James Bond as not a name normally associated with The Battle of Britain but he is the man indirectly responsible for my preoccupation with it. Well Bond’s creator Ian Fleming is anyway.
In August 2008 I took a train from Liverpool to London Euston with the sole purpose of visiting an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum celebrating the centenary of Ian Fleming’s birth. As well as his writing career, the exhibition covered Fleming’s wartime experiences as Personal Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence and later as a Naval Intelligence Officer. A prelude to my interest to come.
I enjoyed the exhibition and, as is usual at these things, exited into a shop. After looking at the Fleming/Bond items I started browsing the books that really represent the theme of the Imperial War Museum, those on the first and second world wars. My enduring love of history was re-awakened as we stood looking at those books.
Growing up during the early 1970s most of my mates wanted to be footballers, to have the sideburns of Kevin Keegan or the white signature boots of Alan Ball. Of course I loved football too, but strangely enough wanted to be an archaeologist. I don’t remember what history I studied at primary school but I must have enjoyed it.
History became my favourite, and therefore strongest, subject at secondary school, but again I don’t really recall what I studied or why my love of the subject continued. Until my O-Levels in 1976 that is. My history teacher treated his class like students rather than school children and lectured to us in a way I hadn’t been taught before. I remember studying Italian and German Unification and being completely enamoured with the stories. I did well enough to take history to A Level.
After this, whatever I was interested in, I bought the books, records, DVDs etc to learn and understand as much as I could about my current interest. So, standing in the Imperial War Museum shop browsing shelves of WWII books, my old desire to “get into” a subject was right there with me.
I decided to buy some books about different stages of WWII and, as is my way, read them in the order the events occurred. I chose a book on Dunkirk, two on The Battle of Britain, one on the Great Escape, one on The Dambusters and one on D-Day. Just enough to get me started! After reading Hugh Sebag-Montefiore’s epic on Dunkirk, I read Tim Clayton and Phil Craig’s Finest Hour and Matthew Parker’s The Battle of Britain. I bought the DVD of Finest Hour and read Stephen Bungay’s Most Dangerous Enemy and Patrick Bishop’s Fighter Boys. By now I was completely obsessed with the events of the summer of 1940.
What I struggled to get my head round, and still do, is that the young Fighter Boys of the RAF, ‘The Few’, were exactly that. Young. Aged 18, 19, 20 and charged with the defence of their country and, not to exaggerate at all, the defence of the free world. After that I started buying all the books I could lay my hands on, particularly those by the pilots themselves. Two years on I’m still reading them.
Now I decided I wanted a piece of the Battle, anything really, so began trawling ebay. I lost out on an Irvin flying jacket and some genuine Spitfire parts but won a book signed by a number of The Few. One of the signatures rang a bell in some part of my mind, that of Wing Commander John Freeborn. I seemed to remember my mum having a friend called John Freeborn sometime in the early 1980s. An email exchange with her confirmed the two John Freeborns were indeed the same person. She filled me in on her friendship and said that they had lost touch and she assumed he had died.
Whilst researching him, I came across a website advertising a signing event where you could meet some of The Few and get books, aviation prints and other memorabilia signed. One of The Few in attendance was to be John Freeborn. Through the organiser of the event I was able to introduce myself to John who said he would very much like to get in touch with my mum again. Addresses were exchanged and very quickly he and my mum were in touch after some 25 plus years. So I have now had the privilege of spending many hours with John, getting to know him and enjoying his war stories.
One of the books I bought was the hard to find Men of The Battle of Britain by Kenneth G Wynn. This is a book that provides a potted biography of each of the 2,917 allied airmen who flew operationally in The Battle of Britain. Dipping in and out of this I was taken aback to find that a number of pilots killed in action were actually buried in Liverpool and Wirral. I had kind of assumed most pilots would be buried in and around Kent and Sussex. So I went through Wynn’s book, pilot by pilot, making a note of those laid to rest, not only on Merseyside, but in the North West of England.
I spent much of the summer of 2009 touring cemeteries and grave yards in search of pilots graves and joined The Battle of Britain Historical Society so I could formally adopt any of the graves that didn’t have a carer. In all I’ve visited around 24 graves from Windermere to Egton-with-Newland, from Macclesfield, Poynton and Delemere to Marple and St Helen’s.
But it is Merseyside’s connection with The Battle of Britain that has captivated me. Research has shown that the connection to Merseyside doesn’t only extend to pilots laid to rest here, but there are a number who were born in, or have connections to, Liverpool and Wirral;-
- Sgt Pilot Cyril Stanley Bamberger – worked at Port Sunlight
- Flight Lieutenant Sydney Howarth Bazley – born Southport
- Flight Officer Harold Arthur Cooper Bird-Wilson – educated Liverpool College
- Pilot Officer Michael Featherstone Briggs – educated Oundle School Liverpool
- Flight Officer Allan Walter Naylor Britton – born Wallasey
- Sgt Owen Valentine Burns – born Birkenhead
- Sgt Douglas Frederick Corfe – born Hoylake
- Sgt John Leslie Feather – born Liverpool
- Squadron Leader Thomas Percy Gleave – born Liverpool
- Flight Officer Douglas Hamilton Grice – born Wallasey
- Sgt Leonard Jowitt – of Huyton (formerly Seaforth)
- Flight Lieutenant William Johnson “Jack” Leather – born West Derby
- Sgt Charles White MacDougal – born Garston
- Sgt Edward Manton – born Bebington
- Flight Officer Peter Gerald Hugh Matthews – born Liverpool
- Sgt Walter Maxwell – born Meols
- Flight Officer John Colin Mungo-Park – born Wallasey
- Pilot Officer Thomas Francis Neil – born Bootle
- Pilot Officer Derrick Lang Ryalls – born West Kirby
- Flight Lieutenant Andrew Thomas Smith – of Fulwood Park
- Flight Lieutenant Edward Brian Bretherton Smith – born Formby
- Flight Sgt Harry Steere – born Birkenhead
- Flight Sgt Jack Steere – born Birkenhead
- Pilot Officer Ian Welsh Sutherland – of Liverpool
- Flight Lieutenant Douglas Herbert Watkins – born Birkenhead
- Flight Officer John Terrance Webster- born West Derby
- Sgt Pilot Alfred Whitby – born West Derby
- Squadron Leader W H R Whitty – born Litherland attended Liverpool College and University
- Sub-Lieutenant Thomas Victor Worrall – born Runcorn
And so we come to the purpose of this work. With the deaths of Bill Stone, Henry Allingham and Harry Patch, 2009 saw the passing of the First World War generation. This focussed my mind on what I wanted to do.
It is not my intention to give an account of The Battle of Britain, to go into any technical details of the aircraft which took part nor will I describe the air defence of Liverpool and North West England during this time. Instead I want to put on record as best as I can the stories of those Battle of Britain pilots who are buried on Liverpool and Wirral.
This work is my tribute to them, The Merseyside Few.
- Pilot Officer Jindřich Bartoš – West Derby Cemetery
- Flight Lieutenant Thomas Daniel Humphrey Davy – Anfield Cemetery
- Flight Officer John Fraser Drummond – Thornton Garden of Rest
- Pilot Officer David Evans – St Andrews Church Bebington
- Sgt Stanley Allen Fenemore – Allerton Cemetery
- Flight Officer John Connell Freeborn – Liverpool Road Cemetery, Ainsdale
- Flight Lieutenant Kenneth McLeod Gillies – Thornton Garden of Rest
- Sgt Otto Hanzlíček – West Derby Cemetery
- Sgt Raymond Towers Holmes – Rake Lane Cemetery Wallasey
- Flight Lieutenant James Hayward Little – Grange Cemetery West Kirby
- Flight Officer Reginald Frank Rimmer – Grange Cemetery West Kirby
- Flight Lieutenant George Edward Bowes Stoney – St Helen’s Church Sefton
- Pilot Officer Norman Sutton – St Helens Cemetery
- Pilot Officer Wladyslaw Szulkowski – West Derby Cemetery
This site will try and tell the stories of these pilots, who they were, what they did and how they came to be buried on Merseyside.
If you have any questions or additional information, please do get in touch.
– Adrian Cork, May 2010