On 30th Jan the Sqdn. moved to Tangmere, at Gravesend we were faced with the almost impossible task of shifting the equipment and men in three Albion lorries, but anyway we did get away at last, the springs being absolutely flat. About mid-day when we left, stopped for dinner at Biggin, and then on. The roads were covered with ice & snow and the chains on the rear wheels made a terrific row. It was getting dark by the time Horsham was reached so we stopped at a pub in the centre of the town & had a real good supper, after this on through the night arriving at Tangmere at about 11 o’clock at night.
At Tangmere things were very comfortable, I lived in the mess sharing a bunk with one Sgt. Pratt of “A” flight a most untidy individual, but good company. At last we could put our aircraft in a hanger and work on them in all weather, very little happened during the early month of 40, at times a machine would get bogged or land on it’s tummy, at least one stood on it’s nose due to landing down wind. Sgt. Jones landing the new & beautifully painted G at night and writing same off, after hitting the bank.
On 1st March we received our first Hurricanes, second hand ones, some even had fixed-pitch airscrews and had not received the best of attention, but we were to find them very much easier to maintain than our old shadow factory built Blenheims, yes it was a real relief for the N.C.O.’s to get rid of those Blenheims, as in winter time the engines gave us unending trouble with unexplainable cutting out.
We continued to live a very peaceful time in Tangmere having regular pass & leave and little to disturb our peace, true there were minor “peacetime” diversions, such as an Anson which came over from Thorney Island to do night flying and somehow whilst standing on the tarmac caught fire in the early hours, it burnt well & bullets peppered the hanger in front, but I slept peacefully through it all.
On the 10th May the Germans startled the world by attacking Holland, so the war approached our sector, and it did not surprise me when about 10 o’clock we received word to move the operational flights to Hawkinge, I remember it was a glorious day and I really enjoyed the ride in the lorry although I was rather apprehensive of what was the come. On 11th the squadron in company with many others carried out patrols up the Dutch and Belgium coasts as far as Flushing. At 22.00hrs we moved from Hawkinge to Manston in the blackout, it was a good thing the driver of my lorry was once employed by the East Kent Bus Co. for without him I don’t quite know how we should have made it. The following day we returned to Hawkinge while the majority returned to Tangmere, the aircraft returning to Tangmere each night for maintenance.
On Monday 13th May, Demetriadi, Cuthbert and Young were detached at a moments notice to join 501 Sqdn in France, Cuthbert was killed within an hour of arriving in France. Tough – he was one of the best.
Then followed three days complete rest as the aircraft were operating from Manston instead of Hawking, I would contact our intelligence officer & then over to the far side of the aerodrome, which has a marvellous view of the channel, and sunbath all day.
Friday 17th May, “A” flight moved to France by air, and “B” Flt moved from Hawkinge to Manston. From now on until “A” Flt. returned, the term Sqdn used really applies to “B” Flt, as I lost touch temporarily with the others.
The sqdn carried out an offensive patrol from Manston – Abbeville – Vitry – Merville – Sedan – Manston.
18th May – Patrol from Manston to Merville, landed here and then went on Offensive Patrol to Brussels, several He. III engaged and destroyed including one by Rhodes-Moorhouse and two by Sqdn Leader Guinness. Landed at Merville and aircraft returned direct to Tangmere.
19th May – Sqdn patrol Cambrai-Donai, met 60 Heinkel HE.III at 20,000′ escorted by 110’s. Rhodes-Moorhouse shot down by 110 with bullet through gravity tank and forced landed at Abbeville. Hubbard and Riddle H.J. missing.
I spent the day going to Tangmere by lorry for stores etc. leaving Bing in charge.
20th May – Moved from Manston to Hawkinge again. Sqdn patrol at Arras to Lille – heavy A.A. fire. Sqdn received first Rotal Hurricanes.
22nd May – Offensive patrol to and beyond Merville, M.E. 109’s engaged over St. Ormond, several destroyed & rest scattered. Hubbard turns up but Riddle C.J. missing.
23rd May – Riddle H.J. returns O.K.
24th May – Offensive patrol over Dunkirk & inland.
25th May – Offensive patrol over Dunkirk, C.J. Riddle turns up.
The Squadron maintained a daily patrol over Dunkirk until the 28th, by which time we had returned to Tangmere having had a very interesting period at Hawkinge. Hawkinge in those days was a good camp and W.O. Mackenzie very helpful. I have several vivid memories of the place, for here we saw war in the raw for the first time and a ghastly affair it is, the pluck of the Lysander people dropping supplies into Calais I think impressed me most to see them going off alone into occupied territory shook me. The great fires one could see at night on the French coast were awe inspiring to say the least.
One evening I went down to Folkstone and saw some of the refugees on the quay, once was enough, and I think that made me more bitter against the Germans than anything I have seen so far.
29th May – Squadron patrol in Le Trepart and Le Havre.
31st May – Squadron formed escort to D.H. Flamingos carrying Winston Churchill and cabinet to Paris (Villacoublay).
1st June – Aircraft return from Paris and Squadron moved to Middle Wallop for an alleged rest.
I travelled from Tangmere in Aitkins’ Ford van, Broway driving, Max bought the van specially to move his own personal belongings! What a dump Middle Wallop, half finished and chalk dust in and over everything, the villages around were very pretty indeed but not Wallop camp. The squadron used to fly to Tangmere most days and do offensive patrols over France from there. One the 17th June the Squadron moved back to Tangmere, with many sighs of relief. I don’t believe a single member of the Squadron wanted to stay at Wallop.
On June 6th, while at Wallop, S/Ldr. Guiness was posted to Catterick and F/LT Aitkin took over command, we were sorry to see the C.O. posted for he was the ideal man for the job and we shall be lucky if we have another like him, no matter what the situation he was always the C.O. To be flying a fighter at his age, 44 I believe, was a good example of his pluck, he was popular from the first to the last man in the squadron.
18th June – Squadron patrolled Cherbourg three times, this entails a 90 mile sea crossing each way to enemy territory on a single engine.
20th June – Escort to 12 Blenheim bombers to Rouen Boos.
21st June – Patrol at Portsmouth, Isle of Wight and Selsey Bill, no enemy aircraft seen.
26th June – 1st night interception by the squadron, two E/A seen in searchlight near Southampton. Squadron Leader Aitkin shot HEIII into the sea.
29th June – Squadron escort with 145 Squadron for 12 Blenhiem bombers bombing Abbeville aerodrome from 12,000ft.
Escort with 145 Squadron for six Blenheims on photographic Recco from Le Touquet to Dieppe.
9th July – Convoy escort; one Do 17 sighted but escaped in cloud.
11th July – Interception, 25 miles south of Selsey, one Do 215 attacked by all six aircraft and crashed in sea in flames. Raid on Southampton at 17.15 hours, squadron intercepted 12 HE III escorted by ME 110’s. Several destroyed. Flight Commander (Rhodes-Moorhouse) returns with bullet through glycol pipe.
On 16th July the flight intercepted a formation of Ju 88’s in the Isle of Wight area and shot two down, it was on this occasion that Rhodes-Moorhouse directed a tug to pick up the crew of one of the E/A, who were in their dingy, by flying backwards and forwards from dingy & tug. He also, having used up his ammunition, shot the dingy up with his camera gun, which must have scared the Jerries some.
17th July – Flight patrol St. Catherines Point at 6,000′, no enemy sighted.
The following days were taken up with Convoy Escort work, which suited the ground crews as there was no panic about the start & the return could be estimated, at this time I was sleeping at Dispersal and was more or less continuously on duty day and night.
20th July – Naval Convoy escort duties. Investigate several friendly Blenhiems. Green Section shoot down H.E. 59 Red Cross Aircraft in flames, this aircraft was obviously being used as a recco aircraft in disguise.
26th July – P/O Lindsey, “A” Flt, shot down and killed by Me 109.
Onwards until 11th August many “take-off’s and patrols but no enemy aircraft seen, but on 11th the squadron in company with others, intercepted a 200 + raid at 21 to 25,000ft. 20 miles south of Swanage. Many Me 110 and Me 109 shot down and/or damaged. P/O Dickie and Gillan missing.
11 Group intelligence report for period 3.9.39 to 31.7.40 shows that 601 Squadron has 25 confirmed and 18 unconfirmed enemy aircraft to it’s credit.
13th Aug. – Sqdn on patrol of base and intercept 2 large formations of Ju 88. Much damage inflicted on enemy, all aircraft return safely, this patrol was at 06.30 hrs. At 11.50 hours squadron take off for patrol over Swanage and Portland area at 20,000 ft. where a formation of Me 110 were intercepted, a whirlwind attack was carried out and much damage inflicted, all “B” Flt returned safely whilst an “A” Flt pilot was shot down in the water and rescued by speed boat.
August 16th – A very memorable day, as on this day Tangmere [was] visited by many Stukas or Ju 87 aircraft, the whole affair was amazing from start to finish. At 12.45 hours the squadron aircraft made a panic take off and went to 10,000 feet or so as instructed and then at 13.00 hours a large formation was seen approaching the drome from the south, no alarm had been received, then the tannoy went, “Take Cover, take cover”, that was all but in such a tone that everyone moved alright; anyway the Ju 87’s made two attacks and carried out some very accurate bombing, they demolished three of the four hangars, 601 hangar being untouched!, the stores, sick bay, workshops and one amongst some Blenheims on the aerodrome. By this time the aircraft of ours up above had seen what was going on and came down after the raiders and caught the whole lot as they were going out to sea. During this engagement P/O Fiske, our first Yank was killed. Although the damage was so extensive only 10 airmen were killed & very few injured; 601 only had one airman injured. Our M.O. one F/O Willey did heroic work which earned him the M.C. As the attack was concentrated upon the hangars and squadrons were operating at dispersal, the operating efficiency was not affected in any way, in fact [it] was a very good demonstration of how well organised things were there.
Aug 19th – The pilots and aircraft proceeded to Debden on this date for a rest it was said, but as things turned out they had every bit as much to do there as at Tangmere, doing convoy patrols from Martlesham Heath; during an engagement on 31st August Sgt. Taylor and P/O Gilbert bailed out, the former landing near Gravesend and the latter near Hornchurch; the flight suffered its first major loss on this day as F/O Doulton was reported missing and nothing has been heard of him or his machine since. This was a great loss for the squadron as for Doulton was absolutely brim full of enthusiasm and efficiency, he was in 604 in the peace days and the early days of the war, but came to us while the blitz was on because of the inactivity in his own squadron, well over 6ft. tall one could always tell when the sqdn had been suddenly called to readiness by him streaking round the tarmac on his bike well in advance of the tender, he was always exceptionally polite, I can remember him now, “Well Flight, do you think we could ——-”, never once did he give anyone a direct order to my memory, and a lot of the gen in these notes are due to the remarks he made in the pilots authorisation of flight book. Yes, he was a real loss to the squadron.
On 2nd Sept the aircraft returned to Tangmere early in the morning.
Whilst our aircraft and pilots were at Debden, we the ground crews were looking after the Hurricanes of 17 Squadron, when they came to us they, the pilots did not seem to have any idea about getting away in less than 2 minutes, an were absolutely amazed at the efficiency and enthusiasm of my lads, which was certainly a compliment from a regular squadron, and I’m glad to say they were every bit as keen as us after a couple of days. My Flt Cmdr was one Bayne, a topping fellow, very easy to get on with, in fact and ideal flight commander as he never interfered flight commander as he never interfered or made awkward questions! He bailed out over the sea once while in a scrap over Portland & was fished out by the Navy, I wonder if he still wears the white sweater he won from them on the occasion. Others to be remembered were Bird-Wilson, Leary (the only one I did not like), Sewell, Stuart.
6th Sept. the most tragic day for us, as the flight took off to intercept at 08:50 hours and from this flight, my flt. cmdr. F/LT Rhodes-Moorhouse (Willy to us all) failed to return, it is impossible for me to try to explain the effect this had on the flight, it seems so absolutely impossible that his smiling, undaunted person was gone forever, I just could not believe it, and all day we just prayed for news of him. It was some time before the wreckage of “G” was located but it was finally found on a sewage farm at Highbroom, Tunbridge Wells, in Kent, an absolute wreck as it apparently dived straight in, so how he die[d] we shall never know, but his example will always live with 601. The times I remember most vividly were waking him for early morning readiness at somewhere about 3 o’clock, always “Alright Flight, call me again in five minutes”; and then taking off, how he would be doing up the strap of his helmet whilst opening the throttle & taking off; he was a born leader and a marvellous personality.
In his memory there has never been another Hurricane “G” in the squadron.
On the same day P/O Gilbert bailed out for the second time.
On 7th Sept. the squadron moved to Exeter, I travelled in Clyde’s car with Sgt. MacDonald. Exeter in early September was a marvellous place, little to do, glorious sunshine, billeted out in a very comfortable home of one Peters who were kindness itself, in fact embarrassingly so to me, and I often wished I were ruffing it with the lads when lying back on the feather bed waiting for the maid, Nellie, to bring me a cup of tea, ridiculous but true.
Anyway I very soon obtained permission to live-out and a good job too, as London was receiving its full share of bombs at this time and was no place for Lily and the boys, so we all made ourselves nice and comfy away from the horrors of war on a farm of one Turl, Cobden, Whimple, and who looks overs us? for 6 weeks later our home at Harrow was demolished by a bomb, such is luck or fore sight.
On Sept. 18th I flew to Shoreham with S/LDR Hope in the Magister, to attend the funeral of Rhodes-Moorhouse, we had a very pleasant trip as far as Winchester, flying at some 2,000ft, but just south of this town I was startled to see two bombs burst on the ground some little distance in front of us, so Jerry was about!, the C.O. put the nose well down and we hedge hopped the remainder of the way being bumped about somewhat, and then just as though two was not enough, as we came in sight of Worthing we saw another tremendous splash just off the shore, obviously caused by a bomb, anyway we landed safely at Shoreham, where we met, F/LT Clyde and F/O Waterlow, our Adjutant; they took me to lunch with them at a pub near, where I got many nasty looks from some Army officers who apparently used the room as their mess! Then on to Brighton in a service tender, to the Crematorium where we met, Mrs Rhodes-Moorhouse, his mother and his aunt, Waterlow introduced me and I found all absolutely charming, my those people can take it on the chin, just think his wife had lost her husband and her only brother, Demetriadi, in a matter of weeks; and Mrs R-M senior, her husband in the last war and her only son in this, and they could stand there and talk to me of his glorious death, this bravery made everything else seem so small & unnecessary.
The service was so simple, and so typical of Willy, only the seven of us being present, it was a moment I shall never forget.
Then back to Shoreham, where Waterlow decided to return as far as Tangmere in the Maggie, so I did that part of the journey by tender, and on to Exeter with F/LT Clyde in the Magot.
Then followed weeks of intense flying for the flight, doing as much as 300 hours a month, training pilots, during this period the weather steadily deteriorated and many an aircraft stood on its nose on the mud for one reason or another, causing much work.
On 5th December, our Jenny tried to fly the Magister P.6377 out of a field at Sidford where he had forced landed the previous evening, well a terrific gale was blowing and as soon as he was air-bourne and lost the shelter of the hedge the wind just took control and threw the aeroplane to the ground more or less upside down the other side of the hedge, he should have been killed but stepped out unhurt, amazing, the port wing was just match wood, likewise the fortunately empty front cockpit. This was Jensen’s second crash, as way back in August, he was overcome by glycol fumes and crashed a Hurricane near Lewes, which caused him many weeks in hospitals of various kinds.
17th Dec. the squadron moved to Northolt, it was intended all except the rear party should leave for our new station on this day but the Harrow (link to wiki page) which was to carry self and the ??? part of “B” Flt. failed to arrive and by the time I had commandeered another !! yes true, it was to late to leave, the next day was foggy, and so we did not get away until the 19th, had a good trip, landing at Wingfield near Swindon because we were lost, and finally arrived at Northold safely.
Northolt proved to be a very comfortable camp, and as the weather was persistently bad we had very little to do, on Dec 24th S/Ldr. Hope left us, and O’Neill took over.