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The Airmen's Stories - F/Lt. J B W Humpherson


John Bernard William Humpherson was born on 6th July 1916 in Enfield, Middlesex, the son of Sydney Frederick Humpherson and Lilian Maud Busby Humpherson (nee King).

He was educated at Brighton College. He joined the RAF on a short service commission in October 1936. After his initial training he was posted to 10 FTS Tern Hill on 16th January 1937 and joined 32 Squadron at Church Fenton on 7th August.



In September 1939 Humpherson was serving with 607 Squadron at Acklington.

The following month he married Barbara Grave Elizabeth Crook Gilgryst in Durham. They went on to have two children.

He went with 607 Squadron when it flew its Gladiators from Croydon to Merville on 15th November.

He destroyed a He111 and damaged another on 10th May 1940. Humpherson was posted back to England soon afterwards to join 32 Squadron at Wittering. Using Abbeville as a forward base, the squadron took part in the fighting in France. On 20th May Humpherson damaged a Me109 and on the 22nd destroyed one.


Above: P/O JP Pfeiffer, F/Lt. JBW Humpherson, F/Lt. PM Gardner, S/Ldr. MN Crossley, F/O DH Grice, P/O JF Pain, F/O AF Eckford, P/O K Pniak, P/O BA Wlasnowolski


Flying from Biggin Hill, he claimed a Do17 destroyed on 10th July, a Ju87 on the 20th, a Me109 probably destroyed on 12th August and a Ju88 and a probable Me109 on the 15th.

Humpherson rejoined 607 Squadron on 23rd August and was awarded the DFC (gazetted 30th August 1940).

He damaged a Do17 on 15th September. He joined 90 Squadron when it reformed at Watton, Norfolk on 7th May 1941.

On the 22nd June 1941 Flying Fortress AN522 took off from West Raynham at 16.10hrs, the purpose of the flight was to allow physiological research and tests to be done at high altitude. On board alongside the crew of five airmen were two senior medical officers in the rear of the aircraft and a further qualified pilot who was to take temperature readings in the cockpit cabin. The aircraft was to fly at an altitude of 30,000ft so that the problem of oxygen masks freezing could be investigated, an assessment of the energy used by air gunners while in combat was also to be carried out.

An hour after take-off and between 30,000 and 31,000 feet the aircraft entered a large cumulo-nimbus (or thunder) cloud. The temperature in the aircraft was estimated to have dropped by some 20 degrees and peices of ice began to enter through the open rear gun ports. After around a minute of flying in these conditions the aircraft entered a steep and high-speed dive after control was lost while flying in this very turbulent weather.

The pilot was able to regain some control briefly and began to pull out of the dive but the forces generated caused a failure of the port wing spar. The port wing broke off beyond the port outer engine and this was followed by the disintegration of the aircraft in the air. None of the six crew in the front of the aircraft were able to attempt to abandon the aircraft but the two medical officers in the rear of the aircraft had been able attach their chest parachutes. Only one of them however was able to make an exit through a waist gun window.

Because of the height at which break-up occurred wreckage was spread over a wide area from the region of Catterick racecourse in the south-west to six miles north-east of Catterick Bridge. The port wing section was found towards the north-east end of the debris trail while much of the cockpit section, engines and most of the fuselage was found nearer the south-west.

Those lost were:

F/O JCM Hawley RAF
1st Lt F Bradley USAAC
Sgt. HP Black RAFVR
F/Sgt. GJ Garwood RAFVR
Sgt. TJ Wills RCAF
F/Lt. JBW Humpherson DFC RAE (Scientific Observer)
S/Ldr. DAH Robson MB Ch.B
F/Lt. WK Stewart AFC RAFMS, RAE - Abandoned aircraft uninjured.

Humpherson was 24 and is buried in St Paul's churchyard, Heslington, Yorkshire.


Above image courtesy of




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