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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. J W C Squier


John William Copous Squier was born on 18th March 1920 at Chelmsford. Considered to be a delicate child by his parents, he was educated by private tutor. To prove them wrong he drove a tractor on a nearby farm and worked in the local garage.

He joined the RAFVR at Southend on 19th April 1939 as an Airman u/t Pilot. Squier carried out his weekend flying at 34 E&RFTS Rochford. Called up at the outbreak of war, he was posted to 4 ITW Bexhill on 30th October 1939.

Squier went to 10 FTS Ternhill for No. 17 Course, which began on 9th December. He fell ill and was transferred to No. 18 Course, which ended on 29th June 1940.



He arrived at 5 OTU Aston Down on 6th July and after converting to Spitfires joined 64 Squadron at Kenley on the 28th.

Squier made a forced-landing at Great Cauldham, Capel-le-Ferne on 8th August, possibly the victim of a surprise attack by Hptm. Trautloft of III/JG51. He was admitted to Canterbury Hosptial with injuries including a fractured right arm and jaw, as well as shock. Transferred to Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, Squier underwent plastic surgery there, becoming a Guinea Pig.

He was discharged from hospital on 14th November 1940 and rejoined 64 Squadron, then at Hornchurch. Squier was posted to 72 Squadron at Coltishall on the 22nd, joined 603 Squadron at Drem on 20th December and moved to 141 Squadron at Gravesend on the 30th.

Squier left 141 on 27th February 1941 to become a test pilot. He was serving at 5 MU Kemble until 3rd April 1941 at 33 OTU Lyneham until 20th March 1942 and at 48 MU Hawarden until 12th May 1943. Whilst there he was commissioned from Warrant Officer in June 1942.

Squier was at 51 MU Lichfield from 12th August 1945 until 30th August 1946, when he was released from the RAF as a Flight Lieutenant.

On 1st September 1946 Squier became a test pilot with English Electric and later BAC.

On 1st October 1959 he took off in the prototype two-seat version of the supersonic Lightning from Warton in Lancashire.

Flying eight miles up he was in radio contact with ground control and was being tracked on radar when the operator saw the blip of his aircraft disappear from his screen 15 miles off Bees Head, Cumberland - a sailor saw an aircraft crash into the Irish Sea at the same time.



A full-scale air and sea search was launched, but this was hampered by low cloud, very poor visibility and a 20ft swell. Squier had been flying at more than 1,000 mph when the aircraft suffered structural failure, and he was forced to abandon the Lightning; using the Martin Baker ejector seat, he was the first British pilot to eject at more than the speed of sound. He landed in the sea and scrambled aboard his dinghy to await rescue. But the widespread search, hampered by the bad weather, failed to find him, and as night fell the air search was called off until first light. This also proved fruitless, and it was feared that he had not survived.

Squier's dinghy had drifted north and, after 30 hours, it came ashore near Garlieston, Wigtownshire. He was seen stumbling from the craft by the housekeeper of Galloway School, who immediately sought medical assistance. He was transferred to a hospital in Stranraer suffering from exposure and a compression fracture of the spine; but considering his amazing ordeal, which resulted in a slight deafness and bloodshot eyes, his injuries were not extensive.

He was intensively interviewed by the RAF's aviation medicine doctors.

The Daily Telegraph commented that 'his endurance after such an ordeal, during the long period of drifting in the water, was quite phenomenal. There is hope for mankind so long as it contains such men'.

It took Squier months to recover fully, but by the following May he was cleared to fly again and he resumed his post as chief production test pilot.

He specialised in cockpit escape systems, following his own escape he worked closely with James Martin, whose ejector seat had saved his life, and they established a close working relationship that lasted many years. He worked on the design of escape systems for the TSR2. He also worked on the Anglo-French Jaguar fighter-bomber.

Squier stopped test flying on 31st December 1966 and retired from BAC and British Aerospace on 31st December 1983. He was awarded the Queens Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air in 1965.

Squier died on 30th January 2006.


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