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The Airmen's Stories - P/O H M Stephen

Harbourne Mackay Stephen was born in Elgin, Scotland on 18th April 1916 and educated at Shrewsbury. His first job was copy boy with Allied Newspapers and later he moved to the advertisement staff of the Evening Standard.

Stephen joined the RAFVR in April 1937 as an Airman u/t Pilot and learned to fly at 13 E&RFTS White Waltham. Having achieved the required standard and number of flying hours, Stephen was offered the chance to train with the regular RAF for six months and was given six months leave of absence from his job.



He began training at 11 Group Fighter Pool at St. Athan in early September 1939 and after converting to Hurricanes was posted to 605 Squadron at Tangmere on the 20th, as a Sergeant-Pilot. On 28th March 1940 Stephen was flying in Yellow Section when a He111 was sighted, 605’s first encounter with the Luftwaffe. The section leader damaged the bomber and 43 Squadron later shot it down.

Commissioned in April, Stephen was posted to 74 Squadron at Hornchurch on the 7th and joined it on the 10th. Over Dunkirk on 24th May he shared in destroying a Hs126 and a Do17, on the 26th shared another Hs126 and on the 27th destroyed a Me109 and shared a Do17.

On 28th July Stephen damaged a Me109, on 11th August he destroyed a Me109, probably destroyed two Me109s and two Me110s and damaged a Me109 and a Me110, on the 13th he probably destroyed a Do17, on 11th September destroyed a Ju88 and damaged a Me109, on 1st October damaged a He111 and on the 5th shared a Do17.

Stephen claimed a Me109 destroyed and probably another on 20th October, a Me109 destroyed on the 27th, three Ju87s destroyed on 14th November, a Me109 damaged on the 15th, two Me109s shared on the 17th and 30th, a Me109 probably destroyed on 2nd December and two Me109s destroyed and another shared on the 5th.

He was awarded the DFC (gazetted 27th August 1940), a Bar to the DFC (gazetted 15th November 1940) and the DSO (gazetted 24th December 1940).



On 30th November 1940 Stephen and F/Lt. JC Mungo-Park (above) shared the shooting down of the 600th German plane credited to RAF Biggin Hill. The combat occurred at 34,000 ft. which was at that time a record altitude for air combat.

On 11th January 1941 Stephen was posted away to 59 OTU Turnhouse as CFI, but this was altered to secondment to the RAE Farnborough.

In June 1941 Stephen was posted to Portreath, to help form 130 Squadron. He took command of 234 Squadron at Warmwell in late July. On 12th August Stephen damaged a Ju88 and on 15th October he shared in the destruction of a Me109. He led 234 until early 1942, when he was posted to the Far East.

Stephen became a member of the Caterpillar Club on 25th April 1942, when he baled out of an aircraft, which caught fire at 4000 feet. He landed safely at Karapara, twelve miles NE of Barapore, near Calcutta. He was Wing Leader at Dum Dum and then Jessore, he later commanded 166 Fighter Wing, went to HQ 224 Group, Fighter Ops and then to Air Command South East Asia, as Ops A.

He was released from the RAF in 1945 as a Wing Commander. He returned to newspapers, becoming General Manager of the Sunday Express in 1958, General Manager of the Sunday Graphic in 1960 and Managing Director of the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph in 1963. Stephen commanded 602 Squadron RAuxAF from 1950 to 1952. Stephen was made a CBE in 1985.

Among Stephens's special interests were travel and exploration. To encourage young people in these areas he arranged for The Daily Telegraph to back the 1968 Blue Nile Expedition, as a result of which he teamed up with the explorer Colonel John Blashford-Snell to organise further expeditions.

He died on 22nd August 2001.

His portrait was made by Eric Kennington (below) and Cuthbert Orde.



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