The Airmen's Stories - P/O G L J Doutrepont
Georges Louis Joseph Doutrepont was serving with the 2nd Regiment of the Belgian Air Force in 1940 when the Germans invaded. With many of their aircraft destroyed on the ground the regiment was forced to retreat through Belgium to France where they fought from French Air Force airfields.
Records show that between the 15th May and 20th June 1940 the 2nd Regiment set up base at St Omer, Dreux, Tours, Montpellier and eventually Carnon on the Mediterranean coast. They were instructed to remain there when the French/German armistice was signed but Doutrepont and his colleagues Capitaine A Van Den Hove d'Ertsenrijck, Sous Lt. R de Grunne, Sous Lt. Ortmans, Sous Lt. Wilmet, Adjutant E Seghers and Adjutant Le Roy du Vivier made their way to Port Vendres, a distance of 250km and only 25km from the Spanish border.
With the help of a British destroyer and the support of the Belgian Embassy they boarded the steamship ‘Apapa’ on the 23rd June. Three days later they were in the relative safety of Gibraltar but went on to Liverpool, docking on the 7th July 1940.
Within two weeks Doutrepont was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in the RAF and immediately posted to No 7 Operational Training Unit at Hawarden near Chester. His training completed, Doutrepont joined 229 Squadron, which was itself reforming after its retreat from France and Dunkirk. Shortly after S/Ldr. Banham took command on 6th September the Squadron moved to RAF Northolt to replace No 1 Squadron. The first flight in anger took place on 11th September when Doutrepont claimed a Do17, a Me110 and took a third share of a Heinkel 111 of the four enemy aircraft the Squadron is recorded as having downed that day.
Doutrepont’s combat report reads as follows :
I was No 3 of Blue Section and we attacked enemy formation (30 He111’s; 25 Me110’s protected by 50 Me109’s) at 20,000ft in line astern. I made a beam attack on starboard side with one-second burst full deflection about 2 lengths ahead. I then found myself behind blue 2, and saw a Me110 between him and Blue 1 attacking the latter. Blue 2 fired and broke away, then I put in a one burst of one second, but E/A did not return fire. I thought there was an Me on my tail and broke off, and found it was a Hurricane. We both dived down and noticed an aircraft on the ground with a line of incendiary bombs in a field. Having lost sight of enemy bombers I went east climbing to 10,000 feet. I then saw a Do215 at 600 ft pursued by several Hurricanes. I dived in with a deflection shot at 200 yards. The Dornier’s port engine was already smoking, and three men jumped with parachutes. As E/A still continued flying, I put in one-second burst at 50 yards, and it went into a spin and crashed. I then formed up with Hurricane Green 3 and climbed with him going NW. I next saw an He111 in a 30º dive from the sun 600 yards away. I turned quickly to starboard and fired a five-second burst at 300 yards still diving. E/A increased speed and gained on me. I went after him at full speed, opening fire again at 200 yards closing to 50 yards for two seconds from dead astern. Enemy, still diving tried to weave about, white smoke came from the port engine. On breaking away I was surprised to see another Hurricane attacking from behind and later another Hurricane and a Spitfire. Height was then 1000ft. I made a full deflection shot at 200yards to less than 50 yards, and only 300ft altitude. Ammunition was exhausted, so I broke off and saw E/A crash in field. Three men got out and then one wounded. Returned to base with Green 3
Three quieter days followed and then on the 15th September 229 was scrambled at around 11.15am in company with 303 (Polish) Squadron led by F/Lt. Johnny Kent. South of Croydon a large enemy formation was seen but a co-ordinated attack was spoiled by Radio Transmission (RT) problems. In scattered fighting P/O Doutrepont’s Flight became involved with an equal number of Me109’s of JG52. Lt Hans Bertel recorded that a Hurricane collided with his tailplane, after he had baled out he saw it spinning down through the clouds.
The Squadron Commander’s report reads as follows:
On 15/9/40 No 229 Squadron engaged some 25 Me109’s at 23,000ft. near Maidstone. Doutrepont was No 2 in the last section, flying line astern when they attacked one group of Me109’s flying higher than the rest to prevent them diving on the Squadron below. The section leader opened fire on a Me109, which pulled up in a spurt of white smoke. Doutrepont followed. The section leader was hit and had to bale out. Ground witnesses saw Doutrepont’s aircraft come down steeply with engine full on, and hit the railway station at Staplehurst in Kent. The station and aircraft were completely demolished and Doutrepont killed. It is thought that he was dead before the crash.
On the ground near Staplehurst railway station Police Constable Bill Albion was aware of the sound of battle above the clouds. He heard then saw this Hurricane burst through the clouds and hit the ground at a shallow angle. The Hurricane disintegrated in spectacular fashion. Pieces of the Hurricane bounced over the railway line whilst other debris smashed into the station buildings before the fuselage came to rest, itself on the far side of the track. Georges Doutrepont was dead, his body still inside the remains of the cockpit.
Outside the station, wreckage had smashed into the general store, part of the petrol tank just missing the owner Mrs Margaret Nolan; a young man managed to remove a burning undercarriage wheel before it could set fire to the place. This tragedy was compounded by the death of another young man - 18-year-old ticket clerk Charles Ashdown was on duty when the plane hit the station and he was killed by the impact.
Lt Bertel’s Messerschmitt crashed just outside Staplehurst and when he came to ground under his parachute the local Home Guard immediately captured him.
27 year old Georges Doutrepont was buried at an RAF plot at Northwood, Middlesex (above) but on the 20th October 1949 his remains were exhumed to be reinterred with full Military Honours at the Pelouse d’Honneur Cemetry in Brussels at Evere. He was posthumously awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre (1940) with three palms in bronze. He was also made a ‘Chevalier de l’ordre de Léopold’ with palm. The citation reads “Tombé en brave pour la défense des foyers et l’honnuer du peuple belge”.
One of his colleagues on the long march through France, Capitaine A Van Den Hove d'Ertsenrijck, was also killed on this day, flying from RAF Kenley with 501 Squadron.
Photos and additional research courtesy of Andre Bar at www.bamfbamrs.be/RAF/index.htm
63 years later to the day, on Monday 15th September 2003, the loss of Georges Doutrepont and Charles Ashdown was commemorated by the unveiling of a plaque in Staplehurst railway station.
His son Eric Doutrepont, who was just one when his father died, came to Kent for the service and was asked to unveil the plaque.
I'm proud and moved. I didn't know my father because I was just one year old, but my mother has some memories and some letters. She cannot come because she is ill but she asked me to tell her how it is here.
It was by chance that 18-year-old ticket clerk Charles Ashdown was at work when the plane hit the station. His colleague at the time, Jack Wood, was also at the service and said they had tossed a coin to decide who was working that day as it meant cycling to the station before the first trains ran.
He explained: "I said to Charlie 'there's only one thing to do - there's no trains to get us here, we'll have to toss a coin'.
"'Yeah, fair enough, Jack' he said, so we tossed a coin and I won the toss.
"It's unbelievable and I still can't believe to this day that I'm still here because of a toss of a coin."
The service was addressed by Colonel DeCock, the Belgian Air Attache, who travelled from London and two F-16’s from the Belgian Air Force performed a fly-past during the ceremony.
(Above) - the nearby grave of Charles Ashdown
(Above) Eric Doutrepont (left) with Col. DeCock before the service and (below) the F-16's fly over
(Above) Edward Sergison, the tribute organiser, presents a memento to the Doutrepont family.