The Airmen's Stories - P/O J D Bisdee
John Derek Bisdee was born at Weston-super-Mare on 20th November 1915, his father was Lt. Col. TE Bisdee DSO MC of the Duke of Cormwalls Light Infantry.
JD Bisdee was educated at Marlborough College. He was awarded an Exhibition at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Afterwards he went to Spain to learn the language, only to be evacuated on the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. He became a management trainee with Unilever.
A member of the RAFVR from July 1937, he was called up on 1st September 1939. After completing his training he was commissioned on 1st December, joining 609 Squadron on the 26th.
Bisdee was still serving with 609 Squadron at the start of the Battle of Britain. On 18th July he shared in damaging a He111, on 11th August he claimed a Me110 destroyed, on the 25th another damaged, on 7th September a Me110 destroyed and another damaged, on the 26th a He111 probably destroyed, on the 27th he shared a Me110, on the 30th probably destroyed a Me109 and on 7th October shot down another Me110.
In sweeps over France, Bisdee shared a Me109 on 21st May 1941, shot down Me109s on 17th and 22nd June, probably destroyed another on the 24th and shot down another on 9th July.
Above: Bisdee in the cockpit of PR-Z after shooting down Me109 over Le Touquet. IO Frank Ziegler standing by the cockpit.
Above: 609's pilots with their pets, Bisdee kneeling second from right.
Above images courtesy of the Graham Saunders Archive.
Bisdee was awarded the DFC (gazetted 11th July 1941) and posted to 61 OTU on 31st July as a Flight Commander. In July 1941, Bisdee was rested as an instructor at 61 Operational Training unit. He had a small speaking part in the film ‘The First of the Few’ (1942).
He was next given command of 601 Squadron on 10th March 1942. On 20th April he led twelve 601 Spitfires off the US aircraft carrier Wasp, off Algiers, to fly to Malta. The next day, flying from Malta, Bisdee destroyed a Ju88 but was then jumped by Me109s and shot down. Baling out, he discovered that his parachute harness had been damaged and he was being held by one leg strap. Once in the sea he extricated himself and managed to inflate his dinghy. A six mile paddle took him back to Malta where he then unknowingly walked through a mined beach. On 10th May 1942 Bisdee shot down a Cant 1007 and next day he probably destroyed a Me109.
601 Squadron left Malta on 23rd June 1942 for the Western Desert. Bisdee damaged a Me210 on 5th July near Aboukir. He was posted away on 21st August.
In 1943 he was appointed Military Governor of Lampedusa. Returning to North Africa, Bisdee trained Free French pilots at Bone. Later, after a brief spell in Corsica, he was on the staff of 323 Wing in charge of night-fighter personnel in Italy. Bisdee was made an OBE (gazetted 14th June 1945) and released from the RAF in 1945 as a Group Captain.
After the war Bisdee returned to Unilever and rebuilt their networks in France and Italy. In 1951 he was appointed sales director of D&W Gibbs, the toothpaste makers, later becoming chairman. He retired in 1977.
Bisdee died in October 2000.
(Above: his portrait was made by Cuthbert Orde)