The Airmen's Stories - F/O T C Parker
Thomas Campbell 'John' Parker was born in Southampton on 1st September 1915 and was educated at Bromley County School, Kent. On leaving school, Parker worked in his father's business while studying part-time for an Hons. Physics degree. In time, however, he found that he was dissatisfied with both pursuits and decided to learn to fly.
Parker therefore applied for a short service commission in the Royal Air Force, but was offered a commission in the Reserve of Air Force Officers instead and decided accept it. He began his training at 3 Elementary & Reserve Flying Training School, Hamble, on 23rd September 1937 and on completion of this course travelled to No.1 RAF Depot, Uxbridge, on 24th November. There Parker was commissioned 70812 Acting P/O on probation with effect from 24th November. He then travelled to Montrose on 11th December with the other trainees destined for No.8 Course at 8 Flying Training School. There, he soon became known as 'Parker the Marker' because, owing to his exceptional height, he was used as the pivotal point when the course was on parade. Parker resumed his flying training with 'B' Flight of the Intermediate Training Squadron, and in April 1938 transferred to 'D' Flight of the Advanced Training Squadron for the remainder of the course.
At the end of No.8 Course on 9th July 1938, Parker was posted to No.29 (F) Squadron commanded by S/Ldr. RC Jonas and equipped with the Hawker Demon (Turret) fighter. 29 Squadron was based at Debden, a newly constructed permanent station two miles south-east of Saffron Walden in Essex. The aerodrome was also occupied by 85 and 87 Squadrons, both equipped with Gloster Gladiators. 87 Squadron, however, was just beginning to convert to Hawker Hurricanes, while 85 received its first Hurricane on 4th September. In the meantime, 29 Squadron was still operating its Demon biplanes with a crew of pilot and gunner when Parker reached the end of his year of RAFO service, and went onto the Reserve with the rank of P/O on 23rd September.
While on the Reserve, Parker underwent a short refresher course flying Harts. Then, early in 1939, Parker joined 79 Squadron operating Hurricanes at Biggin Hill, making his first flight on 16th February. Parker was granted a short service RAF commission on 1st September 1939. On 2nd September 3 Squadron moved from Biggin Hill to Croydon Airport, while 601 Squadron replaced them with their Bristol Blenheim Mk If’s. On the following day war was declared against Germany. 79 Squadron suffered its first casualty on 11th September when a Hurricane flown by F/lt. RW Reynolds crashed in a wood near Biggin Hill after a night exercise, killing the pilot.
'H' Flight of 1 AACU left Biggin Hill on 20th September, leaving the station clear for the three fighter squadrons. Initially the pilots and groundcrews were accommodated in tents at dispersal, wooden huts, offices and crew rooms being completed during October. 79 Squadron was frequently scrambled to investigate unidentified aircraft but none proved to be enemy aircraft. Otherwise, the Squadron was mainly occupied with convoy patrols around the Kent coast.
On 12th November 79 Squadron moved to Manston, a permanent station three miles north-west of Ramsgate on the east coast of Kent. Two recently formed fighter squadrons - 235 and 253 - were based at Manston but as yet neither had any aircraft. At about 1030 hours on the morning of 21st November Yellow Section of 79 Squadron was ordered off to patrol over Folkestone but only two pilots - F/O JWE Davies and F/Sgt. FS Brown - took off, the engine of the third having failed to start. Soon afterwards they intercepted a Do17, the first enemy aircraft encountered by 79 Squadron. After both pilots had attacked, the Dornier was last seen spinning and inverted as it disappeared into cloud over the English Channel off Deal and was confirmed as destroyed. Hurricanes of 79 Squadron escorted a destroyer across the Channel on 4th December as it carried the King on a visit to British forces in France and again provided cover six days later when the King returned to Dover. The other two squadrons at Manston now began to receive some Fairey Battles, while No.1 General Reconnaissance Unit was formed there on 15th December with a few Vickers Wellington Mk I (DWI). Fitted with a large electro-magnetic ring, these aircraft were designed to explode magnetic sea mines by flying over enemy minefields. On 27th December 600 Squadron also moved into Manston, equipped with Blenheim Mk. If’s and IVf’s, fitted with Airborne Interception (AI) to detect enemy aircraft at night.
253 Squadron moved out of Manston on 14th February 1940, while S/Ldr. McMullen was succeeded by S/Ldr. RV Alexander as CO of 79 Squadron. On 16th February F/O JJ Tralinton failed to return from a convoy patrol off Reculver, Kent, and no trace of him was found. On 27th February 235 Squadron also vacated Manston, and then 79 Squadron returned to Biggin Hill on 8th March, exchanging places with 32 Squadron, but this unit moved back to Biggin Hill on 27th March.
Early on 10th May German forces attacked France and the Low Countries, and at about 0730 hours 79 Squadron was ordered to move to France. The Hurricanes took off just before mid-day, crossed the Channel, and landed at Merville, about fifteen miles west of Lille and ten miles south of the Belgian border. The aerodrome had few facilities, and the pilots were billeted in the nearby village. Evening meals were to provided at the Hotel Sarafand, which was taken over as the mess. Later the groundcrews, stores and equipment arrived at Merville in Bombay and Ensign transport aircraft. During the mid-afternoon 3 Squadron's Hurricanes also arrived at Merville from England, and the two squadrons came under the control of 63 Wing, 14 Group, of the Air Component of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).
79 Squadron immediately began patrols over the BEF as it advanced into Belgium but without encountering any enemy aircraft. S/Ldr. Alexander had reported sick on arrival at Merville, so the Squadron was led in the air by the two flight commanders. Early on 11th May 79 Squadron began patrols at flight strength, in the course of which both F/Lt. R Edwards, 'A' Flight commander, and P/O LL Appleton were shot down by unseen aircraft but later returned.
From 12th May 79 Squadron operated from Norrent Fontes, to the west of Merville, as the BEF continued its advance into Belgium, and later that day Parker was 'weaver', guarding the rear of the Squadron when he was shot down by a Me109 and baled out, landing at St.Trond, in enemy-held territory. He was given some civilian clothes by some Belgians, who also lent him a bicycle and helped him to catch up with the last retreating Belgian troops. Eventually, he managed to return to 79 Squadron. F/lt. Edwards had also been shot down again and baled out wounded, while F/O Davies claimed a Heinkel He111 confirmed and another unconfirmed, and Sgt. A Whitby shared in the destruction of a Do17.
The following day was uneventful, but on 14th May a section of three Hurricanes led by P/O Appleton intercepted three Ju88’s. P/O DWA Stones and Sgt. H Cartwright shared in the destruction of one and then Cartwright shot down another but Appleton failed to return. Elsewhere, F/O Davies shot down a Hs126 and a Me110, both confirmed, while Sgt. Whitby claimed the unconfirmed destruction of a Do17. P/O JER Wood was shot down but returned later, while F/Lt. R Roberts, commanding 'B' Flight, was wounded. With both flight commanders out of action, 79 Squadron was now led in the air by the senior section leaders.
79 Squadron returned to Merville on 15th May, seeing no action that day, but on 16th May Parker and Sgt. Cartwright each shot down a Fw198 over the Wavre area, the destruction of both enemy aircraft being confirmed. Cartwright was himself then shot shot down, however, but forced-landed safely.
Early on the morning of 17th May six Hurricanes of 601 Squadron joined those of 79 and 3 Squadrons at Merville. Later, Sgt. Whitby claimed a Me109 unconfirmed and Sgt. Valentine had to force-land in his damaged aircraft, returning soon afterwards, but P/O Herrick disappeared without trace.
During 18th May F/O Davies destroyed a Do17, while on a lone sortie in the evening P/O Stones shot down one Me110 and damaged another then had to force-land his Hurricane, which had been hit, and returned to base by road. On 19th May P/O Stones shot down an Hs126 over Tournai. The 601 Squadron detachment returned to England but that evening 85 Squadron and 87 Squadron arrived at Merville with their remaining Hurricanes. On the following morning Parker, P/O Dorrien-Smith (a nephew of Lord Trenchard, the first Chief of the Air Staff) and Sgt. Whitby were sent individually to attack a German column of tanks and troops approaching Arras. Parker's Hurricane was hit and he forced-landed, unhurt, on Vimy Ridge. Having set fire to his aircraft, Parker made his way to Arras where he gave the Scots Guards their first warning that the enemy was close by. Parker returned to the Squadron by road a few hours later, where he learned that Dorrien-Smith had not come back. Further attacks had been made on the enemy column, and Parker found there was much anger among the other pilots at the futility of such operations.
In Parker's absence the aerodrome had been bombed as Hurricanes of 87 Squadron were taking off; although they escaped the bombs, one Hurricane was immediately shot down by escorting Me109’s. Sgt. Cartwright of 79 Squadron shot down a Do17 while Sgt. Whitby shared in the destruction of a Do17 and shot down another which was unconfirmed. P/O Stones destroyed another Hs126. French troops were now retreating past the aerodrome, and orders were given for all four squadrons at Merville to return to England with their flyable aircraft and destroy those which had to be abandoned.
Shortly before 1700 hours the main party left by road for Boulogne, leaving a small section to service the last of the Hurricanes. The fuel and ammunition dumps were set on fire, and then four transport aircraft arrived to carry the last of the pilots and groundcrews home.
S/Ldr. Alexander had now recovered sufficiently to lead the seven remaining Hurricanes of 79 Squadron back to England. Initially they landed at Northolt, to the west of London, but after a short wait they returned to Biggin Hill. The Squadron was then sent on forty-eight hours leave, and Parker set off to spend it with his parents in Bromley. That evening however he crashed his father's car and, in order to get away from his father's wrath, rang his friend P/O Stones who was spending his leave at his parents' home at Ipswich in Suffolk. Having arranged to spend the rest of his leave with Stones, Parker travelled up by train. That night they went on a pub-crawl, returned late and shot out the bedroom light with their revolvers before going to sleep. The next morning they caught the first train back to Biggin Hill, leaving two more irate parents.
The ground party was just arriving at Biggin Hill on 22nd May as the pilots returned from leave, having disembarked from the SS Biarritz at Dover. 32 Squadron was still stationed at Biggin Hill and two other units had also moved in - 242 (Canadian) Squadron with Hurricanes and 610 Squadron with Spitfires. All three squadrons were operating over the French coast, and later that day three Hurricanes of 79 Squadron joined up with eight from 605 Squadron, based at Hawkinge on the Kent coast, to patrol Abbeville-Doullens-Arras. One pilot of 605 Squadron was shot down by anti-aircraft fire, but the three pilots of 79 Squadron all returned safely.
S/Ldr. Alexander had now been posted away from 79 Squadron, and in the absence of a replacement F/O GDL Haysom took temporary command, as well as leading 'B' Flight, while F/O Davies now led 'A' Flight. Late in the morning of 25th May Hurricanes of 79, 17 and 605 Squadrons - a total of twenty-one - operated as a composite unit to cover Blenheims attacking Calais. The Hurricanes then turned to patrol Courtrai-Hazebrouck-Dunkirk. Although the other two squadrons became engaged against some enemy aircraft, the pilots of 79 Squadron saw no action.
Soon after 0430 hours on the following day 79 Squadron took off to rendezvous with 17 Squadron over Biggin Hill. Together they then flew across the Channel and south of Lille to drop message bags to ground forces there. Then, over Merville, they came under anti-aircraft fire but this was ineffective. The formation turned towards Calais and again came under anti-aircraft fire as they crossed the French coast. 17 Squadron was then attacked by some Me109’s but again 79 Squadron was not engaged.
A second patrol by the two squadrons was uneventful, and then they took off for a third patrol, arriving over Dunkirk at about 1030 hours in hazy visibility. With no sign of enemy activity, the Hurricanes patrolled until 1140 hours and then turned for the Kent coast. As they did so, 17 Squadron was attacked by some Me109’s and the formation broke up. 17 Squadron had one Hurricane shot down, the pilot baling out, but 79 Squadron was unscathed.
While these operations were taking place 32 Squadron was posted north for a rest, while on the following day, 27th May, 610 Squadron moved to Biggin Hill's satellite aerodrome at Gravesend. That evening 79 Squadron formed a composite formation of eighteen Hurricanes with 145 and 601 Squadrons from Tangmere which, together with Spitfires of 19 Squadron from Hornchurch, arrived over Dunkirk at 1900 hours. The Hurricanes ran into some Me110’s and 79 Squadron was able to claim some success, with F/O Davies claiming one confirmed destroyed and one damaged, P/O Stones one confirmed and one unconfirmed, Cartwright one unconfirmed.
Having landed at Biggin Hill, 79 Squadron then began a move to Digby, a permanent station ten miles south-east of Lincoln, in 12 Group. Two other Hurricane squadrons - 111 and 229 - were based there, as well as 611 Squadron with Spitfires. 79 Squadron began to receive fresh pilots and aircraft, and was virtually non-operational while it trained under the leadership of a new commanding officer, S/Ldr. JDC Joslin. Davies and Haysom were confirmed in their appointments as 'A' and 'B' Flight commanders respectively and promoted to Flight Lieutenant. 111 Squadron left Digby on 30th May, being replaced by the Hurricanes of 56 Squadron. On 4th June P/O Stones was awarded the DFC and Sgt. Cartwright the DFM, the first decorations for 79 Squadron since the outbreak of war. That night there was a party in the Mess and on the following day 79 Squadron returned to Biggin Hill.
242 (Canadian) Squadron was still there and 32 Squadron had returned to Biggin Hill to resume operations over northern France. During the early afternoon of 7th June 79 and 32 Squadrons escorted eighteen Blenheims to Abbeville. While 32 Squadron protected the Blenheims, 79 Squadron fought off about forty Me109’s and Parker claimed the confirmed destruction of one and a another unconfirmed. F/Lt. Davies also claimed one confirmed and one unconfirmed, Sgt. McQueen one confirmed, P/O Stones one unconfirmed, while Sgt. Whitby found an Hs126 and shot this down.
Early on the morning of 8th June 79 and 32 Squadrons took off, with 32 Squadron leading, and crossed the coast at Beachy Head for Le Treport to patrol for forty minutes over an evacuation from this port. After about half an hour of patrolling, an enemy formation approached, and while 32 Squadron attacked the He111 bombers, 79 Squadron intercepted the escorting Me109’s which were too far behind the bombers to protect them. S/Ldr. Joslin and F/Lt. Haysom each destroyed an Me109 while F/Lt. Davies and P/O Stones shared in the destruction of a Heinkel. S/Ldr. Joslin had to make an emergency landing at Hawkinge and crashed but was unhurt.
Later that morning 242 Squadron moved to France to operate with the remaining British forces there, and next day 213 Squadron arrived at Biggin Hill with its Hurricanes. Patrols and bomber escort sorties over France proved uneventful during the following week, and on 18th June 213 Squadron moved out of Biggin Hill. Some night flying practice was carried out, and on 23rd June P/O Stones crashed his Hurricane when landing at night in fog but escaped without injury.
On the morning of 27th June 79 Squadron joined up with 32 Squadron to escort six Blenheims making a reconnaissance over the French port of St. Valery. No enemy aircraft were sighted, and the formation turned and re-crossed the French coast, with 79 Squadron providing top cover at 10,000 feet. Parker, guarding the rear of the formation, then spotted three Me109’s diving out of the sun. Parker radioed a warning, but his R/T had broken down. His Hurricane received a burst of fire but he was unhurt, and shook off the three Me109’s after a chase which ended about twenty feet above the sea. Two other Hurricanes of 79 Squadron were shot down, however, one diving straight into the Channel, the pilot of the other - Sgt. McQueen - baling out into the sea.
Parker flew his damaged aircraft back to Biggin Hill while the remainder of the squadron landed at Hawkinge on the Kent coast to organise the rescue of McQueen. Eventually he was lifted unconscious from the sea by the crew of the Dungeness lifeboat who tried to revive him. McQueen was then transferred to a Royal Navy launch and taken to Dover, but by this time he was dead. With the pilot of the other Hurricane - F/Lt. Davies - still missing, the Squadron returned to Biggin Hill to attend an investiture by the King which began at 1515 hours. Davies had been due to receive the DFC. At the end of the investiture, at which P/O Stones and Sgt. Cartwright received their decorations and Sgt. Whitby also received a DFM, the absence of Davies was explained to the King, who heard the details of the morning's action and then inspected Parker's damaged Hurricane.
On 1st July 79 Squadron was ordered to move to Hawkinge, a permanent station two miles inland from Folkestone, and by noon on the following day was at readiness there. At 1405 hours on 4th July eight Hurricanes of 79 Squadron were scrambled to intercept an enemy formation reported to be attacking a convoy of nine ships off Deal. The Squadron intercepted a dozen Do17’s in amongst anti-aircraft fire, but were themselves then attacked from behind by about thirty Me109’s. One got onto Parker's tail but was driven away by F/Sgt. FS Brown. P/O Stones damaged one Me109 but his own aircraft was also damaged and he returned to Hawkinge unharmed, while F/Sgt. Brown damaged one of the Dorniers. One pilot - Sgt. Cartwright DFM - failed to return and despite a lengthy search over the sea no trace of him was found.
On the following day the Hawkinge 'Parachute and Cable' anti-aircraft device was fired accidentally, taking cables by rocket to about 600 feet where parachutes deployed, intended to ensnare low-flying enemy aircraft in the cables. Some of the rockets mis-fired, entangling cables around the station, while the sight of parachutes caused a local invasion scare.
At about 2100 hours on 7th July S/Ldr. Joslin led Parker and P/O Stones on a convoy patrol during which they were attacked from behind by fighters. Parker and Stones broke formation and turned towards the attackers, which they recognised as Spitfires. Joslin's Hurricane, however, was going down in flames and crashed near Folkestone. Joslin was killed, and F/Lt. Haysom again took temporary command of the Squadron. On the following day, at about 1540 hours, nine Hurricanes of 79 Squadron were ordered up from Hawkinge to patrol over a convoy off Hythe. Soon after take-off, however, they were attacked from out of the sun by Me109’s. F/O EW Mitchell was killed, his Hurricane crashing inland from Dover, while P/O Wood baled out into the sea but had died of severe burns by the time a rescue vessel reached him.
79 Squadron had suffered heavily during the two months and, having remained in the front-line with just a weeks rest at Digby, even its most experienced pilots were suffering from fatigue. While nine Hurricanes of 79 Squadron were on patrol at about 1600 hours on 9th July they spotted eight Me109’s heading for France from the Ramsgate area. The Hurricanes had difficulty catching them, but P/O WH Millington shot one down, P/O Stones claimed one unconfirmed and Midshipman MA Birrell (on loan from the Fleet Air Arm) damaged another. That evening the Squadron's ground equipment was loaded into Bristol Bombay transport aircraft in preparation for a move to Acklington in Northumberland, and on the following day the groundcrews were flown there while the Hurricanes followed later. In 13 Group, Acklington was a semi-permanent station three miles south-west of Amble and about twenty-five miles north of Newcastle-on-Tyne. One other unit was based there, 72 Squadron, flying Spitfires.
On 12th July S/Ldr. JH Heyworth arrived to take command of 79 Squadron. Training of further replacement pilots began, while patrols were flown over convoys off the Northumberland coast but these were without incident. At the end of July an order arrived that a pilot was to be sent on a short fighter navigation course at the School of Air Navigation, St.Athan. Parker and Stones, having by now flown the most hours on operations, were to toss a coin to decide who was to attend the course. As a result, on 2nd August, the two of them caught a train to London, with Stones going on to St.Athan while Parker went on leave.
On 9th August an enemy aircraft was encountered for the first time since the move to Acklington. At 1152 hours Yellow Section - F/Lt. RFH Clerke (commanding 'A' Flight), P/O GH Nelson-Edwards and Sgt. J Wright - intercepted an He111 which had just bombed Sunderland and shot it down into the sea near Newcastle. On 15th August 79 Squadron was released from operations for twenty-four hours, but at 1215 hours they were called to readiness over the loudspeakers while the Spitfires of 72 Squadron were scrambled. Within ten minutes, twelve pilots had reported to 79 Squadron's dispersal, and at 1242 hours they were scrambled to patrol Acklington. They were then redirected to the east, crossed the coast, and when ten miles out over the sea sighted a formation of He111’s two miles to starboard and slightly above, approaching Newcastle with an escort of Me110’s. While 'A' Flight turned to attack the bombers, 'B' Flight was ordered to hold off the enemy fighters. These made no attempt to intervene, however, and formed a protective circle to ward off the attacking Hurricanes, but the circle soon broke and a dogfight developed. By 1445 hours all 79 Squadron's Hurricanes had returned to Acklington, one having been damaged but without harm to the pilot.
Parker had shared in the destruction of a Do17 and an Me110 with four other pilots, F/Lt. Clerke shared the destruction of an Me110 and an unconfirmed Dornier, F/Lt. Haysom shot down an Me 110, P/O OV Tracey a He111, P/O DG Clift and F/O GCB Peters a Me110 each, P/O Nelson-Edwards a Me110 probable, while P/O Millington shot down three He111’s confirmed.
Half an hour later the Squadron was sent off again in an attempt to intercept bombers returning to their bases, but nothing was seen. The two Acklington squadrons then settled back into the routine of convoy patrols. On 25th August, however, 79 Squadron was informed it was to exchange places with 32 Squadron at Biggin Hill, and the move was made two days later. Biggin Hill now bore some damage from a recent air-raid.
At 0825 hours on 28th August 79 Squadron took off from Biggin Hill to operate from Hawkinge. As they approached the forward aerodrome, however, the Hurricanes ran into a formation of Me109’s escorting some He111’s. 79 Squadron became split up in a dogfight with the escorts but some pilots were also able to attack the bombers, and when they landed at Hawkinge F/Lt. Clerke was credited with one Me109 probably destroyed, P/O Nelson-Edwards with an He111 probably destroyed, and P/O Tracey with an He111 probable and an Me109 damaged. F/Lt. Haysom' s Hurricane was damaged and he forced-landed unharmed near Appledore.
On the same morning, at 1130 hours, Parker was on patrol with F/Lt. Clerke, P/O Nelson-Edwards and P/O BR Noble when they discovered a Heinkel He59 floatplane in mid-Channel and shot it down. Twenty minutes later F/O EJ Morris, P/O LT Bryant-Fenn and P/O PF Mayhew found another in the same area and this was also despatched into the sea. At about 1100 hours on 30th August 79 Squadron was scrambled and eight Hurricanes took off from Biggin Hill. They intercepted about thirty He111’s over Surrey, and in a head-on attack F/O Morris collided with one of the bombers, which fell out of formation and crashed. Morris was able to bale out and landed safely by parachute. The other Hurricanes were then attacked by Me109’s and Me110’s and P/O Millington's aircraft was badly damaged but he returned to Biggin Hill unharmed. While the pilots had been airborne, an attack had been made on Biggin Hill, but most of the bombs had missed their target. As well as the Heinkel which Morris had destroyed by collision, others were shot down by P/O Tracey, P/O Mayhew, F/O Peters and P/O Millington, who also claimed one probably destroyed and an Me110 damaged. The destruction of another Heinkel was shared by Sgt. Whitby, P/O Clift and Sgt. LA Parr, while F/Lt. Haysom probably destroyed an Me109.
Then, at about 1800 hours that evening, Parker and F/Lt. Clerke were being driven out to dispersal by a WAAF driver when Biggin Hill was suddenly attacked by Ju88’s. The driver stopped the car, a Humber Snipe, and they took cover in a nearby air raid shelter. When the noise of the bombing ceased they emerged from the shelter to find a large crater where the car had been. The vehicle had been tossed into the air and had fallen through the roof of a nearby hangar. Elsewhere on the station, the workshops had been destroyed, the Sergeants Mess, the WAAF quarters and some airmens barracks made uninhabitable, most of the station's transport was immobilised, all gas and electricity on the aerodrome was cut, and communications to HQ 11 Group had been severed. Over forty RAF and WAAF personnel had been killed. Six Hurricanes of 79 Squadron had taken off as the attack began but the pilots had been unable to make any certain claims. P/O Mayhew's Hurricane received some damage but he returned safely.
By the morning of 31st August the landlines to HQ 11 Group had been restored, but messages from the make-shift operations room for 79 Squadron to scramble had to be conveyed by a despatch rider as the telephone line to dispersal was still cut. At about 0900 hours 79 Squadron was scrambled and ran into a formation of enemy fighters. P/O Nelson-Edwards Hurricane was damaged and he crash-landed at Limpsfield, near Biggin Hill, suffering slight injuries. No claims were made.
At 1230 hours 79 Squadron was again scrambled, and ordered to patrol over Biggin Hill. They were then vectored south towards an incoming raid, sighting a formation of Heinkels, but were prevented from attacking the bombers by the escorting Me109’s. P/O Millington claimed one enemy fighter unconfirmed destroyed and one damaged, but the bombers went on to bomb Biggin Hill and, with the runways again badly cratered, 79 Squadron was ordered to land at Croydon instead. In their absence 610 Squadron had left Biggin Hill, exchanging places with the Spitfires of 72 Squadron which arrived from Acklington at 1530 hours. At about the same time, 79 Squadron was scrambled from Croydon and Sgt. HA Bolton's Hurricane was damaged in action over Kenley aerodrome; while attempting a forced-landing on a farm he crashed and was killed. An hour later 79 Squadron returned to Biggin Hill. Then, at about 1730 hours, both 79 and 72 Squadrons were scrambled shortly before Biggin Hill was bombed again. The two squadrons climbed as they chased the enemy formation which had turned south and caught up as they reached the coast over Dungeness. In the subsequent attack F/Lt. Haysom claimed an Me109 confirmed, P/O Stones a Do17 confirmed and another probably destroyed, P/O Tracey a Do17 confirmed, F/O Morris a Do17 damaged and P/O Nelson-Edwards an Me109 damaged. P/O Millington also claimed an Me109 and a Do17 confirmed, but his Hurricane was damaged and he crash-landed, wounded, and was admitted to hospital, while F/O Morris damaged a Do17 before being wounded and crash-landing at Biggin Hill. In the same action Willie Wilcox, still serving with 72 Squadron, was shot down and killed.
79 Squadron was released from operations on the morning of 1st September, and with Biggin Hill now barely able to support one squadron, 72 Squadron left for Croydon at 0600 hours. Biggin Hill was bombed again at about 1115 hours, but 79 Squadron was not brought to readiness until mid-day. Now employed solely for the defence of Biggin Hill itself, 79 Squadron was scrambled about two hours later and intercepted a raid heading for the aerodrome. P/O Mayhew destroyed one Do17 while F/Lt. Haysom and P/O Stones damaged others, but the Squadron was then attacked by the escorting Me109’s. Haysom' s Hurricane was damaged and he crashed when landing at Biggin Hill but was unhurt, and both P/O Bryant-Fenn and P/O Noble were shot down and baled out wounded.
79 Squadron had been poorly positioned by control and did not intercept when Biggin Hill received its third raid of the day at about 1800 hours. Again communications were severed, the runways badly cratered, and virtually no buildings on the aerodrome were now fit for use. With the operations room again hit and all the hangars unusable, work was now underway to disperse many of the station's sections to the nearby villages of Biggin Hill and Keston. The aerodrome was attacked again at about 0800 hours on 2nd September by a low-level raid but 79 Squadron was again poorly directed by ground control and made no interception. At 1800 hours Biggin Hill received a further air-raid.
Parker was promoted to F/O on 3rd September. That day there were no attacks on Biggin Hill and 79 Squadron saw no action. The morning of 4th September was also quiet, but at 1315 hours 79 Squadron was scrambled and intercepted fifteen Me110’s near Biggin Hill, chasing them down to Beachy Head where they formed a defensive circle. While P/O Stones was attacking one another got behind him, but Parker intervened and drove the Me110 off Stones' tail. Having landed at Biggin Hill, Parker was credited with two Me110’s damaged while F/O Peters was credited with one confirmed destroyed and Stones with one probably destroyed. Sgt. Wright had been shot down, however, and died of his wounds on the following day.
At 1000 hours on 5th September 'B' Flight of 79 Squadron was scrambled and broke up a formation of thirty Dorniers before they reached Biggin Hill. The bombing of the few that got through was ineffectual, and although they were escorted by Me109’s, these did not attack the Hurricanes. F/Lt. Haysom's aircraft was damaged by return fire from a Dornier but he landed safely, and despite the effectiveness of the interception the only claim was by P/O Tracey, who probably destroyed one Dornier. That evening the destroyed shell of the last remaining hangar was blown up on the orders of the station commander because it still looked intact from the air.
79 Squadron was scrambled at about 0840 hours on 6th September and intercepted some Ju88’s escorted by Me109’s and 110’s. A few bombs fell just to the west of Biggin Hill, and 79 Squadron returned without loss, F/Lt. Clerke claiming a Ju88 probably destroyed and P/O Nelson--Edwards one damaged. On 7th September, after a quiet morning, 'A' Flight of 79 Squadron was scrambled at 1640 hours, but while the Hurricanes were again positioned to defend Biggin Hill, the enemy's target this time was London. P/O Stones was the only one to make any claims, a Do17 probably destroyed and a share in the probable destruction of a Ju88, but Stones was wounded when attacked by an Me109 and landed at West Malling.
Then, on 8th September, 79 Squadron left Biggin Hill and moved to Pembrey, a temporary aerodrome five miles west of Llanelly in Carmarthenshire and controlled by 10 Group. The Pembrey Sector was primarily concerned with the defence of Swansea, Pembroke and Milford Haven, and with the protection of shipping in the Bristol Channel. It was rumoured that 79 Squadron was to return to Biggin Hill in ten days, having trained ten fresh pilots. In fact the Squadron was designated a 'C' Class unit under Fighter Command's new' Stabilisation' scheme, meaning that 79 Squadron was to remain in 10 Group, receiving newly trained pilots from the operational training units and posting them to the 'A' Class squadrons in the south of England after further training. To this end, Parker was made Officer Commanding Training Flight.
Enemy activity in this region was slight and it was not until 21st September that there were any encounters, when Parker damaged a Ju88 over Pembrey and P/O Tracey probably destroyed a Do17 off St.David's Head. Six days later at 1845 hours Red Section - S/Ldr. Heyworth, P/O RW Clarke and P/O Nelson-Edwards - shot down a Ju88 and probably another off St.David's Head.
At about 1900 hours on 29th September eleven Hurricanes were scrambled from Pembrey to intercept an enemy formation flying north up the Irish Sea. After about twenty minutes the Squadron saw nine He111’s about fifteen miles off the Irish coast. As they came under attack the Heinkels jettisoned their bombs and turned south-west. P/Os Stones, Nelson-Edwards and Mayhew shared the destruction of one Heinkel, but the return fire was intense and F/O Peters and P/O Mayhew failed to return, while P/O Nelson-Edwards baled out into the sea and was rescued unhurt. On the following day it was learned that Mayhew had been interned in neutral Ireland.
October was without incident until the 25th when P/O S Piatkowski, a Polish officer, crashed and was killed while returning from a routine patrol. No further enemy aircraft were encountered until 20th November, when at 1237 hours two Hurricanes were scrambled from Pembrey and intercepted a Ju88 flying west across Wales towards the coast. F/Lt. Haysom opened fire and the Junkers went down into the sea five miles south-west of Cardigan. A month later, on 21st December, F/O Chapple forced-landed on the beach at Bodorgan, Anglesey, wrecking his Hurricane.
On 4th January 1941 256 Squadron joined 79 Squadron at Pembrey. Only recently formed with Boulton Paul Defiants for night fighting, this squadron was still non-operational and moved out on 6th February. Six days later 316 (Polish) Squadron was formed at Pembrey, but had still received no aircraft when Parker left 79 Squadron later that month.
Parker was posted to 52 Operational Training Unit [OTU] at Debden, the station to which he had been posted from Montrose in 1938. 52 OTU had been formed at the beginning of February with an establishment of twenty-four Hurricanes and six Miles Masters, to receive pupils from service flying training schools and provide them with fighter training before they were posted to squadrons. As the first courses got under way Parker began providing instruction on the Masters, taking pupils through various exercises before they graduated to Hurricanes.
While this activity was taking place by day, however, Debden was operational by night since 85 Squadron was also based there with Hurricanes, and was just beginning to receive Douglas Havocs. On 3rd May 85 Squadron left Debden and 52 OTU had the station to itself until 26th July when 51 OTU began to form there for night fighter training. By then, however, 52 OTU was preparing for a move to Aston Down, a permanent station four and a half miles south of Stroud in Gloucestershire. The transfer began on 1st August and was completed two weeks later. Aston Down was already occupied by 20 Maintenance Unit, responsible for the storage and issue of various types of aircraft. Having been promoted to Acting F/Lt., Parker was appointed 52 OTU's navigation officer, his rank of F/Lt. becoming war substantive on 3rd September 1941.
With the Hurricane now being phased out as a front-line fighter, 52 OTU converted to Spitfires later in the year, while Parker invented a map reading trainer which was adopted and named the 'Parker Naviscope', for which Parker received a grant of £50 from the Air Ministry. Parker remained at Aston Down until 10th April 1942 when he was posted with the rank of Acting S/Ldr. to take command of 242 Squadron. Based at Turnhouse, a permanent station five miles west of Edinburgh, 242 Squadron was just reforming with Spitfire Vb’s. Also based there was 884 Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm, providing local defence with its Fairey Fulmar II’s under 13 Group Fighter Command. These were joined by another Fleet Air Arm unit, 801 Squadron with Sea Hurricane 1B’s, on 29th April. Still working up, 242 Squadron moved to Ouston, a permanent station one mile south of Stamfordham in Northumberland, on 15th May. There the Squadron completed its preparations and was declared operational by 13 Group on 1st June. That same day 242 Squadron moved again, this time to Drem, a temporary station four miles north-west of Haddington, East Lothian.
611 Squadron with Spitfire Vb’s, and 410 Squadron, RCAF with Beaufighter NF.II’s were based at Drem, but 611 Squadron was posted south on 3rd June. That same day 242 Squadron claimed its first success since reforming when a Ju88 was shot down. 453 Squadron, RAAF began to form at Drem on 9th June, receiving Spitfire Vb’s, while two days later the London Gazette recorded two Mentions in Despatches for Parker. 410 Squadron moved out of Drem on 15th June, but left a detachment for local night defence. 242 Squadron then became involved in strafing exercises with the Army, and 137 Squadron, with its Westland Whirlwind fighters, moved into Drem for the same reason on 2nd August.
Then, on 11th August, 242 Squadron moved to North Weald, a permanent station in 11 Group, two and a half miles north-east of Epping in Essex. There, 242 Squadron joined 331 and 332 (Norwegian) Squadrons in the North Weald Wing, led by W/Cdr. FDS Scott-Malden DFC. On 14th August the North Weald Wing moved to Manston to operate over Dieppe during a forthcoming combined operation. The raid went ahead on 19th August and between 0610 and 0620 hours the North Weald Wing took off from Manston, Parker leading 242 Squadron in Spitfire BM539. W/Cdr. Scott-Malden led the Wing out over the Channel with 332 Squadron providing top cover, 331 Squadron below them, and 242 Squadron at 3,000 feet. The Wing turned in over the naval vessels and landing craft off Dieppe, and then crossed the coast at about 0655 hours. Soon afterwards the two Norwegian squadrons were attacked by about twenty Fw190’s and Me109’s, of which 332 Squadron claimed three destroyed but lost two pilots missing, while 331 Squadron claimed another two shot down and three probably destroyed. At their low altitude 242 Squadron were not attacked, and Parker was able to contact a control ship by radio to direct naval gun fire on enemy gun positions north-east of Dieppe which were aiming at the beach and at landing craft. F/Lt. DI Benham spotted two Fw190’s diving and strafing the harbour and gave chase; he attacked one but saw no result. P/O D Fowler was hit in the shoulder by a piece of shrapnel when his Spitfire was hit by ground fire, and when landing at Manston his port undercarriage collapsed.
At 1200 hours 242 Squadron took off for a second time to patrol over Dieppe, this time forming a two-squadron wing with the Spitfires of 340 (Free French) Squadron which was operating from Hornchurch. Parker led 242 Squadron over the ships off Dieppe at 5,000 feet and was then attacked by a Fw190. Parker's Spitfire was hit in the port wing and undercarriage wheel cover, and one bullet entered the port side of his cockpit canopy but without injuring him. In the meantime, Sgt. WC Meachen drove off a Ju88 trying to attack some shipping while Sgt. JH Watling chased a Dornier away. 340 Squadron, at 12,000 feet, shot one Dornier down.
Having landed safely at Manston, Parker led his Squadron for a third time during the afternoon to cover the withdrawal from Dieppe. This time 242 Squadron was partnered by the Spitfires of 403 Squadron RCAF. 242 Squadron saw no enemy aircraft, but 403 Squadron claimed one Fw190 destroyed. During the evening, Spitfires of 242 Squadron were scrambled from Manston to investigate reports of enemy aircraft off the coast but no interceptions were made.
The North Weald Wing remained at Manston until 20th August when 242 Squadron and the Norwegians returned to their Essex base. On 1st September 242 Squadron was posted to Digby, still a 12 Group station, and now occupied by the Spitfires of 411 Squadron RCAF. At Digby, however, 242 Squadron was earmarked for service overseas, and after five months in command, Parker was posted away. Parker then made a short tour of aircraft factories, giving 'pep' talks before being posted to India.
On arrival Parker joined the operations staff of 224 (Tactical) Group at Chittagong, on the north-eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal, about two hundred miles east of Calcutta and about fifty-five miles from the Burmese border. Operating under the direction of Air Headquarters Bengal in Calcutta, 224 Group controlled three tactical wings in Bengal and Assam.
Since May 1942 Japanese forces had been in possession of Burma, and faced the Indian border along the line of the Chindwin River and in the hilly Arakan region to the south. At the time of Parker's arrival an operation was under way by the 14th Indian Division to recapture the aerodromes at Akyab, which threatened Chittagong and Calcutta. The advance south had floundered in stalemate,however, and at the end of March 1943 a retreat to the Indian frontier began; the operation was over by May.
In July Parker was given command of 67 Squadron, based at Chittagong aerodrome to the south-west of the town and equipped with the Hurricane IIB. Also stationed there was 261 Squadron with Hurricanes, sharing the defence of Chittagong. Shortly after Parker's arrival he was visited by S/Ldr. DWA Stones, his friend in 79 Squadron during 1940. Stones had been the senior flight commander on 67 Squadron and had hoped to take command of the Squadron but had been wounded a few weeks earlier. 67 and 261 Squadrons were also involved in bomber and transport escort duties and strafing attacks on the Burma front, sometimes by night. 177 Squadron arrived at Chittagong on 13th August, preparing for long-range operations over Burma with Beaufighters but moved north twelve days later. Enemy air activity was slight at this time, but Chittagong was bombed on 20th October. Two days later 261 Squadron moved out, being replaced on 1st November by 615 Squadron wi th Spitfire Vc’s. Then 67 Squadron left Chittagong on 30th November, moving to Alipore on the southern outskirts of Calcutta for the defence of the city. Parker's former unit, 79 Squadron was also based at Alipore, flying Hurricane IIc’s. These moved out on 5th December, but that same day 67 Squadron intercepted a raid by twenty-seven Japanese bombers escorted by about fifty fighters and destroyed one and damaged four. Two days later the Spitfire Vc’s of 136 Squadron moved in. They were followed on 8th December by 81 Squadron, which had just arrived in India from Italy with Spitfire F.VIII’s and became operational on the following day. 136 Squadron returned to the Burma front on 20th December, followed by 81 Squadron on 7th January 1944. Six days earlier another offensive had been launched to reach Akyab, this time by XV Corps.
On 8th January 155 Squadron with Curtis Mohawks joined 67 Squadron at Alipore and both units then became non-operational while they began to re-equip with Spitfire F.VIII’s. This process was completed during the following month, and on 22nd February 155 Squadron moved out. 67 Squadron was posted to Amarda Road, about ninety miles west of Calcutta, on 7th March. That night Japanese forces struck across the Chindwin River on the northern front and into India. At Amarda Road, 67 Squadron used the facilities of 22 Armament Practice Camp for gunnery training, returned to Alipore on 28th March. In their absence, 261 Squadron had arrived there, still equipped with Hurricanes.
By now the drive south into Burma by XV Corps had broken the Japanese defensive line, but an advance on Akyab had to be abandoned to release reinforcements for the northern front, where the Japanese were now besieging the vital Indian supply towns of Imphal and Kohima. On 12th April 67 Squadron moved to Baigachi, a few miles north-east of Calcutta, still with the task of defending the city, and was joined there by the Spitfires of 155 Squadron on the 23rd. The sieges of Imphal and Kohima were both lifted on 22nd June and the Japanese began to retreat into Burma.
On 1st July Parker's acting rank of S/Ldr. was made temporary. 607 Squadron also arrived at Baigachi on 6th July with Spitfire F.VIII’s. Two days later, however, 67 Squadron moved to Comilla, about eighty miles north-west of Chittagong, to begin strafing attacks and escort sorties to Dakotas. Later that month, after a year in command, Parker was posted away.
Promoted to Acting Wing Commander, Parker then became Wing Commander Ops. with 224 Group at Chittagong. By this time 224 Group was under 3rd Tactical Air Force and controlled four wings, which in turn controlled eight squadrons, operating RAF Spitfires and Beaufighters, Hurricanes and Vengeances of the Indian Air Force, and Lightnings of the USAAF.
While retaining his acting rank of Wing Commander, Parker's temporary rank of S/Ldr. was made war substantive on 21st October. On 19th November the XIV Army began to advance over the Chindwin River into Burma, while the 3rd Tactical Air Force was disbanded on 4th December and 224 Group now came under the direction of the newly formed HQ RAF Burma. Akyab finally fell to XV Corps on 4th January 1945, extending air range to Mandalay in central Burma, and just over a month later XV Corps reached Ramree, enabling air cover to extend to Rangoon on the Burmese southern coast.
In another change of designation, RAF Burma became Air Headquarters Burma on 27th February, while 224 Group moved into the Arakan with headquarters at Shalimar Camp and an advanced headquarters at Akyab. Mandalay was captured on 20th March 1945, but to the south the 17th Indian Division at the vital railway junction of Meiktila were surrounded and had to be supplied by air until relieved on 29th March. 224 Group and -XV Corps then prepared for Operation 'Dracula' to capture Rangoon before the end of May. The operation began on 1st May - when the monsoons began - but on the following day it was learned that the Japanese had withdrawn from the city.
By July 224 Group's four wings controlled thirteen squadrons of Thunderbolts, Beaufighters, Spitfires and Mosquitoes. Parker formed a Group Control Centre for the invasion of Malaya to the south, but in the event it was not required as the Japanese surrendered on 15th August. On 1st September Parker was transferred to the Reserve while remaining on the Active List. British forces re-occupied Malaya on 9th September and 224 Group moved in but was disbanded there on 30th September, and Parker returned from Malaya to England.
He was then given command of Kenley, a permanent station four miles south of Croydon in Surrey. Kenley was controlled by 46 Group, Transport Command, but the only unit based there was a detachment of AI2g from the Intelligence Directorate of the Air Ministry, responsible for reception, storage and evaluation of captured German aircraft equipment, including VI flying bombs and V2 rockets.
On New Year's Day 1946 Parker was made an Officer of the British Empire [OBE], and on 9th July he was granted extended an extension of his commission for four years on the active list with the rank of S/Ldr., with effect from 6th May 1946. Later, he was given a permanent commission. From Kenley, Parker was sent on a Fighter Leader course at the Central Fighter Establishment, based at West Raynham, a permanent station five and a half miles south-west of Fakenham, Norfolk. On the completion of this, he was given command of 63 Squadron at Middle Wallop, an 11 Group station six miles south-west of Andover in Hampshire. This squadron was equipped with the Spitfire LF.XVl. On 5th January 1948 63 Squadron moved to Thorney Island in Chichester Harbour, on the Hampshire coast. A former Coastal Command station, Thorney Island was still occupied by the Air-Sea Warfare Development Unit. On 2nd February 56 Squadron also moved in with its Gloster Meteor F.3’s. In April 63 Squadron, now the last Spitfire squadron in Fighter Command, began to receive Meteor F.3’s, while 56 Squadron was detached to Lubeck in West Germany from 3rd May. Shortly afterwards 63 Squadron completed its re-equipment and on 14th May joined 56 Squadron at RAF Lubeck, about five miles south of the city and close to the East German border. 56 Squadron returned to Thorney Island on 23rd June, to be followed by 63 Squadron six days later. In their absence the Air-Sea Warfare Development Unit had moved out, and 222 Squadron was in the process of moving in, equipped with Meteor F.4’s. Over the next few weeks 63 Squadron exchanged its F.3 Meteors for F.4’s, while 56 Squadron received this newer version in September.
At the end of his tenure as commander of 63 Squadron, Parker was posted to Odiham, six and a half miles south-east of Basingstoke, Hampshire, as S/Ldr. Flying of the Vampire Wing. The Wing consisted of Nos.54, 72 and 247 Squadrons, all equipped with the de Havilland Vampire F.3.
Then, in July 1949, Parker and S/Ldr. D Iveson were sent to Canada as the two RAF students on the RCAF Staff College course, which they successfully completed. Parker then spent a year in the Air Defense Headquarters in Ottawa, and then another year as Wing Commander Ops. with the Air Defense Group at St.Hulbert. While there, he was promoted to Wing Commander on 1st January 1951.
On return to England in 1951, Parker was for a while on the staff of Eastern Sector of 12 Group, Fighter Command. With its Headquarters at Bawburgh, about three miles west of Norwich, this sector was responsible for the control of Meteor and Vampire squadrons based at Coltishall, Finningley and Horsham St. Faith. This was followed by a period as SAO at a Home Command group in York. Parker was then posted to Waddington, four miles south of Lincoln, as officer commanding the Administrative Wing. Controlled by 1 Group, Bomber Command, Waddington was the base of two squadrons - 21 and 27, both with English Electric Canberra B2’s - and 230 Operational Conversion Unit, which was introducing the Avro Vulcan B1 'V' bomber to RAF service. Another unit, 83 Squadron, formed at Waddington on 21st May 1957 as the RAF's first Vulcan squadron, although it had to use 230 OCU's aircraft until July when it began to receive its own.
Parker particularly enjoyed being at Waddington since morale was high and the station and unit commanders were of high calibre. Although his was an administrative post Parker did try out the Canberra, but 21 Squadron disbanded on 30th June, to be followed by 27 Squadron on the last day of 1957, leaving Waddington as a purely 'V' bomber station.
On 1st October 1958 Parker was posted from Waddington to Fontainebleau, about thirty miles south of Paris. There he took up the post of Ops.2 in the Operational Plans Division of HQ Allied Air Forces Central Europe. Parker remained there, eventually taking charge of the War Room, until he was posted back to England on 17th March 1961. Left with just one and a half years before retirement, Parker spent this period as a permanent president of courts martial, a function he found interesting but mentally wearing, and was not sorry when he was placed on the Retired List on 13th September 1962.
©Bruce Burton 2003