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Just after crossing the French coast I reported some contrails up to port and slightly to our rear, but they extinguished almost immediately, so whatever it was had moved either above or below the contrail level. I had no idea where we were-there was no time to look at the map which was left folded in my left boot- but we must have been near to the target (the airfield of St. Omer), when I caught a flash way up behind as I was about to start the steep turn back towards the centre once more. I held off the turn to have a good check, and then turned back, only to see the squadron a good 800 yards or so away in front as my extended run had taken us apart. As speed in regaining position seemed to be vital, it was not clever to be on one's own in enemy skies, I did a quick left and right steep turn during which I had a good shufti behind, and then slung the coal on and went fast to get back with the rest.

I was about halfway back and about to have another look behind, when there was a sudden staccato vibration and sparks seemed to erupt out of my port wingtip. My ?bloody hell' and steep left hand turn initiation only just beat a violent clang from up front, at which the rudder pedals suddenly lost all feel and became seemingly disconnected from the rudder. As the nose fell away the cockpit filled with a white mist accompanied by a foul smell of glycol and 100-octane fuel. I let the nose go on down hoping whatever it was couldn't follow and that the mist would clear before it became a problem (I remembered the unseen white hot debris from the exhausts, and in the context of the fuel smell didn't have a lot of confidence in the immediate future).

The mist rapidly went however, and I was able to ease out of the steep diving turn to edge slightly west of north whilst weaving like mad one way and the other to clear my tail, and able now to check damage. The port wingtip was mangled, the rudder just a useless uncontrollable flap, the radiator: and oil temperatures were perhaps a little too high, and the elevator perhaps a bit less than precise. However she was still flying and I was at about 9,000ft having lost the rest in the diving turn, and thinking it might be an uncomfortable ride home.

Over the next few minutes the radiator and oil temps showed a gradual but steady rise, and I found the cause of the petrol smell, nearly 20 gallons of fuel were sloshing about in the belly of the fuselage under my feet. I now knew why my lower legs were so cold -on the ground I later found the insides of my flying boot and my trouser legs were absolutely saturated with the damn stuff. On checking the fuel gauge the top tank was empty so that had clearly been hit, as had the glycol tank or piping.

By now I was having to accept a gradual height loss in order to maintain the 290mph desirable as the Merlin seemed not to be giving its best, and another cause of disquiet was the ever increasing amount of tail heavy trim having to be wound on to stop the nose from dropping. Looking in my rear view mirror I thought I could see strips of fabric trailing from the elevators -the view was not all that clear, but if it was so could have accounted for the effect on the a/c. Some 6 minutes after being hit we were down to maybe 6,000ft with the radiator temp almost in the red. I could see the Channel, and had seen the Blenheims pass about 1,000ft above me clearly on their way home and going like the Devil.


My thought was that she'd never reach the Channel and I wasn't about to try to put her down -not with all that petrol washing around, so like a good Boy Scout I prepared by disconnecting my helmet leads and ramming them securely into my parachute harness straps, and then released my Sutton harness so I was unattached to the a/ c. There seemed little point in doing anything else as I'd run out of scope in playing with pitch control and throttle, and when all throttle movement had been used she was clearly going to go in only one direction, even if the overheating didn't do it first?and that was down. I decided to stand on the seat and then kick the stick forward to throw me out, but my planning came to naught. A most expensive sounding noise came from up front, accompanied by darkish smoke and jets of flame, and as I started to stand, letting go of the stick, dear old 'P' helped me to the last. She threw her nose violently down and I shot up and out like the cork from a bottle! And then there was only a flickering jumble of sky and snow as I obviously somersaulted, until I yanked the ripcord. What a relief to be right way up, and even greater to look up and check the beautiful white canopy fully open. My right boot had disappeared as I was launched from the a/c, so the landing itself -on one foot to save my unbooted one was a bi t of a thud, but there I was in the middle of a snow- covered stubble field-iron hard! The only cover in sight was a clump of bushes maybe 10o yards away up a slight slope. They were not leafed and even a mouse would have laughed at them, but I couldn't be a chooser so I dragged myself and chute up there, where there was snow about 18ins deep into which I pushed the chute and the mike etc from my helmet. I then attempted to' shoe' my right foot by tying the oxygen tube in such a fashion as to hold the helmet around my foot; this worked reasonably well.


I was now aware I hadn't had a pee since early in the morning, and I was thus engaged, crouched behind these silly little bushes, when two uniforms walked through a field entrance some 25oyards away. I finished my pee lying down! It was to no avail -they walked straight up to me, and as I stood up the one with the gun said ?For you the war is over' (and I thought they only said that in things like the 'Hotspur' and 'Magnet', we live and learn).

It was all very friendly, and we walked as a small group down to the opening they'd come through, meeting on the way a French boy of about 8/Ioyrs old who asked my age. Although I understood him perfectly my answer of 21 was given using all 8 fingers and 2 thumbs twice and a bit!
We got into the Ford V8 they'd arrived in, and drove, perhaps, 400 yards to where the remains of poor ?P? were smoking.

She had impacted on the side of the road which was sunken slightly below the field level, and all that could be seen was a rather buckled tail assembly sitting on top of a mass of jumbled scrap metal in what was clearly a damn great hole. I could see nothing identifiable in this mess -no sign of seat, panel, oxygen bottles -no nothing; and I guessed it was my good fortune not to be with it all umpteen feet down. Broken chunks of main plane lay at the side together with the broken remains of 8 Browning. 303 machine guns, barrels snapped, and 8 ammo boxes with sides peeled back to show the indentations of the cartridge rims on the inside surfaces looking most like a machined finish. Ammunition lay everywhere. Loose wreckage lay all over the road and elsewhere -I picked up the tail wheel from 200 yards inside an adjacent field!

She (N3249) was manufactured by Vickers Supermarine at Woolston near Portsmouth in December 1939, being in one of the earliest batches made. She had flown with 92 and 602 squadrons, with 92 she had scored over France during the Dunkirk evacuation in the hands of Stanford Tuck. She had the original type of u/c retraction via a lever in a box on the right hand side to select 'up' or-'down', and out of the same box a lever with which to pump up the hydraulic pressure to effect the required change. As pumping with the right hand caused the left hand (on the stick) to make sympathetic pumping actions also, one could always tell the new boys as they climbed away from take-off in a series of steps .We had all done it. The more recent a/c had instead a single lever only with the hydraulics supplied from an engine-driven pump.


Although I could not know it I was the first of the Luton VR lads and the first of my immediate friends to be lost in 1941. Unhappily so many, and most far less fortunate than I, followed my path during the spring and summer of that year .Dad said the weekly columns of the Luton News of that period regularly listed pre-war VRs in the ?killed and missing' columns.
So many keen, air minded youngsters joined the RAFVR in 1938/39, in the full knowledge that the international situation might well mean their (to them) good fortune in being able to fly RAF a/c, but would one day require a recompense to be paid.
And how they paid! Of the 130 or so pre-war embryo pilots at Luton I have only ever come across 5 other than myself, although I expect there must be a few more somewhere. Fred Whitehorn, badly burned; Ron Parker; Ray North; Goodwin and Arnold Hill who became Chief Brewer with Green's Brewery, these are the only ones I know to survive.

Source: David Denchfield?s written memoires, supplied by his son, Nigel. October 2011

Keywords RAF; France; St Omer; Luton Volunteer Reserve; POW
Collection Overseas Battle Fronts
Place St Omer, France
Year 1941
Conflict World War Two
File type html
Record ID number 205

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