Battle of Britain Monument Home THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN LONDON MONUMENT Battle of Britain London Monument
The Battle of Britain London Monument "Never in the field of human
conflict was so much owed
by so many to so few
Site of Battleof Britain London Monument Work in Progress London Monument Site Drawing of Battle of Britain London Monument
Battle of Britain London Monument Home    

The Airmen's Stories - S/Ldr. H J Maguire


Harold John Maguire was born in Kilkishen, County Clare, Ireland on 12th April 1912 and educated at Wesley College and Trinity College, Dublin. He joined the RAF on a short service commission and began his flying training on 24th March 1933. On 4th April he was posted to 3 FTS Grantham for the intermediate and advanced flying course.

With his training completed, he went on a course to RAF Calshot on 11th March 1934 and on 1st December joined 230 (Flying Boat) Squadron at Pembroke Dock, serving with it in Egypt and the Far East.

Back in the UK Maguire was posted to CFS Upavon on 22nd January 1939 for an instructors course. He was granted a medium service commission on 24th March 1939.



Maguire reformed and commanded 229 Squadron at Digby from 6th October 1939. Over Dunkirk on 28th May 1940 Maguire damaged a Do17. He was posted away to 6 OTU Sutton Bridge on 6th September 1940 to be Squadron Leader i/c Flying.

In late 1941 he was posted to Singapore as Wing Commander Flying of the proposed 266 Wing. After the fall of Singapore, the RAF evacuated to Sumatra but the speed of the Japanese advance made any organised aerial defence impossible. In mid-February 1942 Maguire led the ground defence of P1 Airfield at Palembang, Sumatra against Japanese paratroops.

On Friday 13th February Maguire led seven Hurricanes to P-1, an airfield at Palembang, Sumatra. They arrived overhead as the strip was under heavy attack by Japanese fighters, and Maguire claimed a Zero before landing.

P-1 was shortly afterwards cut off and surrounded by Japanese paratroops and Maguire took charge of its ground defence. Aircraft were stripped of their Browning machine-guns, and Bofors anti-aircraft guns were depressed to give a horizontal line of fire. Even so, Maguire found himself with only 20 men, scant food and water and little ammunition with which to take on the advancing Japanese.

He took up a position in a slit trench and found himself facing several Japanese soldiers who were similarly dug in. When, unexpectedly, they climbed out and began to run towards the jungle, he and another officer managed to kill a number of them.

He was then told that some Dutch troops had arrived to reinforce his garrison. He made for the main gate to greet them, only to discover that the new force in fact comprised 70 enemy paratroops.

Maguire resorted to bluff. Laying down his weapon he marched purposefully up to the nearest Japanese soldier and demanded to see his commanding officer. When he was duly produced, Maguire informed him that he was vastly outnumbered and advised him to surrender.

The Japanese officer, however, who spoke English, countered with a promise to give safe conduct to Maguire and his men if they left their positions. On the pretext of consulting a non-existent superior officer, Maguire returned to the airfield and organised the destruction of all remaining aircraft and equipment.

He and his men then trekked for a week to the west coast of Sumatra, where they found a small coaster to take them back to Batavia. There Maguire took command of what remained of its air defences.

By early March, further resistance proved impossible and Maguire was allocated a seat in one of the last aircraft to leave Java. He gave his spot up for a wounded pilot, however, and so was taken prisoner when the island eventually fell.

He was sent to the Boei Gledale camp, Java where he exhibited great devotion to those under his command in conditions of tremendous hardship. He was remembered by many prisoners for the way in which he stood up to the bullying treatment of the Japanese. After the return of peace, Maguire compiled a detailed dossier on the war crimes perpetrated by his captors, but otherwise succeeded in putting the experience behind him. If asked he would only describe his life in the camp as 'a bad time'.

On his release from captivity, Maguire resumed his career in Fighter Command. Initially he took charge of the station at Linton-on-Ouse flying the new piston-engined de Havilland Hornet.

From 1950 to 1952 he commanded RAF Odiham, Hampshire, which was home to a wing of de Havilland Vampire jets. He then moved on to Malta in 1955 as Senior Air Staff Officer, returning to the Air Ministry the next year to direct tactical and air transport operations.

In 1959 Maguire, by now an Air Vice-Marshal, was forced to land a Spitfire on a cricket pitch in Bromley only 10 minutes after flying over Whitehall in a display commemorating the Battle of Britain.
As his engine failed, he spotted the company sports ground of Oxo and managed to put the aircraft down on the square, breaking the stumps at one end while the teams were off having tea. When he entered the pavilion, nursing an injured back, he was welcomed by the players with a strong cup of Darjeeling.

In 1962 Maguire returned to the Far East to take part in the Indonesian Confrontation as Senior Air Staff Officer. He then became Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Intelligence), and in 1965 Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Intelligence).

He retired from the RAF on 28th September 1968 as an Air Marshal but was then called back to become the Ministry of Defence's Director-General of Intelligence for four more years.

From 1975 until 1982 he was a director of Commercial Union, the insurance group, and he was also its political and economic adviser from 1972 to 1979. In final retirement, he lived at Brantham, Suffolk where he was chairman of the local Conservative Association and of the branch of the British Legion, and was a keen member of the Royal Harwich Yacht Club.

Maguire received three Mentions in Despatches, 1940, 1942 and 1946 and the DSO (gazetted 1st October 1946) He was made an OBE (gazetted 2nd January 1950), a CB (1958) and was created KCB (1966).

He died in February 2001.


Battle of Britain Monument