Battle of Britain Monument Home THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN LONDON MONUMENT Battle of Britain London Monument
The Battle of Britain London Monument "Never in the field of human
conflict was so much owed
by so many to so few
."
Site of Battleof Britain London Monument Work in Progress London Monument Site Drawing of Battle of Britain London Monument
Battle of Britain London Monument Home    
   

The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. E F Le Conte

 

Edgar Francis Le Conte was born on 8th March 1920 in Thornton Heath, Croydon, the eldest of five children born to Francis Herbert (Instrument Maker for Smiths of London) and Florence Helen Le Conte (Seamstress).

He was educated at the local Norbury Manor School, on leaving school he found employment with Slazenger, the famous sports equipment manufacturer, where he was trained in accountancy.

 

 

Le Conte applied to join the RAF VR in late October 1939 at the Combined Recruiting Centre, Mitcham Road, Croydon. He was accepted and summoned to report to No. 4 Wing of No.2 Recruit Reception Centre, RAF Cardington on 3rd November 1939, where the following day he attested and became 940406 Aircraftman 2nd Class Le Conte. Following his basic training he was selected for further training to become an Aircrafthand/Wireless Operator.

On 8th December he arrived at 2 Electrical and Wireless School, RAF Yatesbury, to carry out his Wireless Operator’s course, during which he completed 25 hours of flying in DH Dominie training aircraft. On completion of this course on 21st August 1940 and following a short period of leave he reported to No.1 Bombing and Gunnery School, RAF Manby on 26th August, where he successfully completed an Air Gunners course during which he carried out a further 10.25 hours of flying in both Hawker Demon and Fairey Battle aircraft.

He passed 3rd highest on his course and was awarded his Air Gunner's Badge on 21st September 1940, having fired 3,140 rounds of ammunition and exposed 23 feet of cine gun camera film during his training. Le Conte was promoted to Acting Sergeant and posted to the Fighter Interception Unit (FIU) at RAF Shoreham on 23rd September 1940. (The FIU was an operational airborne radar trials unit which answered directly to HQ Fighter Command, but came under the day to day operational control of the RAF Tangmere Sector in No.11 Group).

 

L to R: Sgt. RH Leyland, Sgt. EW Lesk, P/O GE Morris, F/Lt. G Ashfield, unknown, Sgt. EF Le Conte at FIU Ford.

 

Le Conte carried out his first operational flight as an Air Gunner on 26th September and on 7th October he had his first contact with the Luftwaffe when his Blenheim (1340), piloted by P/O DL Ryalls was attacked by three Me110s, he engaged one and was credited with a ‘damaged’ claim.

On the evening of 15th October in Blenheim (1404), piloted by P/O JW White, they intercepted a Do215, but while getting into a position to attack, they themselves were attacked by an Me109, despite Le Conte getting off a good burst of return fire at the attacker, no results were seen and the Blenheim had lost all of its hydraulics which caused it to overshoot on landing and its undercarriage to collapse.

With Beaufighters becoming the main equipment of the FIU in 1941, there was less of a requirement for Air Gunners and Le Conte was one of those re-trained in house as an Airborne Interception Operator (AI/Op) and he qualified in February 1941. The unit was also evaluating new equipment for the Boulton Paul Defiant and had five of the type on charge from November 1940 to early 1942.

Le Conte’s next engagement with the enemy came at the guns of Defiant NF Mk I (N1811) on the night of 15th March 1941, with his Flight Commander, F/Lt. Glyn Ashfield (later DFC) as pilot. Ashfield had achieved the worlds first airborne radar-guided kill on the night of 22nd/23rd July 1940 in a Blenheim of the FIU.

 

They intercepted a He111 south of Brighton but after firing just 64 rounds from each gun, the Defiant’s turret suffered a total failure and the action had to be broken off resulting in only a claim of damaged.

In the early morning of 7th July 1941, Le Conte was in Beaufighter NF Mk II (2244) being flown by the unit CO, W/Cdr. Evans when they intercepted and destroyed a He111, 30 miles off Selsey. It was his first success as a Radar Operator.

On 25th January 1942 Le Conte qualified as a Navigator (Radio) and changed his flying badge from AG to N and on 1st March he was promoted to Flight Sergeant. On 1st April 1942 Le Conte was flying as Air Gunner to W/Cdr. Evans in Defiant NF Mk II (AA301) when it carried out the first landing on the new concrete runways of RAF Ford.

On 22nd May Le Conte was detached to No.2 School of Air Navigation, RAF Cranage to attend No.8 (Night Fighter) Navigation Course. On 25th January 1943 he was detached to the Radar Development Flight (RDF) at RAF Drem to assist in trails of the Mk IV, V and VII radar sets.

On 14th April 1943 Le Conte’s long association with the FIU came to an end when he was posted to 604 Squadron at RAF Scorton and teamed up with his pilot S/Ldr. W Hoy. On 1st May 1943 Le Conte was promoted to Warrant Officer and on 24th June he was granted a commission in the RAFVR and became a Pilot Officer (No.149330).

 

Above: a Beaufighter of 604 (F) Squadronn, RAF Scorton, July 1943.

Above image courtesy of Darren Prior & Relatives of the Few Facebook Group.

 

On the night of 13/14th July 1943 with S/Ldr. Hoy they probably destroyed a Do217 with their own aircraft ‘NG –H’ being damaged by fragments of the enemy aircraft.

Later in July on the night of 25th/26th, while on a freelance patrol over the North Sea, they intercepted another Do217 and after a 20 minute chase destroyed it 75 miles East of Filey. On the following night they were on another freelance patrol out over the North Sea with another 604 Squadron Beaufighter flown W/O Ray and W/O Waller when they intercepted and shared in the destruction of a Ju88.

In this action Le Conte’s aircraft V8593 suffered a breech explosion in one of its cannon and had to break off the action believing they had been hit by return fire.

In early October 1943 Le Conte was rested from operations after being involved in continuous operational flying for just over four years without a break. On 12th October 1943 he began training to become an AI Instructor at 62 OTU RAF Ouston during which he flew some 11 hours in Avro Anson aircraft.

On completion of the course on 3rd November he was posted for instructional duties to 'B' Flight of 54 (NF) OTU RAF Charter Hall and became the Course Officer to No.38 AI Operators Course.

The OTU’s Chief Flying Instructor, W/Cdr. Arthur John Banham, who Le Conte had flown with while serving with 604 Squadron, was posted to command 108 (F) Sqn at RAF Luqa, Malta. He selected Le Conte to be his personal Navigator (Radio) and after 14 days of pre-embarkation leave Le Conte boarded a series of BOAC-operated Dakota transports en route to Malta. On 24th December Le Conte was promoted to Flying Officer. On 17th February 1944 he was promoted to Acting Flight Lieutenant and became 108 (F) Squadron’s Senior Nav-Radar Leader as he was by far the most experienced AI Operator on the unit.

Le Conte was also regularly called upon to act as an instructor in-theatre to convert other Night Fighter units' radar navigators to the new Mk. VIII AI Radar Set, which was now arriving in the Mediterranean fitted to Mosquito Mk. XII/XIII aircraft which were beginning to replace all of the older Mk. VI Beaufighters.

On 10th May 1944 Le Conte was posted to Marcianise Airfield in southern Italy as CO of the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces (AI) Conversion Flight. His role was to oversee converting all the AI Operators, Radio Operators and Navigator-Radar Operators of 600 (F) Squadron RAF and the 415th (NF) Squadron USAAF to operate the new Mk. VIII Radar Set.

With this task completed he returned in June 1944 to 108 (F) Squadron, then based at RAF Hal Far in Malta, and spent the next few weeks carrying out fruitless night patrols all over the area protecting Allied supply convoys. On 24th July 108 (F) Sqn was disbanded but was reformed at RAF Edku, Egypt on 1st August 1944 under the command of W/Cdr. John Reginald Cass Young who had been a supernumerary at the unit since 15th July. On 25th September Le Conte became tour expired again and was posted for staff duties to Air HQ Malta.

By 1st January 1945 he was back in the UK and working on GCA with the Signals Flying Unit at RAF Honiley. On 24th June he was promoted to substantive Flight Lieutenant and on 28th July he was married to Gwendoline Mary Fox at West Croydon Congregational Church, they had first met at the funeral of a fellow Air Gunner in October 1940 in Sheffield.

On 1st September 1946 he was posted to the Central Signals Establishment, RAF Watton and on 3rd February 1948 he was posted to RAF Tangmere as a supernumerary Acting Squadron Leader, Ground Control Approach (GCA) Controller. On 12th October 1948 he was offered a permanent commission in the RAF Aircraft Control Branch in the rank of Flight Lieutenant with backdated seniority due to his RAFVR service.

In 1950 he was transferred to the Fighter Control Branch and was a student on No.17 Fighter Controllers Course at RAF Middle Wallop from 7th May to 30th June, following which he was posted to RAF Neatished. He was then posted to RAF Patrington in 1952, then HQ 83 Group/2nd TAF in 1953 and then to HQ 12 Group of Fighter Command in 1956 as a Squadron Leader.

On 1st June 1958 Le Conte was appointed as the Station Commander of RAF Trimingham, a radar station in Norfolk. In 1962 he was on the staff of HQ Bomber Command and by 1964 he was the Senior Evaluating Officer at RAF Buchan, where on 1st January 1967 he was promoted to Wing Commander and became OC Operations Wing.

Le Conte then went in 1968 to posts at HQ 11 Group, Bentley Priory. He was awarded the OBE in the Queen's New Years Honours List on 1st January 1972, following which he went to HQ Strike Command at RAF High Wycombe in 1973. He then held the post of Senior NATO Fighter Control Evaluation Officer until his retirement from regular service aged 55 years old on 8th March 1975 following 35 years of continuous RAF service.

Sadly he did not get to enjoy a long and well deserved retirement. After a serious and short illness he died on 4th May 1981 aged 61. He was buried in Aldborough Cemetery, near Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire.

 

Majority of research and top image courtesy of Joel Diggle.


 

 

Battle of Britain Monument