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The Airmen's Stories - F/Lt. I J Muirhead


Ian James Muirhead was born in 1913 at West Ham, East London, the son of John Stewart Muirhead and Clara Muirhead.

His family later moved to Carlisle. He was educated at Nelson School, Wigton.

Muirhead joined the RAF in September 1929 as an Aircraft Apprentice and passed out in August 1932.

He later applied for pilot training and was selected. Before the war Muirhead was serving with 151 Squadron. He was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 24th October 1939 and commissioned in April 1940.



Muirhead joined 605 Squadron at Wick on 6th April 1940. On the 10th he damaged a He111.

The squadron moved south to Hawkinge on 21st May. He destroyed a He111 and damaged another on 22nd May, destroyed a Hs126 and two Ju87s on the 25th and destroyed a Me110 on the 26th.

On this day Muirhead was patrolling Dunkirk when he was shot down in Hurricane I N2346, it was thought by Royal Navy anti-aircraft gunners but most probably a Me110.

He baled out over Ostende and despite being fired on by Belgian soldiers while still in his parachute reached the port and boarded the ss Abukir which sailed for England. Early the next morning she was then torpedoed by E-boat S-34 and sank within minutes.

The E-boat machine-gunned survivors in the water by the light of its searchlight. Perhaps 200 people were lost with approximately 32 survivors being rescued by RN destroyers. Muirhead then spent a short period in the RAF Hospital Torquay recovering.

Muirhead was made non-effective sick and did not rejoin 605 until 15th July.

He was awarded the DFC (gazetted 28th June 1940), 605 Squadron’s first decoration.

He claimed a He111 destroyed on 15th August and shared a Do17 on 24th September. He was appointed 'B' Flight Commander on the 29th and promoted to Acting Flight Lieutenant about 10th October.

Muirhead was shot down in combat with Me109s over south London on 7th October and baled out, unhurt. His Hurricane, V7305, crashed and burned out at Bexley. In the action he damaged a Me109.

Muirhead was shot down and killed by Me109s over Maidstone on 15th October 1940. His Hurricane, N2546, crashed at Spekes Bottom, Darland, near Gillingham.

He was 27.

He is buried in St Mary’s churchyard, Holme Cultram, Cumberland.

Additional research courtesy of


Above image courtesy of Lost Ancestors.


His portrait was made by Cuthbert Orde (below).


A memorial at the crash site was unveiled on Remembrance Sunday 2020, in the 80th anniversary year.


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