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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. J A Anderson


John Anthony Anderson was born on 22nd November 1916 to Frederick and Ellen Anderson in Brockley, SE London and was the third of five children. He left his grammar school aged 16 and was employed by C&A Outfitters, working in the menswear cutting department. He gave this up after a year to enlist in the RAF as a Boy Entrant. In 1939 he was accepted for training as an Airman/Pilot and gained his wings in the spring of 1940, arriving at 253 Squadron as a Sergeant in early 1940.

On 26th April 1940 an engine fire in Hurricane L1668 forced him to bale out near the Harefield Estate at Rickmansworth. He was admitted to the RAF Hospital Uxbridge with head and facial injuries and rejoined 253 once he had recovered.

The squadron had some elderly Fairey Battles for hack work and on 3rd August 1940 Anderson was taking one, Mk. 3 L5110, from Northolt to Turnhouse when the engine failed and then caught fire as they flew over Tanfield, County Durham at about 19.00. His passenger in the rear gunner’s position, LAC ND Ricks, did not respond to Anderson's order to bale out and Anderson climbed onto the wing and edged along the fuselage to persuade him to jump. He suffered burns before being swept off by the slipstream. LAC Ricks pulled his ripcord while still in the aircraft and amazingly was yanked out of the cockpit by the parachute, breaking a leg in the process. Anderson did not speak of this till much later (according to his CO, Tom Gleave) otherwise his brave action may have been recognised.The aircraft crashed just to the NW of Causey. The two men landed on Gibside Estate and were taken to Rowlands Gill, later being treated in Newcastle Infirmary.

Despite his injuries Anderson was back in action with 253, then at Kenley, in early September. On the evening of the 14th he was shot down in combat with Me109’s and crashed at Stone, near Faversham in Hurricane P3804. He was severely injured, with burns to his arms, legs and face. His own account, when applying to become a member of the Caterpillar Club, relates that the dogfight took place at about 18,000 feet but due to his burned hands he was only able to pull the parachute ripcord in the last seconds before hitting the ground.

Admitted to Faversham Hospital, he was later moved to the Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead for special burns treatment under Archibald McIndoe, thus becoming a member of the Guinea Pig Club.

Less than a year later, now a Flying Officer, he returned to non-operational flying, testing newly serviced Spitfires amongst other duties. On one occasion, ferrying some VIPs back from Germany to the UK, he had one engine of his Avro Anson fail over the English Channel. He had to order his passengers to jettison their luggage in order for the aircraft to return on the remaining engine.

Anderson married Cecilia Carr on 29th April 1944 at Redhill. They had 5 children. Anderson was released from the RAF around 1950/51, as a Flight Lieutenant.

During the 1950s he retrained at Cambridge as an agricultural specialist in grain and root crop management, working for Vitax and Patullo Higgs, Agricultural Suppliers.

Anderson died on 28th May 1978 aged 61 years.

After his death the following tribute, by Group Captain (Ret.) Tom Gleave, appeared in the Guinea Pig newsletter:

John Anderson, or 'Andy' as he was affectionately known to his close friends, died on 28th May 1978, aged 61 years.

He joined the Royal Air Force before World War II and transferred from a ground trade to flying in time to gain his wings by the Spring of 1940. Andy arrived in No. 253 Fighter Squadron at Kirton-in-Lindsey in early June, and on the 12th of the month I took him up in a Miles Master for a check prior to him launching himself on a fighter pilot's career in a Hawker Hurricane.

The Squadron had been given two old Battles for hack work and target practice and one day one of them, with Andy at the controls, burst into flames. An airman passenger in the rear air gunner's well was too shaken to jump and Andy, despite the flames, climbed along the fuselage trying to persuade the airman to jump and pull his rip-cord. Unfortunately Andy was blown off by the slipstream and landed by parachute after suffering some burns. Meanwhile the airman had pulled his rip-cord while still in the well and miraculously was snatched clear by the open parachute, breaking a leg on the mainplane but otherwise landing safely intact. Sadly this gallant action on Andy's part did not come to light for a long time afterwards.

He remained in the Squadron for 67 days of the Battle of Britain until 14th September. On that day, the eve of what is now 'Battle of Britain Day', and a fortnight after I myself had been shot down, Andy suffered the same fate and was severely injured including burns. He was taken to Faversham Hospital and ultimately arrived at the Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, where he became a Guinea Fig.
Less than a year later when I arrived at Kenley to await a posting, and having found a Miles Magister fully serviceable, I climbed up the stairs to Flying Control to be met by Andy, by then a Flying Officer. In no time
we were airborne again in the 'Maggy', for Andy was also kicking his heels at Kenley.

Our paths did not cross again until the war was over, but meantime Andy had continued to defy the Fates. While ferrying an aircraft one day the engine blew up, and he got away with it. Yet again, while flying some V.I.P.S from Germany to the U.K. he had engine failure in an Anson when crossing the English Channel, and by making his passengers jettison their luggage Andy just made land - and no doubt with his strong sense of humour spared himself a chuckle at the V.I.P.'s expense in seeing their 'luggage' vanish overboard!

Guinea Pig occasions brought us together again not least on one memorable evening at the Biggin Hill Flairavia Flying Club Dinner/ Dance, as David Porter's guests at The Grasshopper' nearby. Whenever and wherever it was it was the same Andy. He was a man of strong character who did not suffer fools gladly, yet was kind of heart and extremely loyal to his friends. He made light of his flying misfortunes, and in his final and fatal illness he showed great fortitude and patience. The Battle of Britain was won by people like Andy. To have commanded people like him makes one feel very humble.

To Celia his widow, and to his family, all of whom meant so very much to Andy, we Guinea Pigs offer our most sincere sympathy in their irreparable loss.

Additional research and image courtesy of Marianne Buckley


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