The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. W T Page
Wilfrid Thomas Page was born on 13th July 1914, the son of William Richardson Page and Esther Olive Page (nee Polhill).
His family came from Epsom, Surrey and he attended the Epsom County School for Boys (now Glyn School) there.
He married Emma Edith Beadle in
Page joined the RAFVR in January 1938 as an Airman u/t Pilot and commenced training at the Scottish College of Aviation at Prestwick. In April that year he continued training nearer home at 15 EFTS Redhill, going on to more advanced training at 33 EFTS Whitchurch near Bristol in May 1939.
Above: Page (seated on ground third from right) at Prestwick 1938
Called up on 1st September 1939, he was assessed as suitable for service as a bomber pilot and went on to fly multi-engine trainers back at Redhill with detachments to Middle Wallop and a tented camp at Chipping Norton.
Some of his colleagues at Chipping Norton, names unknown.
On 31st July 1940 he was posted to 11 OTU Bassingbourn to convert to Wellington bombers. About this time Fighter Command was seeking volunteers from other commands and Page must have responded to this as on 2nd September 1940 he went to 5 OTU Aston Down to train on Hurricanes. On the 29th of that month he passed out and was posted to No.1 squadron at Northolt, the squadron moved to Wittering the following day.
Page was very proud of his home town and was permitted by the local council to paint the
Epsom & Ewell coat of arms on his aircraft.
On the 29th October Page claimed a Do17 destroyed but during the combat the glycol system of his Hurricane P3318 was damaged by return fire and he had to make a forced landing at Orton near Peterborough. The Hurricane had to be written off. He remained with 1 Squadron as it moved back to Northolt on 14th December 1940, then on to Kenley on 5th January 1941 and Croydon in April 1941. His tour ended in May 1941 when he was commissioned and posted to 59 OTU at Crosby-on-Eden, Cumbria as an instructor.
Page was back on operations in December that year, serving with 32 Squadron at Manston as Flight Commander of 'B' Flight. He flew one sortie on 12th February 1942 as part of the 'Channel Dash' incident when three German capital ships, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen, sailed down the English Channel in daylight.
Above: At Manston on 12th February Page photographed the operations board of 825 Fleet Air Arm Squadron after it had been written up with details of the six Swordfish torpedo biplanes that were sent against the German fleet. All were shot down and thirteen of the eighteen crewmen were killed. The flight leader, Lt. Eugene Esmonde, was awarded a posthumous VC.
Admiral Otto Ciliax of the Scharnhorst recorded 'The mothball attack of a handful of ancient planes, piloted by men whose bravery surpasses any other action by either side that day'.
Above: Page (centre) with other pilots of 'B' Flight of 32 Squadron.
Promotion to Squadron Leader in March 1942 was followed by a posting in May to the newly-formed 174 (Mauritius) Squadron, also at Manston. The squadron was equipped with the Hurricane II 'Hurribomber', adapted to carry bombs, and engaged in anti-shipping and dive-bombing operations along the French coast. Page was awarded a Mention in Despatches (gazetted 11th June 1942) for his work with 32 Squadron.
Below: Page (standing by propeller) with the pilots of 174 Squadron at Manston.
Above: Page (fourth from right in pilot group) and his fellow pilots
wait while bombs are loaded on their Hurricanes.
Below: his Mention in Despatches
Shortly after the Dieppe operation in August 1942 Page's tour ended and he resumed instructing duties at 56 OTU Tealing, near Dundee.
His next posting in June 1943 involved him converting to Spitfires and going to command 126 Squadron at Safi on Malta, then operating offensive sweeps over the Mediterranean. Following the invasion of Sicily the squadron moved to Gerbini airfield there, arriving in October 1943. As the Germans retreated the squadron moved the following month to Grottaglie airfield in the heel of Italy.
On 16th November 1943 Page was leading the squadron on an operation over modern-day Cerma-Bicak in Albania when his Spitfire Vc JK950 was hit by flak. He elected to try and bring the aircraft back but over the sea his engine failed. He was seen to bale out but his parachute had not fully deployed when he hit the water.
Above: his loss was described in a letter to his wife from Page's commanding officer.
Page was 29, his body was not recovered and he is commemorated on the Malta Memorial.
He left a wife, Emma, and four children.
Additional research and all photographs courtesy of the Page family.