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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. G H Spencer

 

Gordon Hamilton Spencer was born on 28th September 1917, the son of an army bandmaster, and educated at Aldershot County High School and Colchester Grammar School.

He joined the RAF in January 1933 as an Aircraft Apprentice and passed out in December 1935 as an Aircraft Fitter.

 

 

He later applied for pilot training and was posted as a Sergeant Pilot to 7 E&RFTS Desford in December 1937.

He continued his training at 5 FTS Sealand until September 1938, after which he joined 87 Squadron at Debden for 6 months. In March 1939 he was posted to 2 Ferry Pool at Filton. By the end of this relatively short time he had flown 19 different aircraft types including twin engine Oxfords and Ansons.

In September 1939 he was posted to 46 Squadron at Digby but after a short time moved to 504 Squadron, which moved to Debden the following month.

 

Above: Spencer is second from left, with bottle and tin helmet, in a spoof poker game at 504 Squadron. Photo taken by Ray Holmes.

 

Following the German onslaught on 10th May, 504 was mobilised for service with the BEF and arrived at Lille-Marcq on the evening of 12th May. By 20th May it had been forced to retreat westwards to Norrent-Fontes. Within days the squadron had been withdrawn through Manston and Debden to Wick (Castletown) in Scotland to protect Scapa Flow. However as the squadron only had four serviceable Hurricanes in France the majority of personnel, including Spencer, were evacuated by boat from Boulogne.

Many of the squadron's records and Spencer's logbook were lost in the chaos but there is a note saying he claimed a probable Me109 on the 15th May over Gembloux.

 

Above: probably taken at Castletown 1940.

F/O JR Hardacre

Sgt. GH Spencer......Sgt. HDB Jones......F/O KV Wendel......F/O W Barnes

F/Lt. WB Royce......F/lt. AH Rook

 

504 Squadron was ordered south on 1st September to Hendon, they staged through Catterick and were not operational till the 6th.

The following day they were in action. During a fierce engagement over the Thames Estuary F/O KV Wendel was shot down in flames, he came down near Faversham and succumbed to severe burns the same day.

Spencer and Wendel were close friends. Postwar Spencer, who rarely spoke of the war, mentioned this incident to his family and was clearly upset. He flew a further patrol on the 7th but did not fly again till 21st October. It seems highly likely that he was diagnosed with shock and sent on leave or served non-operationally on the squadron.

He left 504 Squadron in late October 1940 for assessment and subsequently trained as a flying instructor at CFS Upavon. Then, from November 1940 until May 1942, he was stationed at 14 EFTS Elmdon instructing new pilots in Tiger Moths.

Spencer was promoted to Warrant Officer in early 1942 and instructed between May 1942 and July 1943 at No. 1 BAS (Blind Approach School) Watchfield, operating Oxfords.

In August 1943 he began conversion training on Mosquitos and subsequently joined 23 Squadron in December 1943, just as the Squadron was moving to Alghero, Sardinia.

Here he and his navigator, F/Sgt. Kingdom, undertook intruder missions as far as Toulouse in France and ground attack missions in northern Italy. His logbook lists numerous successful bombing and strafing sorties of road, rail and other strategic targets in Italy. He was commissioned in June 1944.

23 Squadron returned to the UK in June 1944 and continued operating intruder patrols from Little Snoring to locations in northern Europe.

515 Squadron was also based at Little Snoring and on 27th August 1944 the Mosquito of F/Lt. Peter Higgins of 515 was reported to have ditched in flames. Spencer located the burning wreckage at night and made six low runs over the area, using his landing light beam to seek out the dinghy of Higgins and his navigator.

He was successful and reported their position, they were rescued by ASR the following day.

Still in Mosquitos, Spencer served in Cairo, Aden, and Khartoum before being promoted to F/Lt. in May 1946.

He was released from the RAF in 1947 having accumulated some 3,000 flying hours.

He then joined BOAC and after a year was seconded, in late 1948, to West African Airlines Corporation, a secondment which lasted for 10 years, during which time he married for a second time, his first wartime marriage with one daughter had not endured.

He became Fleet Captain of the airline in the late 1950s and enjoyed duties such as flying the Royal Household for the Queen's tour of Nigeria in 1956 and the Princess Royal around Nigeria in a DH Heron on her 1957 tour. He had a daughter and son with his second wife, but they divorced in 1961 and he remarried for the third time a short while later.

He subsequently flew airliners, including DC3s, Argonauts and Britannias, for other companies in Europe including Overseas Airways, Condor Flugdienst, Channel Airways and British Eagle until the late 1960s when he was forced to give up flying for medical reasons.

Spencer was an accomplished multi-instrument musician, conductor and arranger. He played saxophone in dance bands in the 1940s and 50s, directed the orchestra for Gilbert & Sullivan shows in the 50s and 60s, and played the flute and violin in bands and orchestras whenever he had the opportunity.

With the end of his flying career, he moved with his third wife and their daughter to East London, South Africa where he tried out a range of jobs from estate agent to quality controller but ultimately settled down as a music teacher in primary schools.

He was still working happily as a teacher in East London, much loved and appreciated by his pupils and fellow staff, when he died suddenly of a heart attack on 1st July 1986.

 

Majority of research courtesy of Richard Spencer (son).

 

 

 

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