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The Airmen's Stories - W/Cdr. J M Thompson


John Marlow Thompson was born at Saltford, Somerset on 16th August 1914 and educated at Bristol Grammar School.

His father, a Bristol builder, died when he was 12 and he was brought up by his mother. He was good at sport, particularly rugby for which he would represent the RAF from 1935 to 1938.

He joined the RAF on a short service commission in March 1934, was posted to 5 FTS Sealand on 3rd April and after completing his training he joined 29 Squadron at North Weald on 4th March 1935.



Thompson left 29 Squadron on 13th November 1935 when it was sent to Egypt during the Abyssinian crisis and he joined 56 Squadron at North Weald the next day.

In 1936 Thompson was made ‘C’ Flight Commander and he took that flight to reform 151 Squadron at North Weald on 4th August 1936. He was then appointed ‘A’ Flight Commander of the reformed 151 Squadron.

He married Margaret Sylvia Barlow Morris Rowlands in Epping in early 1938.

On 24th January 1940 Thompson took command of 111 Squadron at Drem. In patrols over France in May, he destroyed a Me110 and shared in the destruction of a Hs126 on the 18th and he probably destroyed a He111 on the 19th. In this engagement Thompson was shot down in Hurricane L1733 by escorting Me110s over Valenciennes. He made a crash-landing in a field, was helped by British soldiers and returned to England in a ship from Boulogne.

Under Thompson's command the feats of 111 Squadron against heavy odds were quite spectacular. This had much to do with his own philosophy of taking the enemy head on. Sometimes a whole flight would attack in line abreast, guns blazing. One of its pilots, F/O HM Ferris, shot down eight German aircraft in three sorties, a feat which can seldom have been equalled.

Over Dunkirk on 31st May Thompson possibly destroyed a Me109 and on 11th June he destroyed a Me109, probably destroyed another and damaged a Ju88.

On 10th July and 11th August he damaged Do17s, on the 13th destroyed a Do17 and damaged another, on the 15th he destroyed a Do17 and a Me110 and probably destroyed a Me109 and on the 16th destroyed a Do17.

Thompson was awarded the DFC (gazetted 6th September 1940).

On 5th October 1940 he was posted away to HQ 11 Group as an Acting Wing Commander i/c Flying Training. Thompson was appointed Station Commander at RAF Southend on 27th December 1940.

He was very popular as he arranged improvements in the accommodation and instigated an inter-unit vegetable plot competition.

Thompson returned to operations on 30th June 1941, taking command of 131 Squadron at its reformation at Ouston. It had a high proportion of Belgian pilots and after the squadron became operational in October Thompson was posted to RAF Valley on 13th November with twelve Belgian pilots, to form and command 350 Squadron.

He led it until March 1942, when he was posted away for a rest.

On 28th July 1942 Thompson was sent to Malta and appointed temporary Wing Commander Flying of the Ta Kali Spitfire Wing on 5th August. From 27th August until 27th December 1942 he led the Hal Far Wing and from 28th December until 10th June 1943 he led the Luqa Wing. This gave Thompson the distinction of commanding all Malta’s Spitfire Wings in turn, over a period of ten months.

He shared in the probable destruction of a Ju88 on 27th August, destroyed a Me109 on 11th October, damaged one on the 12th and destroyed a Ju88 and damaged another Me109 on the 14th.

Thompson was awarded a Bar to the DFC (gazetted 4th December 1942), the Belgian Military Cross (1st Class)(gazetted 1st January 1943) and the DSO (gazetted 14th May 1943).

In August 1945 he went for a course to RAF Staff College Bracknell and from March 1946 he was on the Air Staff HQ BAFO, Germany.

In June 1948 the Russians blockaded Berlin, cutting off the city’s land and water access routes. For almost a year two million people had to be supplied by air. As Wing Commander Ops during this period Thompson played an important role in ensuring that an aircraft carrying vital coal, food and other necessities was able to land at RAF Gatow in the British sector every two minutes.

From June 1949 he was Wing Commander Flying at RAF Thorney Island and Waterbeach and from March 1952 he was SASO at HQ 11 Group.

In 1954 Thompson was made a CBE and in November was posted as Group Captain Ops at the Central Fighter Establishment. He commanded RAF Leeming from March 1957, was made Director of Air Defence at the Air Ministry in November 1958, went as a student to the Imperial Defence College in January 1961 and from January 1962 he was AOC Military Air Traffic Operations.

Thompson was awarded the Danish Order of Dannebrog in May 1951. He retired from the RAF on 14th September 1966 as an Air Commodore.

In retirement he was, for five years, secretary of the Moor Park Golf Club before taking over as secretary of Monte Carlo Golf Club in 1973. He spent a happy ten years in Monte Carlo, where he was friendly with Prince Rainier and Princess Grace.

He died on 5th August 1994 in Brighton.

His portrait was made by Leslie Cole.


Above image courtesy of the RAF Museum.


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