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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. A G Girdwood


Alexander George Girdwood was born on 17th April 1918 in Edinburgh, the son of Alexander Girdwood and Margaret Stevenson Girdwood (nee Bell) of Paisley, Renfrewshire.

He joined the RAFVR about August 1938 as an Airman u/t Pilot, carrying out his pre-war flying at 12 E&RFTS Prestwick.

Called up on 1st September 1939, he completed his flying training at 10 FTS Ternhill on No. 16 Course which ran from 6th November 1939 to 11th May 1940.

Girdwood joined 257 Squadron when it was reformed at Hendon on 17th May. Girdwood, Sgt. RV Forward and Sgt. RHB Fraser were the first pilots to arrive there.




The squadron went through a working-up period and became operational on 1st July, flying from Northolt. On 5th August Girdwood was flying a Magister from Martlesham Heath back to Northolt when he became lost in haze. He made a forced-landing at Ramsey, Essex. He and his passenger, an engineering officer, were unhurt, though the aircraft was damaged.

On 13th August Girdwood shared in a Ju88 destroyed and on the 18th he shared in the destruction of a He111.

On this day he was shot down by a Me110 in combat over the Thames Estuary and baled out, wounded in the foot, and was admitted to Foulness Hospital, which appears to have been a temporary military hospital.

His Hurricane, P3708, crashed at Nazewick Farm, Foulness. Girdwood rejoined 257 Squadron on 16th September.

He was killed on 29th October 1940 when he was shot down in a low-level attack by Me109s of LG2 as he was taking off from North Weald.

His Hurricane, V6852, crashed and burned out. He could not be rescued from the aircraft because of exploding ammunition and he burned to death in the cockpit.

Sergeant GCC Palliser recorded the incident (it seems Girdwood's nickname was 'Tubby' but the origin has been lost):

In the late afternoon a section of 249 Squadron was scrambled with some of 257 Squadron, which had landed at North Weald for a conjoined operation. A number of 249 pilots, including myself, were on 30 minutes stand-by.

As the aircraft of both squadrons were preparing to take off, there was a mighty roar of engines, the clatter of machine guns and the vicious crack of bombs exploding. Together with some of the others on stand-by, we ran like hell for our aircraft to join the action. My memory bothers me somewhat but I swear I never did fasten my harness and simply sat on my parachute. The aircraft had been started by our ground staff, who had not run for shelter. I saw a clear run and went full throttle to get airborne as quickly as possible - the next second there was a mighty "crack" from the direction of Tubby Girdwood of 257 Squadron who was about a hundred yards on my starboard side, also about to be airborne.

At that instant I was airborne and felt a hell of a vibration which shook the aircraft - I thought that I was in trouble - and keeping in full throttle and staying low I executed a half turn of the airfield and landed. By this time the bombing was over and the 109's were being chased by those who had managed to take off satisfactorily.

I managed to taxi back to the dispersal, noticing a Hurricane was on fire a few hundred yards from the perimeter track – my immediate thought was "My God, Tubby Girdwood”

By this time many were running to the burning aircraft and I joined them, only to be prevented from being too close as ammunition was exploding from the heat of the flames. We stood and watched so helplessly and witnessed the terrible sight of a friend burn to death - this was a shocking experience, considering we were talking and joking only fifteen minutes earlier with Tubby and other Sergeant Pilots before the scramble.

In regard to my aircraft, it was found that a part of the blade of the propeller had been sliced off by the fragments of the same bomb which had burst under Tubby Girdwood. This type of attack was a great shock to us all. In late October we thought that German strategy was to increase night bombing and that daytime low level attacks were causing increased losses for the Luftwaffe. The damage to the airfield and buildings, and the loss of life and injuries to personnel was serious indeed; however, our pilots that had managed to become airborne were in a good position to chase and attack the 109's.

At least four were shot down and a number damaged as claims were made by pilots Flight Commander Butch Barton, Pilot Officer Millington, Sergeant Maciejowski and Sergeant Stroud. The pilots of 257 Squadron also were able to do their share in the action.

A sad day in this conflict.


Girdwood is buried in Hawkhead Cemetery Paisley, Renfrewshire.





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