At just 19 years old John Drummond was granted a short service commission by the RAF on 4 June 1938. Less than two and a half years later he was dead, having given his life defending his country from the threat of invasion.
He saw service in Norway for which he was awarded a DFC before transferring to Biggin Hill at the height of the Battle of Britain.
Of the nearly 3,000 pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain, GHQ picked less than 200 of the most outstanding to have their portraits drawn by Captain Cuthbert Orde. John Drummond was among the finest of The Few.
Jindřich Bartoš was born in Ukraine in 1911. In his early 20s he graduated as a pilot from the Czechoslovakian Army Academy. Escaping to France via Poland, he fought the invading Nazis as a fighter pilot in the French Air Force during the Battle of France. As invasion loomed he came to Britain in August 1940, and joined No 312 (Czechoslovak) Squadron.
After being posted to Liverpool, Jindřich was one of a detachment deployed to defend Penrhos airfield in north Wales. In February 1941 whilst on practice manoeuvres his aircraft crashed. Older than many of his colleagues, he was still only 29.
Wladyslaw Szulkowski joined the Polish Air Force in the early 1930s. By the end of the decade he was an instructor, but with Nazi invasion he flew as a fighter pilot. After Poland fell he escaped via Romania to France where he fought a second stand against the Nazis. In 1940 he came to Britain to continue the relentless application of his skills.
Having flown Spitfires in the Battle of Britain with at least one confirmed kill, in December 1940 he volunteered for a new Polish RAF squadron.
In March 1941 they were deployed to Liverpool to fly patrols with naval convoys off the coast. In one of a dreadful day’s accidents for the squadron, Wladyslaw Szulkowski crashed into the Irish Sea on 27 March, aged 31.
Born in 1911 in a politically contentious place – a city in Austria-Hungary that became Czechoslovakian in 1918, and then subject to German expansionist desires that led to Nazi occupation – the causal politics of World War II were embedded in the life of Otto Hanzlíček.
Volunteering for Czechoslovak air force in 1930, he was an experienced Sergeant and fighter pilot by the time of the Nazi invasion. He escaped to France where he joined the French air force in summer 1939. Having shot down German planes, and survived being shot down in return, as France fell he escaped to the UK.
Like Jindřich Bartoš, he joined the RAF’s No 312 (Czechoslovak) squadron and was posted to RAF Speke in Liverpool, charged with escorting shipping convoys and defending the city. Two weeks later on a training flight in the oldest Hurricane in sevice, his engine caught fire and he baled out into the River Mersey and was drowned, aged 29.
Born and educated in Yorkshire, Norman Sutton’s life took him to Merseyside in the mid 1930s. Like his father, Norman worked for St Helens glass manufacturer Pilkington Bros. Ltd and with war looming joined the RAF.
By August 1940 Norman was married, had completed his training and was a commissioned Pilot Officer with No. 611 (West Lancashire) Squadron at RAF Digby. He was soon flying patrols above Lincolnshire and beyond.
As the Battle of Britain raged in the skies above southern England and pilot losses grew, Norman was posted to Biggin Hill with No. 72 (Basutoland) Squadron. In a letter home he referred to it as ‘the Valley of Death’. Despite being at the epicentre of the Battle he was to die without ever engaging enemy aircraft.
Research is still pending for the other Merseyside Few, but will appear here when ready:
Kenneth McLeod Gillies
George Edward Bowes Stoney
James Hayward Little
Raymond Towers Holmes
Reginald Frank Rimmer
Stanley Allen Fenemore
Thomas Daniel Humphrey Davy
John Connell Freeborn