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[103 Squadron RAF]
[103 Sqn 1937 to 1940]
[Sedan 14 May 40]
[103 37/40 Photos]
[37/40 Vignettes]


1937/1940 Vignettes

This page is for short items and pics relevant to the 1937/1940 era which do not warrant a full page.

There is plenty of stuff to add here when I get round to it. DF

Harold Gibson Lee AFC DFC

103 Squadron Harold LeeHarold ( pictured right ) came from Victoria, Australia and joined the Air Force in 1934. He trained at Point Cook. After four years he became a pilot with the RAF serving with 24 Squadron out of Hendon. This prestigious unit was engaged in the air transport of VIPs – Cabinet Ministers, Royalty and the like.

During this period he flew various Ministers on a regular basis. These included Secretary of State for Air – Philip Cunliffe-Lister, 1st Viscount Swinton, and his successor -Kingsley Wood and the then Secretary of State for War - Leslie Hore-Belisha. Amongst his other VIP passengers were the Duke of Kent and the Under Secretary of State for Air – Captain Harold Balfour. It is claimed Harold got to know several of these personalities quite well.

Harold was awarded an AFC for his work with 24 Squadron pre-war.

When war broke out Harold was posted to 103 Squadron and went to France as a Squadron Leader/Flight Commander. He broke his leg in June 1940 baling on return from a night op and was awarded a DFC on return to the UK.

When Harold recovered he was promoted to W/C and posted back to 24 Squadron where he took over command of this unit for three months from April 1941. This period was not a happy one it seems. Harold was relieved of his command in June 41 and then shunted around various stations for several months.

At this juncture he requested to be retired but told this was not possible as there was a war on but he could resign if he wished which he did.

When he arrived home in Australia Harold got a post with Quantas and flew Catalinas from Ceylon to Perth when the Australia/England air link was re-established in 1943.

In mid 1943 a very long letter about this business arrived at 10 Downing Street from Australia addressed to Winston Churchill. Copies were also received by several of Harold’s VIP acquaintances.

It was all passed on to the Dominion Office who dealt with the issues raised directly with the Australian High Commission.

Nothing came of it and the matter was dropped. There was a war on and people had more important issues to deal with I suppose. David Fell with thanks to Iain T.

Sgt William Ralph "Bill" Crich DFM

103 Squadron CrichWilliam Ralph Crich ( pictured right ) was born at Malta in 1914. After having moved first to Derbyshire, Great Britain, the family moved to Edinburgh. Ralph had three sisters, Irene, Dorothy and Lilian. He married and had a son, Ron.

During an attack with his 103 Sqdn Fairey Battle on Amiens/Bernaville, France, his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Sergeant Crich had to make a forced landing, but managed to reach his base the following day. On June 10th, 1940, Sergeant Crich attacked a target in the vicinity of Vernon, France in his 103 Sqdn Fairey Battle I, K9409. The plane was severe damaged, but Crich managed to press through the attack and to reach base. His DFM was awarded for this action.

In January 1941, still flying with 103 Sqdn, Sergeant Crich had to ditch with his crew in Sea. They were adrift for two days before being rescued. In the night of 20th-21st November 1942, during a mission as Pilot Officer in No 15 Sqdn, Short Stirling BK595 he was forced to make an emergency landing at Playa de Aro in Spain and was at first interred before reaching England.

After the war Crich flew with BOAC. He died in a plane crash during a landing on July 16th, 1947 in BOAC, AVRO 658 York C.1, G-AGNR. The aircraft was on a scheduled flight from the UK to Calcutta through Malta, Cairo, Basrah, Karachi and Delhi. Because of poor visibility at Basrah, the crew accepted a diversion to Shaibah. The York crashed in bad visibility on the 4th landing attempt. David Fell with thanks to World War 2 Awards.com

Battle Success

   It is well known that the 803 Naval Air Squadron, Fleet Air Arm has the honour of being the first British unit to shoot down a German aircraft in WW2. Skuas from Ark Royal disposed of a Do18 flying boat on the 26th Sept 1939. The crew were rescued. Be that as it may who was the first RAF Squadron to shoot down a German aircraft in WW2 i.e. a confirmed kill.

   Peter Cornwell's mammoth and weighty tome entitled The Battle of France Then and Now seems to provide the answer. Mr Cornwell has produced a very valuable and informative book about the Phoney War and Battle of France which includes access and reference to RAF Records and also to the Luftwaffe Quartermaster General's Records of the time which are very comprehensive.

   RAF fighters made no claims at all till the end of Sept 39 apart from the “Battle of Barking Creek” when, on the 6th Sept 39, Spitfires of 74 Sq destroyed two Hurricanes from 56 Sq in a “friendly fire” incident over the Medway.

   Claims were made by gunners of 218 Sq Fairey Battles in France on the 26th Sept but this does not tally with the losses in the German records for that day. These can therefore be discounted.

   The first enemy aircraft that fell to the RAF was in fact shot down by a 103 Sq WOP/AG AC1 John Ernest Summers with his Vickers K machine gun on the 27th Sept. This corresponds with a loss noted in the German records.Josef Scherm

   The enemy aircraft was a Bf 109 fighter of JG 52 flown by Obergefreiter Josef Scherm ( pictured right ) who was killed in the combat and now rests at Briebach German Military Cemetery. The aircraft crashed into a wood and was investigated by French troops soon after the incident.

   On the 27th Sept 1939 three Battles led by F/L M C Wellstook off at 1220 hours for what they thought would be another routine reconnaissance flight between Bouzonville and the Rhine. Whilst flying at 3000 feet the Battles were attacked by three French Curtis Hawks near Bitche. The Battles fired off recognition flares and the French aircraft broke off their attack.

   Soon after the Battles were attacked by three German Bf 109s and the aircraft, flown by F/O A L Vipan ( pictured below ), was damaged and his observer, Sgt J H Vickers, gravely wounded. In the combat F/O Vipan’s gunner, AC1 J ESummers, shot down one of the attacking Bf 109s from close range and the remaining German fighters were chased off by French Morane fighters which appeared on the scene.


103 Squadron Vipan

   With Sgt Vickers in considerable pain and the engine of the Battle damaged Vipan force landed his aircraft in a field close to French troop positions on the Maginot Line. Vickers was taken to hospital where he sadly died on the 7th Oct. The aircraft was a write off. Sgt Vickers was awarded the Medaille Militaire by the French authorities just before he died and John Summers received the DFM which was not gazetted till late 1940. David Fell.

  Tony Ingram DFC103 Squadron Ingram

  Tony ( pictured right ) was born in Taunton, Somerset in 1913. Joined 103 Sq in 1937 flying Hinds, Battles and then Wellingtons. He served with distinction during the Battle of France when he was a Flight Commander and awarded the DFC. On return to the UK he was transferred to a Polish Bomber training unit in the UK. I believe he may have travelled in Europe pre war and had some knowledge of Polish and German. Later he returned to 103 Sqn as A Flight Commander and was shot down flying as co-pilot with F/O Wardaugh in Wellington X9609 on 20th Sept 1941. He was taken prisoner of war ending a 4 year stint with 103 Sqn.

  Post war he served with the RAF possibly in some sort of intelligence role till 1956 when he left to become a journalist and photographer. In later years he lived at lverston in the Lake District and was a popular local figure well known for always being very smartly dressed wearing plus fours and a collar and tie. Never talked about his RAF career at all. He remained very active and was regularly seen driving his car around the locality up until just before his death. David Fell


  Battle of Britain.

  Several pilots with 103 Squadron connections are participated and are commemorated on the Battle of Britain Roll of Honour. Sgt John Bucknole served with 54 Squadron flying Spitfires. He subsequently joined 103 Sqdn as a Wellington pilot in early 1941. He was killed in July 41.

  New Zealanders Jimmy Hayter and Tom Fitzgerald flew with 103 Sqdn in the Battle of France and then transferred to 605 Sqdn and 141 Sqdn respectively. Both had impressive and long wartime careers and became "aces". 103 Squadron Pugh

   P/O Tommy Pugh RAF (pictured right) flew with 103 Sqn on Fairey Battles in the Battle of France. On return to the UK he followed Hayter and Fitzgerald to Fighter Command.

  Pugh joined 263 Sqdn flying Hurricanes and later the twin engined Westland Whirlwind. ( Not to be confused with the later helicopter of the same name. ) The Whirlwind was an interesting machine which performed well at lower altitudes and was well liked by those who flew it. Somewhat underpowered however.

  Pugh was awarded a DFC, promoted to S/L and took over command of 263 in Aug 41 until Feb 42. It was Pugh who suggested the type be fitted with bomb racks and used for anti shipping and ground attack. He was promoted to W/C and killed flying with 182 Sqn on the 2nd August 1943. His Typhoon crashed into the sea whilst attacking a German destroyer off Dunkirk. He was 23 years old.

  Norman Brumby was born in Kingston-upon-Hull and educated at Boulevard Secondary School. He joined the RAFVR in October 1938 as an Airman u/t Pilot. He was called up on 1st September 1939, completed his training and joined 103 Squadron, flying Fairey Battles.

  The squadron was sent to France as part of the British Component and based at Souge, SE of Le Mans. On 14th June 1940 the squadron attacked an armoured column in woods SW of Evereux. Brumby's aircraft was badly damaged by flak and had to crash-land in an orchard near Laval. Brumby and his crew Sgt. Hedley and LAC Werner were unhurt. They were back in combat the next day but were hit by flak over Laval and crash-landed near Vitre. They survived this too and were able to join the evacuation of the squadron back to England which commenced on the same day.

  Brumby volunteered for Fighter Command and was posted to 615 Squadron at Prestwick on 3rd September 1940. He moved to 607 Squadron at Tangmere on the 21st.He was shot down in combat with Me110's over the Isle of Wight on 1st October and killed.

  Brumby was 22. He is buried in Hull Northern Cemetery, Yorkshire.

  During the Battle of Britain 103 Sqn were operating from Newton, Notts re-equipping after their return from France and training for the expected invasion. In the late July they flew night ops against oil storage facility at Rotterdam and airfields at Schipol and Evere. In September the Squadron also flew over 40 sorties attacking invasion barges in the French Channel ports for the loss of one crew.

  In October the Squadron started to convert to Wellingtons and flew there first operation with this type in late December 1940 against shipping and barges at Ostend and oil storage tanks at Rotterdam. David Fell - Brumby item courtesy of Battle of Britain Memorial Website.

  W/C Denis Holcombe Carey361 Carey

   This officer had a most interesting and varied career. Joining the Royal Naval Air Service in 1917 he served in WW1 as a pilot. In 1918 he was as an RNAS/RAF test pilot. Transferred to RAF. In 1923 he attended No 1 School of Technical Training at Wendover. Promoted F/L in 1926 and posted "Coastal Area" as Qualified Armament Officer. 1928 - Dpt of the Air Member for Personnel, Directorate of Training. 1929 - Iraq as Command Armament Officer.

   1930 - 99 Sq, 1932 - Home Aircraft Depot, Henlow, Armament Duties, 1934 - 142 Bomber Sq, Netheravon, 1935 - RAF Balloon Centre, Rollestone Camp.

   1936 promoted Squadron Leader and was made CO of 103 Sqn on their reformation. Based at Usworth near Sunderland the Squadron flew Hawker Hinds. 103 greatly enjoyed their time in the North East where they were made very welcome. On their arrival the Newcastle paper referred to them as the "Defenders of the Tyne." The airmen liked the area with its friendly people, pretty girls and good beer. A happy combination. Several air displays were organised by the Squadron which were very popular and well attended. 103 were referred to in the local newspaper reports as "Carey's Flying Circus."

   It was Carey who suggested the swan as a crest for 103 Sqn. He wanted a white swan with the motto Sine Macula - Without Spot Or Stain. He was told white was not suitable as it would not show up well and was offered a black swan and the motto Noli Me Tangere - Touch Me Not. This was agreed.

   In Feb 38 he left 103 to be replaced by S/L Millen.

   His record after this time is not clear. He was certainly promoted Wing Commander and is shown as Active General Duties. He retired in 1943, I suspect through ill health. He died in 1956. David Fell

Sgt J A McCudden.

401 103 Sq  Dickens, McCudden and officers at Rheges1

Pictured above is Sgt Joseph Anthony McCudden RAF in early June 1940 at Rheges, France on his award of the French Croix de Guerre. He is being congratulated by Wing Commander Dickens OC 103 Sqn with A Flight Commander, Tony Ingram, looking on. The award was one of three allocated to 103 Sqn by the French. The recipients were drawn by lot. One pilot - Roy Max, an Observer -Sgt McCudden and a WOp/AG -Corporal Madkins.

   Sgt McCudden had been a pre war airman with the RAF. He survived the war and retired voluntarily in 1948 with the rank of Sqn Ldr. I understand Joseph A McCudden was  a nephew of the famous WW1 fighter ace, Major James Thomas Byford McCudden VC, DSO & Bar, MC & Bar, MM. David Fell

   AM Sir Sidney Weetman Rochford Hughes KCB CBE AFC103 Squadron Rochford Hughes

   Sidney, a New Zealander ( pictured right ), was a pilot with 103 Sqn from the 15th June 1938 to the 11th Feb 1939 flying both Hawker Hinds and Fairey Battles. He then served with 230 Sqn flying Sunderland flying boats in the Middle East and was awarded a Greek Air Cross for his work during the evacuation. Later, after being shot down, he was taken prisoner in 1941 by a group of Italian soldiers near Benghazi  He subsequently turned the tables and took 130 Italians prisoner himself. He was also awarded an OBE for another incident in 1941. See citation below.

     He became Officer Commanding No. 511 Squadron in September 1945.

   Post War Sidney rose to C in C Far East Air Force in 1966 and eventually retired to his native New Zealand. David Fell

   Citation for the award of the OBE

   Squadron Leader Sidney Weetman Rochford Hughes (40784).

   One night in December, 1941, this officer was flying a Sunderland aircraft in the Mediterranean area, when it was attacked by 2 enemy fighters.  One of the attackers was probably destroyed but Squadron Leader Hughes' aircraft sustained damage to the aileron control, and two engines were put out of action.  The aircraft lost height rapidly but, with great skill, this officer succeeded in turning it into the wind and finally, descended safely on the water.  Heavy seas were running but, although one wing tip float was smashed, he managed to steer the aircraft on to a nearby reef in such a way that the crew were able to escape from the aircraft into much calmer water.  Observing one of his comrades, who had been swept from the main plane into the sea, in an exhausted condition and in difficulties, Squadron Leader Hughes immediately dived into the water and brought his comrade to safety after swimming some 30-yards through the heavy seas.  His action  undoubtedly saved the life of his comrade.  Throughout, this officer displayed exceptional courage and leadership.  (London Gazette – 14 May 1942)

   Denis William Mahon MRCS LRCP .103 Squadron Mahon

   Denis was 103 Sqn Medical Officer in the early part of the war. He served with the Squadron in France and on return to the UK.

   Whilst with 103 Sqn he had been taught to fly but was sadly killed in a Miles Magister ( T9675 ? ) which crashed around the 8/9th June 1941. He was the sole occupant of the aircraft.

   He may have died a day or two after the crash. This loss was keenly felt by the Squadron as Denis was a very popular and well respected officer.

   Denis is buried at Harpenden Westfield Cemetery David Fell



   John Coverdale.103 Squadron Coverdale

   John was OC 103 Squadron for a short period from August 1938 to January 1939. On the 6th Aug 38, on return from a low level bombing exercise, John’s Fairey Battle aircraft was in collision with another Battle flown by Arthur Vipan. Both aircraft landed safely nearby but Sgt Williams, the observer in John’s crew, was killed.

   His aircraft was very seriously damaged and it is quite amazing it held together and he was able to get it down in one piece. I believe the reason for the collision was air turbulence from a nearby power station.

   John later became OC 431 Sqn and was killed 21/22 June 1943 in a raid on Krefeld. He has no known grave. David Fell




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