The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. J Dygryn
Josef Dygrýn was born on 6th March 1918 in Prague and after schooling started a apprenticeship as a mechanic. During this time he developed an interest in aviation which led him to volunteer for the Czechoslovak Air Force which led to him attending the Czechoslovak Air Force VLU training base, at Prostejov, between 1937 to 1938.
Following the annexation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 Dygryn escaped on foot from Czechoslovakia into Poland. There he spent a short time at Krakow before moving onto a camp at Malý Bronowice. On 29th July 1939 he boarded the ‘Castelholm’ and sailed to France. There he joined the French Air Force and flew operationally with the operational flying school CIC/6 at Chartres but following the French capitulation he escaped to England via the bases of Avord and Chartres.
In England he joined the RAF, with the rank of Sergeant, and was sent on a Hurricane conversion course at 6 OTU based at Sutton Bridge. On 14th October 1940 he was posted initially to 85 Squadron, based at Church Fenton, and 14 days later to 1 Squadron at Wittering. However it became apparent that he needed further training to bring his flying skills up to the required standard.
On 29th October 1940 he wrote off Hurricane N2433 when trying to land without flaps and on 13th November he wrote off Hurricane P5187 again whilst attempting to land. Following these accidents he was sent for further training at the Central Flying School RAF Upavon.
He remained with 1 Squadron until September 1941 during which time he showed himself to be a very effective night fighter. On the night of 10th/11th May 1941 he undertook 3 sorties in Hurricane IIa Z2687 from RAF Redhill. He first took off at 00:15 and was patrolling over London when he saw a He111 which he shot down at 00:35.
He returned to Redhill at 00:58 and after being refuelled and re-armed he was back in the air at 01:35 and he shot down a second He111 near Gatwick at 01:50 which crashed at Gore Farm, Gillingham, Kent.
Later that night he encountered a Ju88 north east of Biggin Hill. He attacked at 03:25 and, at times firing from a range of 25 yards, followed the Ju88 as it descended on fire finally crashing into the sea off Hastings.
Dygryn returned to base for more fuel and ammunition but was refused permission for a fourth sortie that night. For a pilot whose flying skills some had doubted only a few weeks before, this was a remarkable achievement.
On 16th May 1941 he destroyed a Me109 above Dungeness and on the 21st damaged another in the same area. On 18th June he shared in the shooting down of a He59 floatplane. The following day, while escorting Blenheim bombers on a raid to Béthune, he shot down another Me109 which crashed into the sea near Boulogne.
In late May 1941 he was awarded the Czech Military Cross and Medal for Gallantry. His service with 1 Squadron came to an end on 23rd September 1941 when he was posted to 310 Czechoslovak Squadron at Dyce. The squadron was undergoing conversion from Hurricanes to Spitfires and making up combat losses.
Dygryn was awarded the DFM (gazetted 13th February 1942).
310 Squadron transferred on 15th December 1941 to Perranporth, Cornwall with Dygryn being promoted to Warrant Officer.
He remained with 310 until 20th May 1942 when his posting back to 1 Squadron was initiated by Karel Kuttlewascher DFC. He recommended Dygryn for the squadron's new role, operating night intruder operations over France from Tangmere using Hurricane IIc’s.
On the night of 3rd-4th June 1942 seven aircraft were sent off at intervals to attack the German airfields at St. André d’Eure, Evreux and Chartres-Fauville. Three aircraft had Czechoslovak pilots – Karel Kuttlewascher, Otto Pavlu and Josef Dygryn. Dygryn was flying Hurricane IIc Z3183 and his orders were to patrol in the vicinity of Chartres-Fauville. He did not return from this patrol and the exact reason is unknown. Kuttlewascher reported on his return flight that there had been fierce flak activity seen around the port of Le Havre. It is presumed that Dygryn may have been a victim of this.
Three months later the body of a unknown RAF pilot was washed ashore on a mined beach near Worthing, Sussex. The body was badly decomposed and carried no identification other than RAF wings and 3 medal ribbons. However attached to it was a revolver which had the names of ‘Doris’, ‘Noel’ and ‘Paddy’ engraved on the grip.
His squadron colleagues recognised the revolver as Dygryn had spent a considerable time engraving the names. In September 1941 Dygryn had married Doris Gwen Emily Reeves who was a 20-year-old nurse at Hothfield Hospital. Some 5 months latter she died suddenly at Lenham Sanitorium, possibly from TB, and was buried in a small graveyard at Westwell in Kent.
Her death caused Dygryn to become very morose and introverted and he spent most of his free time engraving the revolver which he had bought a year before from someone in a pub. The seller claimed to have carried it when serving in the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War. ‘Doris’ was his wife's Christian name, ‘Paddy’ a nickname that she was known by and it is believed that ‘Noel’ was their dog.
Dygryn was buried at Westwell Burial Ground on 14th September 1942.
(Additional research courtesy of Free Czechoslovak Air Force blog)