured rib and concussion and I sustained an injury to the right side of my forehead.
"We were all taken to RAF Little Rissington Medical Centre. My father borrowed a car and took my sister and her friend home and then to the railway station and they returned to school. My step-mother and I were taken to hospital.
"The next day, 21 February, I was visited at the hospital by an RAF Officer who told me that my father had taken his own life earlier that day. I can’t remember whether it was this person or someone else but I was taken to stay with an RAF Officer and his wife that night. The next day my uncle, Bernard O'Sullivan, took me back to boarding school.
"At an Inquest held on 26 February 1968 at Stow-on-the-Wold, the Cotswold Coroner recorded on Flight Lieutenant O'Sullivan the verdict of suicide whilst the balance of his mind was disturbed."
Kevin was buried in the Commonwealth War Graves plot at St.Peter’s Church, Little Rissington, the gravestone giving no clue to the circumstances of his death. His RAF Officers Record of Service ends with these dispassionate words: "Killed on 21/2/68 - Gunshot wounds - Cas Circ List 4264 AF/1/68/AR9(RAF)".
His medals have appeared at auction on the antiques and collectables market twice, but it is unclear just how and when they left the possession of the family. They comprise:
Distinguished Flying Cross
Aircrew Europe Star with bars for France and Germany
The Africa Star with bar for North Africa 1942-1943
The Italy Star
War Medal with Oak Leaves (indicating Mentioned in Dispatches)
General Service Medal 1962 with bar for Borneo and leaf (denoting the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air)
Tales from the Dispersal Hut
Dispersal Huts were, by their very nature, remote from the main buildings of any airfield. They afforded aircrew not only a place to relax whilst awaiting a "Scramble!", but also a considerable degree of informality. Ideal for exchanging gossip, as well as tales of both daring do and misfortune. This section of the website is a compendium of such yarns known to have at least some basis in fact...
The Broken Leg
2 April 1942 : Pilot Officer Davison (Pilot) and Sergeant Blackburn (Radio Operator) of No.255 Squadron became obliged to abort a take-off from RAF Shawbury. The aircraft involved was R2460, a Beaufighter Mk.II, which veered off the runway and crashed into a hut occupied by a civilian watchkeeper. The elderly man went into severe shock... “this no doubt due to the grave disability he suffered when he realised that his wooden leg had been broken”.
The bemused Naval gunner
14 Dec 1942 : Squadron Leader Player [Pilot] and Freddie Lammer [Navigator/Radio] went off on a dawn patrol and thought what fun it would be to do an A.I. sweep out to sea at nought feet. This they did, and fun it was until they made an uncomfortably close acquaintance with several 4.5" shells from a cruiser lurking in the vicinity. Being blissfully in ignorance of the correct letter and colours of the day (after all, they were roughing it at Souk and can’t be expected to provide all the latest, pansy conveniences) a quick conversation was held (bang!) between Johnnie and Freddie and it was decided (bang!!) to fire off a "red red" which had for simplicity’s sake been appointed our permanent colour of the day (bang!!!) just for luck. The firing miraculously stopped at once and our crew departed from the scene of action in perfect peace.
The statement made on landing by our pilot and navigator i.e. that on firing the "red red" signal cartridges they distinctly saw the gunner on board the cruiser scratch his head and then fidget with several printed sheets of paper in a file, looking lost and bewildered all the while, was not given due credence by their fellow aircrews. Some ignorant fellows who did not shrink from going to ridiculous extremes in their injustice, actually called it "shooting a line".
Farmer and Quack’s Concert
"Farmer" Giles and "Quack" Drake flew together on night sorties as members of 255 Squadron. On one particular night, flying over the Adriatic, the patrol was uneventful and dull. Farmer and Maurice had been up all night and were both desperate to sleep but had another hour and a half of flying before they could return to base. Farmer decided the only way to stave off sleep was if they both sang for a while. Half an hour and a multitude of songs later, both were wide awake and up to facing the rest of the sortie. They thought that was the end of that, but about a year later an RAF Intelligence Officer who was reading through German Intelligence reports found transcripts from a plane that Farmer and Maurice had been flying. He was astonished to find not sensitive military information but page upon page of extremely bawdy songs and one in particular that caught his eye – Bang away, bang away Lulu, Bang away good and strong. One thing led to another and before long Giles and Drake were summoned to face the music. The Group Captain pointed out that they could both have been court-martialled for negligence in leaving the intercom on Transmit if they had been discussing the secrets of radar or squadron movements. As it was, however, he decided highly to commend the pair of them since German Intelligence had clearly spent hour upon hour trying to discover what new code was involved in all those four-letter words that had been filling the airwaves!
Follow that kitbag!
18 August 1944 at Foggia Main, Italy : Around 16:00 hours the weather became overcast and many miniature whirlwinds sprung up. One of these increased in intensity and went through "C" Flight dispersal, wrecking all the tents and blowing about stationary aircraft. [A Beaufighter, empty, weighed around 7 tonnes.] It continued, with a great roar and much clattering of tins (collected in its spiral) towards the officers quarters where it completely demolished one tent, flinging a kitbag as far away as 150 yards. Shortly after the whirlwind’s disappearance the clouds burst and a great deluge started. There were hailstones as big as golf balls, and a fierce storm developed which flooded the camp.
Individual and Group Photographs taken privately
If you can help add to this collection, please make contact using the mail link at the foot of the Site Map page. Snapshots taken by squadron members were often processed using stale developer left over from more official work such as the processing of gun camera film. Many were 'muddy' as a result, but modern digital image manipulation can rescue them - so don’t throw them out!
From the family photo album of LAC Austin Jones
LAC Austin Jones
Somewhere in N.Africa...
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Precious few photographs of "Erks" and other ground crew exist; here are some welcome exceptions submitted by the descendants of LAC Jones. The photograph of Austin Jones himself is believed to have been taken in Naples - which implies 1944. The middle image shows LAC Jones (middle-left), two unidentified colleagues and a local 'helper'. Probably taken in the first half of 1943 in Algeria. Finally “Wilbur’s Laddies
”, photographed 15 October 1943 in Sicily. These men were core members of the ground crew, the staff of the Squadron’s long-serving Engineering Officer 45393 Percy Charles WRIGHT – known as Wilbur because he was born in the year of the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk.
Derek Smith offers the following IDs in respect of Wilbur’s Laddies depicted above:
Top row, left to right:  "Taffy" Jones,  Austin Jones,  Jack Sharp,  Probably "Pop" Johnson,  Cpl. Len Church,  Harry Martin,  "Lofty" Helsdon.
Bottom row, left to right:  Len Roper,  Len Wightman,  Mark Holton,  Sgt. McClure,  Cpl. "Jake" (Ted) Jakins,  Ted Danson,  Probably Jimmy James.
Citations and Footnotes
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||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 72 side 1.
||TNA : AIR27/1521 folio 19 side 2. An extract from the December 1942 section of the squadron’s unofficial 'alternative' war diary. Unfortunately, not all of this highly revealing document survives.
||Transcript of the eulogy delivered from the pulpit of St. Nicholas’ Church, Harpenden, at a Service of Thanksgiving for the life of Sir Frederick Maurice Drake, DFC, 23 April 2014. Reproduced here with the kind consent of the Drake family.
||TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 79 side 2.
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