The Airmen's Stories - P/O H R Case
Herbert Robert Case was born on 9th July 1916 and grew up as part of a large and close knit farming family at Withycombe on the edge of Exmoor. He attended Minehead Grammar School.
His passion as a teenager was all things mechanical, especially motor cycles and he did not want to become a farmer.
On leaving school he gained an apprenticeship with Metropolitan-Vickers, Old Trafford and moved to Manchester. He lived in digs in Thirlmere Avenue, Stretford, Lancashire and completed a four year apprenticeship with the company and became an electrical engineer.
He enlisted in the class 'F' Reserve as an Airman u/t Pilot in about June 1936. He was called to full-time service on 1st September 1939 and completed his flying training at 2 FTS Brize Norton, on No. 47 Course, which ran from 28th April to 3rd August 1940.
Case was commissioned and he went to 7 OTU Hawarden on 10th August and after converting to Spitfires he joined 64 Squadron at Leconfield on the 28th.
He flew his first operational sortie on 3rd
He moved to 72 Squadron at Biggin Hill about 15th September. Case was killed on 12th October when he fell out of formation and crashed in a field off Winehouse Lane at Capel-le-Ferne, near Folkestone, in Spitfire P9338.
The late Air Vice Marshal Bobby Deacon-Elliott, who was also with 72 Squadron, remembered Case as 'A young man keen to get to grips with the enemy'.
Case formed a close friendship with P/O Hugh Reilley, a Canadian who flew with 64 and 66 Squadrons. At some point in the Battle they were on leave together and came to Withycombe. One of Case’s sisters remembered that she learned that her brother was home was when she walked through the front door of the farmhouse and saw two RAF officers’ caps on the hat stand.
On the day after Case's death, P/O Hugh Farmer, the intelligence officer of 72 Squadron, wrote to Case’s mother stating that “It has not been possible to find out exactly what happened. The aircraft crashed near Folkestone and your son was killed instantly. None of our squadron was with him at the time because the squadron had had to break up to avoid colliding with another squadron fighting in front.”
However, an Army officer’s wife wrote to Mrs. Case saying that she had witnessed his aircraft being attacked by Me109s immediately before he crashed. Other witnesses gave similar accounts. Soldiers of The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) guarded Case's body until it was collected by the RAF.
The Army officer’s wife wrote, “Everybody was terribly upset when the Spitfire was shot down. I have seldom seen my husband so affected, but he assured me that the boy must have been killed in the air, before he crashed. I thought this knowledge might be of some small comfort to you in your tragic sorrow and pride, in the astonishing courage of these sons whose deeds fill the world with admiration. Forgive me for intruding, this is not meant like that, and requires no answer.”
P/O Farmer also wrote in his letter that “Everyone on the squadron took to him [Case] from the moment he arrived and liked his quiet unassuming manner. He was highly thought of as a good pilot and we shall feel his loss in every way very much." Farmer himself had liked Case and “admired his quiet courage”.
There was a PS: “This is written in haste as the squadron is moving ……. and I’m afraid that none of us may be able to attend the funeral as we should have wished.”
Herbert Case is buried in the churchyard of St Nicholas at Withycombe, amongst other members of his family and close to the family home.
The Case family still farms at Withycombe though Anthony Case, nephew of Herbert, passed away in January 2022.
Additional research by Geoff Simpson and David Brocklehurst.
(Above) - the war memorial inside St.Nicholas Church