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The Airmen's Stories - F/Lt. D F B Sheen


Desmond Frederick Burt Sheen was born in Sydney on 2nd October 1917. He grew up in Canberra and was educated at Mortdale Public School and Telopea Park School there.

He joined the RAAF in January 1936, carrying out his flying training as an air cadet at Point Cook.

Sheen transferred to the RAF and arrived at Tilbury on 19th February 1937 aboard the ss Narkunda.

He was posted to 9 FTS Thornaby on 20th March and after completing his training joined 72 Squadron at Church Fenton on 30th June 1937.

Still serving with the squadron at the outbreak of war, Sheen damaged a He115 floatplane over the North Sea on 21st October 1939 and shared a He111 on 7th December. He was wounded in this latter action and admitted to hospital.




On 20th April 1940 Sheen was posted to 212 Squadron, part of the Photographic Development Unit at Heston, and went with a 212 detachment to France. He was awarded the DFC (gazetted 7th May 1940).

After their aircraft were bombed on the ground in France, the detachment was forced to evacuate its base on 14th June 1940. Sheen and the other pilots made their way back to England by way of Gibraltar, reaching Heston on 12th July.

Sheen was posted back to 72 Squadron, then at Acklington, on 29th July as 'A' Flight Commander, with the rank of Acting Flight Lieutenant.

On 15th August he destroyed a Me110, a He111 and a Ju88.

Sheen was shot down in an engagement with Me109s on 1st September and baled out, unhurt. His Spitfire, X4109, crashed at Court Lodge Farm, Ham Street.

On reaching the ground, Sheen was confronted by a girl and a young Army officer who, suspicious of the darker blue of Sheen's old Australian uniform, brandished a revolver. The misunderstanding cleared up, the girl took Sheen to a nearby house where a party of guests were enjoying pre-lunch drinks on the lawn as they watched the battle in the sky overhead.

On the 4th he claimed a probable Me110. The next day Sheen was surprised by a Me109 over Kent and baled out, wounded.

As his Spitfire hurtled towards the ground, Sheen, though wounded, managed to release his harness. He was sucked out of the cockpit, but his boots caught on the windscreen and he was left lying on top of the fuselage.

'After what seemed an age' he recalled 'my feet came free and I pulled the ripcord and my parachute opened with a terrific jerk. I just had time to see treetops underneath when I was in them. These broke my fall and I landed on my feet as light as a feather. A bobby appeared on the proverbial bicycle. He pulled out a flask, bless him, and handed it to me. "You left it a bit late" he said'.

He was taken to Queen Marys Hospital, Sidcup. His Spitfire, X4034, crashed at Wildage Farm, Bladbean.

He rejoined the squadron on 13th October 1940 and re-assumed command of 'A' Flight on 5th November.



Sheen destroyed a Ju88 during the night of 13th/14th March 1941.

As I opened fire I could see my tracer bullets bursting in the Junkers like fireworks . . . when I turned in for my next attack I saw that one of the Hun's engines was beginning to burn but just to make quite sure of him I pumped in a lot more bullets then I had to dive like mad to avoid ramming him.

He took command of 72 Squadron in April, damaged Me109s on 17th and 29th August and probably destroyed another on 2nd October. He was posted away from 72 in October 1941 and awarded a Bar to the DFC (gazetted 21st October 1941).

He commanded RAF Manston from 10th November 1942 to 18th April 1943, then commanded RAF Skeabrae and later RAF Drem. From March 1944 until January 1945 Sheen commanded HQ 148 Wing.

He was then posted to the staff of Air HQ Middle East, Cairo.

Sheen was released from the RAF in late 1946 and returned to Australia. He rejoined the RAF, with a Permanent Commission and the rank of Squadron Leader, as of 1st January 1950.

He commanded 502 Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force Squadron from 1950 to 1952. In 1954 he was with the Air Fighting Unit at the CFE and in 1955 he was posted to RAF Leuchars, as Wing Commander

He was one of the 12 serving Group Captains who had flown in the Battle of Britain to march in Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral procession in 1965.

Sheen retired on 2nd January 1971 as a Group Captain. He then joined BAC/British Aerospace, to administer the company’s BAC-111 and Concorde marketing teams.

He married, in 1941, Muriel Russell; they had a son, who served in the RAF and flew with the Red Arrows, and a daughter.

Sheen died in June 2001.


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