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The Airmen's Stories - F/O P W Rabone


Paul Watling Rabone was born in Salisbury, England on 2nd March 1918, the son of Clarence Noble Rabone and Frances May Rabone. He went with his family to New Zealand.

From September 1935 until June 1936 he served in the 7th Field Battery, Territorial Army. In April 1938 Rabone was accepted for the Civil Reserve of Pilots and carried out his flying training at Middle Districts and Auckland Aero Clubs, obtaining his 'A' License on 18th May that year.

Having applied for a short service commission earlier in the year, Rabone was now accepted and he reported to No.1 FTS Wigram on 4th July 1938 as an Acting Pilot Officer. He was awarded his flying badge on 13th October and completed the course two months later.

Rabone sailed for the UK on 1st February 1939 and on arrival at No.1 RAF Depot Uxbridge he transferred into the RAF.

On 17th April Rabone joined 88 Squadron, operating Fairey Battles at Boscombe Down. The squadron went to France on 2nd September 1939.

In May 1940, returning from a raid on the Maastricht bridges, Rabone's aircraft was severely damaged by flak and he and his crew baled out, landing behind enemy lines. They acquired civilian clothes, joined a refugee column and after five days reached Dieppe. From here they flew back to England and rejoined the squadron in France three days later.



(Above: from the album of F/O JR Gard'ner - Rabone is at left, Trousdale (centre) also served in the Battle)


Rabone was shot down by a Me109 on 12th June during an attack on a Seine bridge. He and his crew again baled out and rejoined the squadron, which was withdrawn to Driffield, Yorkshire on the 15th.

In August 1940 Rabone volunteered for Fighter Command and on the 19th he joined 145 Squadron at Drem. He shot down a Me109 on 12th October, which went down into the sea off Dungeness.

On the 28th Rabone was posted to 422 Flight and on 6th November he destroyed a Me109. The Flight was renumbered 96 Squadron on 18th December and assigned to the night defence of Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham, being based at Cranage. Rabone destroyed an enemy bomber on 22nd December which went into the sea off Blackpool.

In March 1941 the squadron began to receive Defiants.

On 13th April 1941 Rabone was aloft in Defiant N1766 on a night air test with F/O JM Ritchie when the radio receiver suffered a partial failure which prevented the two crew from communicating properly with their base.

This was followed by the Merlin engine suffering a major coolant leak, it seized and the two airmen abandoned the aircraft.

They came down not far from the crash site but in the darkness walked in different directions with one walking out to Alport and the other to the Derwent valley. Ritchie found a farmhouse and knocked on the door.

Ritchie recorded:

Suspicious farmer: 'Where have you come from ?'
Ritchie: 'I’ve just bailed out of an aeroplane'
Farmer (still more suspicious): 'Are you British ?'
Ritchie (A Scot): 'Oh yes !'

The Defiant crashed at Rowlee Pasture, west of the Derwent Reservoir. During 1980 the aircraft’s Merlin engine was recovered from the crash site and is now displayed at the Nightfighter Preservation Trust at the Yorkshire Air Museum, Elvington.

Around this time he married Pamela Barbara Buchanan in Ware, Hertfordshire.

Rabone was posted to 85 Squadron at Hundson on 2nd May 1941. He left on 7th July to take command of 1451 Flight, also at Hunsdon, a Turbinlite Havoc unit. He was rested from operations on 2nd November and posted to Kenley for controller training, attached to 485 Squadron. In December Rabone was given command of 1528 Beam Approach Training Flight at Drem.

He joined 256 Squadron at Squires Gate on 12th May 1942, went on a seven week attachment to 29 Squadron at West Malling and was then posted to 488 Squadron at Church Fenton, as a Flight Commander. On 24th April 1943 Rabone went to 51 OTU, then on to 60 OTU. He flew a Mosquito from Lyneham in early June and joined 23 Squadron at Luqa, Malta. He was made a Flight Commander in July.

He borrowed a Spitfire on 15th August to fly spare parts from Malta to a squadron detachment at Palermo. On the way back he met a Ju88 fifteen miles west of Trapani airfield and after a ten mile chase he shot it down into the sea.

The squadron moved to Sigonella, Sicily in early September and on the 8th Rabone led an intruder raid on Grosseto airfield. During the operation he shot down a Ju88, a He111 and damaged a second He111. In mid-November 1943 Rabone returned to the UK and was posted to 60 OTU as an instructor.

He was awarded the DFC (gazetted 25th January 1944).

On 16th March 1944 Rabone transferred to the RNZAF and was posted to 515 Squadron, operating in Mosquitos from Little Snoring. On 21st June he destroyed a Me110 in daylight and during the night of 30th June/1st July a He111 and a Junkers W34. Rabone rejoined 23 Squadron in mid-July, also based at Little Snoring.

He took off to attack a target in north-west Germany on 24th July 1944 but his Mosquito FB.V1 HR236 failed to return. His body was washed ashore at Heligoland Island three months later and buried there. After the war Rabone's remains were re-interred at Hotten British Military Cemetery, Belgium.

The body of his navigator, F/O FCH Johns DFC, was also recovered and lies in Hanover War Cemetery.


Above image courtesy of



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