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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. J Whelan


John Whelan was born on 10th July 1915 in Birmingham. He went to Slade Road School, Erdington and then Handsworth Junior Technical School.

He joined the RAF in September 1930 as an Aircraft Apprentice and passed out in August 1933 as a Fitter, Aero Engines. His first posting was to 33 Light Bomber Squadron, operating the Hawker Hart.

The squadron moved to Egypt in September 1935, based at Mersah Matruh, before going in July 1936 to Ramleh in Palestine. Having applied for pilot training, Whelan was accepted and sailed for the UK in December 1936.


Above image courtesy of the Graham Saunders Archive.


His initial training was carried out at Bristol Flying School, civilian clothes were worn and flying commenced on Tiger Moths. His advanced training was at Wittering on Audaxes and Harts, he gained his wings on 4th September 1937.

His first posting was 64 Squadron, operating Hawker Demons from Martlesham Heath and commanded by S/Ldr. FV Beamish.

On 3rd June 1938 the squadron moved to Church Fenton to re-equip with the Blenheim and take up a night-fighter role. However they were mostly employed in convoy protection patrols before converting to the Spitfire in April 1940. A flight in a Fairey Battle was the only preparation.

On 16th May the squadron moved to Kenley and were soon operating over Dunkirk, often from a forward base at Hawkinge.

His logbook shows seven sorties on 23rd July alone. Whelan crash-landed at Kenley on the 11th August after his Spitfire, P9450, was damaged in combat with Me109s over Dover.

After many experienced pilots had been lost the remainder were withdrawn to Leconfield on 30th August though Whelan, P/O EG Gilbert and P/O AF Laws spent 5th to 20th September in night patrols over Liverpool, for which the Spitfire was totally unsuited.

On 21st September he joined 19 Squadron at Duxford, part of the 'Big Wing'.

Tour-expired, he commenced instructor training at Upavon on 17th December 1940 and then instructed at 2 SFTS Brize Norton before sailing on 21st May 1941 aboard the ss 'Britannic' for Canada and a flying school operating Harvards at Medicine Hat, Alberta.

This was succeeded in September 1942 by a posting to 133 Squadron RCAF at Bagotville, Quebec to train pilots on the Hurricane. Whelan then returned to the UK aboard the ss 'Queen Elizabeth' in January 1943.

Commissioned from Warrant Officer in June 1943, he spent the remainder of the war as a test pilot at Cranwell. Staying in the postwar RAF as a Senior Engineer he spent many years with Vampire Squadrons in the Middle East before being involved with acceptance testing for the Comet and Argosy.

Whelan was awarded the AFC (gazetted 14th June 1945) and made an MBE (gazetted 1st January 1959).

He retired from the RAF on 15th September 1966 as a Wing Commander.

Whelan died in January 1996 in Weymouth.


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