John began his training at The Civil Flying School at Hatfield on 4 April 1938 before moving to RAF 5 FTS at Sealand, Flintshire in June. The London Gazette of 24 June confirmed that John had been granted a short service commission as an Acting Pilot Officer on probation with effect from 4 June 1938.
Some of his peers who were also granted short service commissions that day went on to fly in The Battle of Britain;
Maurice Brown (611 and 41 Squadrons)
Aston Cooper-Key (46 Squadron)
John Cutts (222 Squadron)
William David (87 and 213 Squadrons)
Noel Francis (247 Squadron)
Maurice Kinder (85, 607 and 92 Squadrons)
James O’Meara (64 and 72 Squadrons)
Donald Smith (616 Squadron)
John Strang (253 Squadron)
Hugh Tamblyn (141 and 242 Squadron)
John Waddingham (141 Squadron)
After completing his flying training he joined 46 Squadron at Digby, Lincolnshire on 14 January 1939. Originally equipped with Gloster Gauntlet Mk II single seater bi-plane fighters, the squadron was re-equipped with Hawker Hurricanes in February 1939. They were to see action just 6 weeks after the outbreak of World War II when, on 21 October 1939, Squadron Leader PR Barwell and Pilot Officer RP Plummer attacked a formation of twelve Heinkel 115s five miles east of Spurn Head, shooting 3 down and damaging another.
As a result of this action King George visited Digby on 2 November to compliment the Squadron on the role they had played in protecting coastal shipping from enemy action. He spent around ten minutes with the pilots, including John. The next six months though were uneventful, consisting in the main of providing air cover for the shipping convoys steaming along the east coast. There followed a brief move to Acklington, on the Northumbrian coast, from December to mid January 1940 where John carried out anti-aircraft co-operation flights, playing the part of enemy planes so coastal guns would be practiced and ready for the inevitable raids.
The Norway Campaign
In May 1940, the squadron was selected to form part of the Expeditionary Force in Norway, which had been invaded by the Germans on 9 April. Their Hurricanes were embarked on HMS Glorious and arrived 40 miles off the Norwegian coast on 26 May. The Hurricanes had to take off from the deck of Glorious but as the sea was flat and calm there were doubts that they could do so. Air Ministry figures suggested a 30 knot wind was necessary. The ship’s engineers managed to get HMS Glorious up to a speed of 30 knots so enabling all 18 Hurricanes to take off successfully. 46 Squadron assembled at Bardufoss in the far north of the country [Google map] and began operations on 27 May.
John saw action shortly after his arrival when, on 29 May, he took off from Bardufoss in Hurricane L1794. He sighted four enemy aircraft at 12,000 feet south of Narvik and moved into attack the nearest, a Heinkel 111. Although John hit the starboard engine he had been hit by return fire causing his cockpit to fill with smoke. He turned to go back to Bardufoss but his engine failed. He had no choice but to bale out. He landed in the near freezing waters of Ofotfjord and was picked up by HMS Firedrake, an F-Class destroyer later to take part in The Battle of the Atlantic. John Drummond had scored his first solo kill, a He111 of 2/Kampfgeschwader 26.
Four days later, in the early afternoon of 2 June, John took off in Hurricane W2543, with Sgt Taylor, for a routine patrol over Narvik. An hour or so into the sortie he spotted two Junkers JU 87s attacking a destroyer in Ofotfjord. He went after the first firing around five six second bursts. Smoke coming from the starboard mainplane confirmed he had scored a hit. John watched as it force landed, bursting into flames.
The 7 June was certainly John’s busiest day during his time in Norway. It was also the day he cheated death by an inch, and earned his Distinguished Flying Cross.
He was in the air at 0400 hours patrolling the Narvik area when he spotted three He111s flying in formation. He attacked the first plane but it disappeared into a cloud, so he attacked the other two, hitting the starboard Heinkel. The other one attacked his Hurricane causing him to seek cover in a cloud. On emerging from his cover John saw the damaged Heinkel heading towards the border with neutral Sweden, and so John returned to Bardufoss claiming this as a victory.
After some rest John was in the air again at 1715hrs patrolling Narvik with Flight Officer Mee. They sighted four He111s at around 10,000 feet. Mee attacked the port enemy aircraft and John the starboard. John hit his target causing it to turn for cloud cover. John left it there and went after another of the He111s. Spotting two he attacked one, hitting the rear gun but was hit himself by the other one. A shell pierced his windscreen, clipping his goggles and helmet before ricocheting out of the cockpit hood, making a large hole in the process. John returned fire again but lost the enemy planes in cloud. He claimed one victory and two damaged.
On landing John learnt that Operation Alphabet had been activated and the squadron had been ordered to evacuate Norway immediately. They had to fly their Hurricanes back to HMS Glorious. Perhaps because of the day he had had – two sorties in fourteen hours – John was not chosen for this task. Instead he went with ground crew of 46 Squadron on the SS Arandora Star. [For more about the fate of the SS Arandora Star, see the Additional page]
At 0300 on 8 June HMS Glorious was detached with the destroyers Ardent and Acasta to head for Scapa Flow while the other carrier, HMS Ark Royal, and the rest of the fleet remained behind to escort the slower main convoy. At 1545 the German battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau spotted Glorious and opened fire directly hitting her bridge. Glorious returned fire but was hopelessly outgunned. By 1720 she was dead on the water and sinking fast. She took with her eight 46 Squadron pilots and their Hurricanes. John Drummond disembarked at Gourock on 13 June and returned to Digby the next day.
His overall score in Norway was four victories and two damaged enemy aircraft for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.The citation in the London Gazette of 26 July 1940 read,
The KING has been graciously pleased to
approve the undermentioned awards, in recognition
of gallantry displayed in flying operations
against the enemy:—
Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Pilot Officer John Fraser DRUMMOND (40810).
During operations in Norway, this officer
shot down two enemy aircraft and seriously
damaged a further three. On one occasion,
as pilot of one of two Hurricanes which
attacked four Heinkel 1ll’s, he damaged
one of the enemy aircraft and then engaged
two of the others. Despite heavy return
fire, Pilot Officer Drummond pressed home
his attack, silenced the rear guns of both
aircraft and compelled the Heinkels to break
off the engagement.
The Squadron re-formed at Digby becoming operational at the end of June.
The next two months consisted of convoy and defensive patrols. John was posted to RAF 7 Operational Training Unit at Hawarden where he taught Czech and Polish pilots the rudiments of combat flying in Spitfires. He was briefly posted back to 46 Squadron where, amongst other duties, he was chosen to lead a flight of three aircraft escorting The Lord Lloyd, Secretary of State for The Colonies, from North Coates to Hendon.
On 5 September he was plunged right into the thick of the Battle of Britain when he was posted to 92 Squadron, first at Pembery then at Biggin Hill.