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The Airmen's Stories - P/O R A Marchand

Roy Achille Marchand was born in Bromley, Kent, on 24th August, 1918 and, after leaving Westminster School in 1936, began to study medicine at King’s College, London University. His desire for a flying career in the Royal Air Force was ignited after meeting a serving RAF Squadron Leader whilst holidaying in the South of France in 1938. At the still tender age of 20, Roy Marchand joined the RAF on a Short Service Commission in March 1939 and he began his ab-initio training towards becoming a fighter pilot.

Flying training started at No.30 Elementary & Reserve Flying Training School at Burnaston near Derby, before progressing to more advanced instruction at No.15 Flying Training School at Lossiemouth in Scotland. Awarded his ‘Wings’ in August 1939 just as Great Britain began mobilising its Armed Forces ready for war against Nazi Germany, Pilot Officer Roy Marchand thereafter went to the No.11 Group Pool in November for further training prior to attachment to the No.2 Ferry Pilot Pool as a reserve pilot for France.

P/O Marchand’s desire to be a fighter pilot was realised at the very beginning of 1940 when he was posted to fly Hawker Hurricane fighters with No.73 Squadron at Rouvres, one of RAF Fighter Command’s precious few fighter units based in France as part of the Advanced Air Striking Force for defensive duties.

As the so-called ‘Phoney War’ on the Western Front dragged on through the first half of 1940 with only brief aerial skirmishes with the enemy, Roy Marchand put in claims for Messerschmitts on 26th March and 21st April, 1940. During this period he found for himself a young bride just before the German Wehrmacht launched its Blitzkrieg (Lightning War) against the West on 10th May, 1940. Suddenly in combat against a numerically superior Luftwaffe, the RAF squadrons were hard pressed to stop the relentless advance of the enemy. Battling hard in many dogfights, 73 Squadron was in constant action and Roy Marchand put in a claim for an ‘unconfirmed’ Dornier Do17 bomber in the early hours of 13th May, but on this day whilst flying his Hurricane L1673 in combat with Do17’s and Messerschmitt Me110 fighters, he was wounded in the shoulder and beneath his left eye.
Evacuated back to Great Britain to recover from his injuries, more bad luck followed when he and his young wife were badly hurt in a car accident. With extended sick leave, P/O Marchand missed the Allied retreat to Dunkirk and the final evacuation from France. It wasn’t until early July, 1940, that he returned to his Squadron, now stationed at Church Fenton in North Yorkshire, where it was recuperating and re-equipping for its new role as a night defence squadron.

As the Battle of Britain raged through July and August, 73 Squadron did not experience much contact with the enemy as night raids were sporadic and night-fighter defence was still in its infancy. However, at the beginning of September, the Squadron learnt they were to head further south to reinforce the Duxford Wing. This rumour proved stillborn, but on Thursday 5th September the Squadron left Church Fenton for the Sector airfield of Debden in Essex but all too soon they were then ordered to move into the satellite aerodrome at Castle Camps [called ‘Freddie 1’], which the Squadron soon found lacked many home comforts. There was not too much time to worry about that as the 73 Squadron Hurricanes were soon ordered into action and by evening had lost three of their fighters destroyed and a further three damaged with one pilot killed and another wounded. On the credit side, the Squadron had claim for two ‘probable’ Heinkel He111 bombers.
Action the next day continued unabated and P/O Marchand found himself in the thick of it as testified to by the Squadron diarist:

“... P/O MARCHAND destroyed a 109, 10 miles N.E. of MAIDSTONE, thus opening the Squadron’s score in that category. He landed at PENSHURST having run short of petrol and rather lost his way. He got back in the evening his smiles even as large as if his wife had walked suddenly into Freddie 1. It was a tonic to see him but when he came to make out his individual combat report, the I.O. noticed that he had only claimed a ‘probable’. Even more pleased was he when told it obviously came into the ‘destroyed’ class and he was the first to get a definite kill for 73 Sqdn.”

Saturday 7th September marked a dramatic change in Luftwaffe tactics when they switched their attention from RAF airfields to London. 73 Squadron was heavily involved in the great daylight air battles with some success, although Roy Marchand had no claims this day. The following day was oddly quite contrasting for him though.

It dawned bright but cold at Castle Camps where the morning developed into a lovely early autumn day. It appeared that the enemy were not going to repeat their efforts of Saturday upon London, though Kent was receiving its usual level of attention from German raiders. Any anticipated ‘excitement’ for 73 Squadron was being unknowingly reserved for them later on in the early evening! As the day began drawing to a close, it was in the fading light of the evening sky that an unidentified aircraft was plotted in the vicinity of Castle Camps. Concern grew among those on the ground, for when challenged this lone intruder fired off the wrong colours of the day - Sergeant John Griffin was ordered to rapidly get airborne in his Hurricane and investigate the ‘intruder’. After a short time, and possibly due to radio problems, he landed and reported the mystery aircraft to be a “long nosed” Bristol Blenheim. Squadron Leader Robinson then passed on this information to Operations, who acted with little hesitation by ordering two more 73 Squadron Hurricanes to go and investigate this aeroplane further. The Squadron diarist described the unfolding event as follows:

“[The] Mess was a rush of eager applicants but eventually F/Lt. BEYTAGH and P/O MARCHAND were the winners and were airborne in less than 3 minutes minus helmets. They intercepted beautifully some 3 miles to the West of the aerodrome in full view of all of us and amid cheers and shouts of ironical advice, whereupon the ‘Blenheim’ shot off the correct colours in great haste! On their return the two pilots reported that it was an Anson whereupon Sgt. GRIFFIN was ‘debagged’ outside the mess and drinks all round were demanded from him – incidentally without success.”

Aerial activity was generally quiet for the Squadron over the next two days, but during the late afternoon of Wednesday, 11th September, Roy Marchand joined in combat with enemy fighters once more, and over North Kent he tangled with Me110s before putting in a claim for a ‘probable’.

The Squadron experienced a lull in fighting over the next two days until Saturday, 14th September, when it suffered grievously at the hands of both enemy fighters and possible ‘friendly fire’. Three Hurricanes were shot down in combat during the mid-afternoon with one pilot killed and two others wounded including the C.O., Squadron Leader Maurice Robinson. Five other Hurricanes sustained varying degrees of damage and Roy Marchand flying Hurricane P2869 was one of the few pilots who made it back to Castle Camps relatively unscathed, though he had a bullet hole through his port main fuel tank, port aileron, main spar, and with another bullet clean through his radio mast just above his head. Some of the pilots reported that they had been attacked by Supermarine Spitfires, but this was never officially verified.

Fine morning weather broke across the remote field at Castle Camps in Cambridgeshire to greet the battle-hardened pilots of 73 Squadron, RAF Fighter Command, when they were roused from their beds early on Sunday, 15th September 1940. The Squadron had experienced a large measure of combat success and tragedy during the previous ten days since moving to ‘Freddie 1’, the satellite aerodrome of RAF Debden.

From dawn to 09:00 hours of that new autumn day, the Squadron was brought to ‘Readiness’, and then to 15 minutes ’Available’, until just after 11:00 hours when ten Hawker Hurricanes were ordered up into the air to patrol Chelmsford at 15,000 feet. One of the Squadron pilots who took to the skies on what was to become the most decisive day of the Battle of Britain, was 22 year-old Pilot Officer Roy Marchand. Not being at full Squadron strength, Blue and Green Sections of ‘B’ Flight comprised the main formation leaving the 4 remaining Hurricanes to act as ‘lookouts’ on the port and starboard sides. At one side P/O Marchand flying Hurricane P3865 TP-K took up his position as one of the ‘lookouts’. At around 11:30 hours a large force of free-hunting Messerschmitt Me109’s crossed the English coastline high above Dover ahead of a formation of Dornier Do17 bombers – their target being London. The Messerschmitts were looking for any RAF fighters and to sweep them out of the way to clear a path for the Dorniers following on behind.

With this large enemy raid building up over Kent, 73 Squadron was vectored south of the Thames Estuary to intercept the raiders. The Hurricane pilots soon joined in combat near Maidstone just after midday, and it was against a strong number of the deadly Me109’s that a swirling dogfight ensued.

The precise details are unknown of what happened in one fateful moment, but a stricken Hurricane fell away from the fight unnoticed by squadron colleagues busy fighting for their own lives. As ammunition and fuel became exhausted, the Hurricane pilots gradually broke off from the engagement and returned to Castle Camps with claims for 3 enemy fighters destroyed. Eventually all the 73 Squadron pilots were accounted for with one pilot missing but reportedly force-landed at Biggin Hill, whom it was assumed to be young Roy Marchand, thus no-one unduly worried about him. Later that evening after further hard fighting during the afternoon, the Squadron received news of P/O Marchand and “... we were astounded to be told that he had crashed at TYNHAM [sic] near SITTINGBOURNE and killed.”

The sadness felt by everyone was doubled by virtue of the fact that Roy’s young and pregnant wife of only a few months had been waiting around the Squadron dispersal seeking news of her husband. The unpleasant task of telling her the grim news fell to Flying Officer Michael Beytagh [as acting Commanding Officer] along with Pilot Officer Hoole, the Intelligence Officer. Of Roy Marchand, the Squadron diarist paid tribute:

“P/O Marchand was an excellent pilot and a charming and unassuming boy who was never ruffled by anybody or anything. We will sorely miss him.” The record for the day was closed with the words, “The Squadron feels that to some extent the death of gallant MARCHAND to-day has been avenged by the day’s good work.”

Deeply mourned by his mother Constance, P/O Roy Marchand was laid to rest in Bromley Hill Cemetery where for many years his grave was marked by a magnificent polished granite headstone, but this was controversially removed to be later replaced by a CWGC headstone; sometime afterwards the original headstone came into the possession of the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum. They saw the possibility of utilizing the headstone as a memorial, and thus an approach was made to Mr & Mrs Rex Boucher, the owners of Nouds Farm, Lynsted, where P/O Marchand had tragically crashed. Along with the agreement of the pilot’s daughter Mrs Carol Ventura, permission was kindly granted to erect the headstone as a permanent memorial in tribute to the RAF fighter pilot close to the actual crash-site.

On 15th September, 1985, a poignant ceremony was held at Nouds Farm to unveil the memorial at the precise moment P/O Marchand crashed, where every year since, the local branch of the Royal Air Force Association has held its annual Battle of Britain service.

Roy's daughter Carol has naturally taken a close interest in seeing her father commemorated, she was born after his death so she was never seen by him.

Dean Sumner 2008

Battle of Britain Monument