The Airmen's Stories - F/Lt. J E Marshall
James Eglington 'Nigger' Marshall was born circa 1918, the son of Engineer-Commander HH Marshall, RD, RNR, and Mrs Marshall. He spent his childhood in West Africa (and was possibly born in Accra, Gold Coast Colony)
Marshall was provisionally accepted for a commission in the Reserve of Air Force Officers and began his initial training at 4 Elementary & Reserve Flying Training School, Brough, on 23rd September 1937.
At the end of this course Marshall travelled to No. 1 RAF Depot at Uxbridge, Middlesex, on 24th November to undergo a short induction course, being commissioned 70809 Acting P/O on probation with effect from 24th November.
From Uxbridge Marshall was posted to 8 Flying Training School, Montrose on 11th December and by this time he had acquired the nickname of 'Nigger' owing to his childhood in West Africa. He went on to the Reserve List with the rank of P/O on 30th October 1938, but soon afterwards applied for a short service commission and was posted to 85 (Fighter) Squadron in about March 1939.
85 Squadron was based at Debden, two miles south-east of Saffron Walden, Essex. Debden was a comfortable permanent station which had been open for only two years. 85 Squadron was equipped with the new Hawker Hurricane, and was commanded by S/Ldr. DFW Atcherley. Debden was shared with 87 Squadron, also with Hurricanes, and 29 Squadron with Bristol Blenheim Mk lfs.
Marshall soon made friends with P/O JA 'Paddy' Hemingway, a recently joined member of the squadron who came from Dublin. It was not long before Paddy Hemingway was drawn into Marshall's enterprise of reconditioning old motor cars and found himself stripping down and then re-building an elderly
Lancia. This work was carried out in an open garage - once the last vestiges of winter had disappeared - and took up much of their off-duty time. After the Lancia there followed a succession of other cars - usually in poor condition – acquired by Marshall for restoration.
Hemingway formed the impression that Marshall's air of experience and authority had been developed while in a position of responsibility over colonial natives in West Africa. Marshall seemed to drag one leg slightly when running, apparently because of an accident while in Africa. He never played any games of sport, team or individual, but otherwise appeared very fit and active.
On 23rd June 1939 Marshall was formally granted a short service RAF commission with the rank of Pilot Officer. Then, on 27th June, 85 and 87 Squadrons were placed under the control of 60 Wing and allocated to the Air Component of the British Expeditionary Force which, it was planned, would move to defensive positions in France should war break out with Germany. Just before midnight on 23rd August, with tension growing in Europe, 85 Squadron and the other squadrons of the Air Component were ordered to mobilise, and at 1115 hours on the following morning the Hurricanes were dispersed around the perimeter of Debden and both 'A' and 'B' Flights were brought to readiness.
During the next two days seventy-two Class 'E' Reservist airmen - all with previous service experience - were posted in to bring the squadron up to its war establishment in groundcrew. Having been summoned by telegram from the comfort of their homes, most of them were initially accommodated in a draughty' blister' hangar totally lacking in amenities. With the CO and his deputies closely involved in finalising the details of the expected move to France, it was Marshall who took the initiative in quelling a mood amongst the reservists which had become not far short of mutinous. Once he had dealt with their grievances, however, they were easily absorbed into the squadron.
On 3rd September war was declared on Germany, and on the following day an advanced party of 85 Squadron left for France. By 9th September an aerodrome at Boos, just to the south-east of Rouen and close to the Seine river had been prepared, and S/Ldr. Atcherley led his squadron across the Channel to their new base, joining 87 Squadron there. Initially, the duties of the two squadrons of 60 Wing consisted of patrols over cross-Channel shipping. On 22nd September, however, the Wing moved north to an aerodrome at Merville, about sixteen miles west of Lille and ten miles south of the Belgian border. This was followed by a move to Seclin, about five miles south of Lille on 5th November.
Patrols over shipping in the English Channel continued, with detachments near the French coast at Le Touquet, north of Boulogne, and St.Inglevert, near Calais. It was during a patrol over Boulogne on 21st November that F/Lt. RHA 'Dicky' Lee claimed 85 Squadron's first success of the war,
shooting a Heinkel He111 down into the Channel. On 6th December the King visited 85 and 87 Squadrons at Seclin, accompanied by General Lord Gort, Commander-in-Chief of the BEF. Ten days
later Gort returned, this time accompanying the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain.
Atcherley relinquished command of 85 Squadron on 8th January 1940, handing over to S/Ldr. JOW Oliver. By this time severe winter conditions had set in, the snow and frost creating all sorts of difficulties in maintaining Readiness. This was followed in February by slush and waterlogging as a thaw set in. In March, the highlight of the month was the award of the DFC to Dicky Lee on the 8th. Leaving one section at Seclin, the main body of 85 Squadron moved to Mons-en-Chaussee, about thirty miles east of Amiens, on 10th April, but returned to Seclin two weeks later.
Early on the morning of 10th May German forces launched an attack through the Low Countries, and the two squadrons of 60 Wing were immediately engaged against enemy air attacks. Unfortunately, the Squadron's records were destroyed on 20th May 1940 during its evacuation from France, and no details of Marshall's activities in this period have yet come to light.
(Hemingway had been shot down near Maastricht on 11th May, and after spending four days struggling to return to his unit, was evacuated to England for a rest on 17th May with some others, but not Marshall, whom Hemingway did not see at this time. The next time the two met was on 12th June at Debden)
On 19th-20th May 85 and 87 Squadrons abandoned Seclin and moved to Merville. S/Ldr. Oliver (awarded the DSO on 28th May) was relieved as CO on 20th May by S/Ldr. Peacock who was posted missing later that same day.
On 20th May 85 Squadron was withdrawn to England. In the days since 10th May it had claimed a total of eighty-nine enemy aircraft confirmed destroyed, while losing eleven pilots killed or missing, including the Squadron Commander, and a further six pilots wounded. Most of the ground staff of 85 Squadron were
evacuated through Boulogne, while those few who had been retained at Seclin aerodrome, near Lille, were evacuated by air transport. The latter arrived at Hendon during the evening of 20th May, escorted by four Hurricanes, while the main party - after enduring a night of bombing in Boulogne - sailed on 21st May, arriving at Dover that afternoon.
The squadron began to congregate at Debden on 22nd May, the main ground party arriving after a night at Tidworth Camp in Wiltshire. At Debden, S/Ldr. PW Townsend DFC was waiting to take command of 85 Squadron, having just been promoted from flight commander and posted in from 43 Squadron. Those pilots who had no Hurricane to fly back to England arrived at Debden in a variety of aircraft; amongst these was Marshall who, Townsend recollects, arrived in a yellow Miles Master trainer direct from France.
29 Squadron was still at Debden while another Hurricane unit, 257 Squadron, had moved in. For 85 Squadron most of June was occupied in training flights from Debden, these being conducted by S/Ldr. Townsend and the survivors from France - F/Lt. RHA Lee DSO DFC, P/O Paddy Hemingway, F/O PP Woods-Scawen DFC, P/O AG Lewis DFC, F/Sgt. G Allard DFM, Sgt. G Goodman and Marshall.
Practice dogfights were carried out continually, and detachments were flown to the aerodrome and firing range at Sutton Bridge - on the shores of the Wash - for live firing practice. 17 Squadron, also equipped with Hurricanes, moved into Debden on 19th June while 29 Squadron moved out on 29th June.
By early July 85 Squadron was again fully operational, and 'A' Flight was deployed to Martlesham Heath, a permanent station on the Suffolk coast just over a mile south-west of Woodbridge, to mount patrols over coastal convoys in the North Sea.
During the morning of 8th July F/Sgt. Allard, on patrol from Martlesham, shot down an He111 into the sea off Felixstowe. On 10th July 'B' Flight, now dispersed to Castle Camps, a satellite aerodrome six miles north-east of the Essex town of Saffron Walden, also began to operate by day from Martlesham.
Early on the following morning S/Ldr. Townsend - who had been at Martlesham with 'A' Flight for some days - intercepted and damaged a Dornier Do17 in poor weather but was himself shot down into the sea, from where he was rescued by a trawler.
Continuous convoy patrols were being flown from first to last light, and during one of these on 12th July three Hurricanes of 'B' Flight intercepted and shot down a Heinkel 111 and damaged another, but Sgt. L Jowitt was also shot down into the sea and was never found.
The following few days were uneventful, but on 22nd July P/O JL Bickerdike - who had destroyed the Heinkel ten days earlier - crashed while performing aerobatics near Castle Camps and was killed.
Soon after midday on 27th July a tremendous rainstorm broke over Martlesham, and within two hours all low-lying buildings in the area had been flooded, and the landing ground was under water. The aerodrome was virtually unusable on the following day, and normal operations did not resume until 29th July. That afternoon F/O Woods-Scawen DFC of 'B' Flight damaged a Dornier while on patrol over a convoy, his Hurricane was damaged by return fire but he was unhurt and returned safely to Martlesham. Twenty-four hours later F/Lt. Hamilton and F/Sgt. Allard of 'A' Flight shared the destruction of a Me110.
The routine patrols over the sea continued into August, with a sense of monotony creeping into these operations. On the third day of the month the Squadron diarist noted: "Another day of convoy patrol s and no E/A to liven things up."On 6th August however Yellow Section of 'A' Flight intercepted a Dornier, and F/Sgt. Allard, Sgt. JHM Ellis and Sgt. WR Evans shared in its destruction.
In the meantime, Marshall's interest in rebuilding motor cars had not lapsed, and his current model was a sporty red Wolsey Hornet. Paddy Hemingway drove this into Ipswich one day, relying on rapid gear changes, and even dragging his foot on the road to slow down or stop since it had no brakes at all.
The Debden Sector - under whose control 85 Squadron was still operating - was transferred from 12 Group to 11 Group on 10th August. Just before midday on the following day S/Ldr. Townsend was leading Yellow Section over a convoy when he attacked a Dornier which went into a dive with one engine out of action. Townsend was unable to follow because twenty or more Me110's appeared, and after an inconclusive attack on one Messerschmitt, Townsend returned to Martlesham low on fuel and ammunition. In the meantime, Sgt. HH Allgood shot one Messerschmitt down into the sea while Sgt. CE Hampshire damaged another.
On 12th August six Hurricanes of 'A' Flight, led by S/Ldr. Townsend, were patrolling over two convoys in the Thames Estuary shortly after midday. Some anti-aircraft fire was seen bursting in the haze below but Debden control was almost inaudible because of the range, and Townsend was unable to find out what was happening. Then six vapour trails were spotted above. Townsend started to lead the Flight in a climb but the six aircraft above then began to dive towards the Hurricanes. As the diving aircraft came closer, Townsend thought they might be Spitfires but could not be sure. Then, as they came within range, Townsend saw his No.2, Marshall, rollover and disappear into the haze.
Townsend also took evasive action as the six diving fighters overshot, and then Townsend saw them below; with height and the sun behind, he was now in a perfect position to attack what he now thought might be Heinkel He113 fighters, but as he closed in on them he was able to positively identify them as Spitfires and called the attack off. Marshall escaped injury in the attack by the Spitfires and was able to return to base.
During the afternoon of 13th August 85 Squadron returned to Debden. Two Hurricanes collided while taxying out to the runway at Martlesham for the short flight but neither pilot was hurt. Despite being vectored to the Thames Estuary again on 15th August when heavy raids were launched by the enemy, Debden control was unable to direct 85 Squadron successfully in the hazy conditions, and no interception was made.
At 1724 hours on 18th August twelve Hurricanes were scrambled from Debden, led by S/Ldr. Townsend, and vectored south-east to patrol Canterbury at 20.000 ft. As the Squadron emerged from cloud over the Thames Estuary they saw a huge formation of bombers - Junkers Ju87’s below, then He111’s,
and Dorniers and Junkers Ju88’s at the top escorted by Me110’s just above the bombers and Messerschmitt Me109’s at about twenty thousand feet. As Townsend led his Squadron towards the bombers, the Ju87’s and Heinkels turned back out to sea, while a dozen or so Me110’s formed a defensive circle between the Hurricanes and the bombers. The Hurricanes attacked the Me110’s but then the Me109’s above came down.
In the ensuing combat 85 Squadron claimed ten enemy aircraft confirmed, as well as others probably destroyed or damaged. S/Ldr. Townsend claimed two Messerschmitts destroyed and.a third probably destroyed; Sgt. HN Howes, two Messerschmitts destroyed and one Dornier damaged; F/Lt. Hamilton, one Heinkel and one Messerschmitt destroyed; Sgt. FR Walker-Smith two Messerschmitts destroyed; Sgt. Ellis, one Messerschmitt destroyed and one damaged; P/O WH Hodgson, one Messerschmitt destroyed, one damaged, and a Dornier damaged; P/O AV Gowers, one Ju87 probably destroyed; P/O Lewis DFC, one Messerschmitt probably destroyed; and P/O CE English and P/O J Lockhart, one Messerschmitt damaged each.
F/Lt. Lee DSO, DFC, commander of 'B' Flight, was missing, having last been seen by Townsend chasing a Messerschmitt far out to sea; despite Townsend's calls to Lee to break off the chase, he persisted and never returned. Paddy Hemingway had to bale out into the sea, but was safely rescued after some ninety minutes.
Having returned to Debden, Townsend saw a Hurricane land with one wing-tip missing and was surprised to see Marshall climb out of the cockpit. Marshall had not been on the 'readiness' roster that afternoon, and had taken off without orders when the rest of the Squadron had been scrambled. Marshall then attached himself to Yellow Section, led by F/Lt. Hamilton. In the initial attack, Marshall had followed Hamilton in to attack an Me110, but then broke away to engage an He111 some three miles away, opening fire at 250
yards. Pieces broke away from the Heinkel as he closed in, but then he ran out of ammunition, so he rammed the bomber's tail unit with his starboard wing and lost the tip. The throttle of his Hurricane (P3649 'VY-D') also jammed wide open and Marshall therefore turned away and returned to base. He made a fast approach to Debden, then switched off the engine and glided down to the runway. His brakes had also been hit, but he managed to land without any further damage to his aircraft.
When Townsend challenged Marshall for taking off without orders, Marshall admitted that when he saw the rest of the Squadron taking off he could not resist following; nor could he resist ramming the Heinkel when out of ammunition, and while apologising to Townsend for the damage to the Hurricane, expressed the hope that his Squadron commander would agree it was worth it. The Heinkel was assessed as 'probably destroyed.' This sortie by Marshall was subsequently 'legitimised' by entering him as 'Yellow Two' in the Squadron's Operational Record Book; and no mention was made of the fact that the collision with the Heinkel was deliberate.
While a party was underway in the Mess at Debden that evening, S/Ldr. Townsend received an order to take 85 Squadron to the requisitioned airport at Croydon on the following morning. At 0630 hours S/Ldr. Townsend led eighteen Hurricanes down to Croydon to relieve 111 Squadron, which in turn was to move to Debden. The move was intended as a temporary one to give 111 Squadron a brief rest, so 85 Squadron's ground staff remained at Debden while its Hurricanes were serviced at Croydon by 111 Squadron's staff.
Croydon Airport, two and a half miles south-west of the town, was now a 'satellite' aerodrome in the Kenley Sector and had suffered some damage during attacks on it a few days earlier. The Dispersal area at Croydon - with ground-crews and pilots' rest rooms - was in a row of villas on the aerodrome's western boundary. Coincidentally with 85 Squadron's move, enemy activity was considerably reduced by the onset of poor weather and on 23rd August, owing to heavy rain, there was no operational flying at all. On the following day, however, the weather was clear and fine, and while on a Squadron patrol early that morning, P/O G Allard (commissioned on 17th August) destroyed an Me109, while P/O Lockhart was slightly wounded by, he believed, anti-aircraft fire from Dover.
During the afternoon of 26th August, while Marshall was off the readiness roster, the squadron was scrambled and vectored to the Maidstone area, where it met a formation of eighteen Dornier Do215’s* escorted by Me109’s. S/Ldr. Townsend led 85 Squadron into the attack, and then some Spitfires joined in. During the subsequent fight, 85 Squadron destroyed two Dorniers and shared the destruction of another with the Spitfires of 65 Squadron; so many pilots attacked the bombers that no individual claims were entered. F/O Woods-Scawen DFC - commanding 'B' Flight since the loss of Lee - was however credited with the probable destruction of an Me109. Paddy Hemingway was shot down, but baled out unhurt.
Again led by S/Ldr. Townsend, 85 Squadron was in action in the afternoon of 28th August, over the Dungeness area. Six Me109's were claimed destroyed - two by Allard, and others by Townsend, Hodgson, Woods-Scawen and Walker-Smith, while P/O Gowers damaged an Me110. One Hurricane was damaged but there were no injuries.
At 1521 hours on 29th August 85 Squadron was scrambled from Croydon and intercepted a raid coming in over the Sussex coast. S/Ldr. Townsend and F/Lt. Hamilton both destroyed an Me109 each, while Sgt. GB Booth probably destroyed another. Sergeants Ellis and Walker-Smith were both shot down and forced to bale out, Ellis being unhurt, while Walker-Smith was slightly wounded.
Almost three hours later, at 1816 hours, 85 Squadron was again scrambled. After following various vectors, the Squadron climbed to 24,000 feet and circled over Dungeness. The Squadron was flying in sections line astern, forming a diamond formation. They were then joined by a Hurricane and a Spitfire - both stray aircraft from other squadrons - and these began to weave behind the flank section. Control then warned of enemy aircraft to the north and the Squadron set course. Visibility was extremely variable, with thick haze obscuring the ground and diffusing the sun's light. Seeing no enemy aircraft, S/Ldr. Townsend began to turn the Squadron to the left. At that point P/O Hodgson warned of enemy aircraft behind. The Squadron broke away steeply to the left, but F/Lt. Hamilton's Hurricane was hit; its tail broke off, as did part of the starboard wing, and the Hurricane fell away.
Marshall, after hearing the warning, saw an Me109 appear to his right in a right-hand climbing turn. Marshall turned towards it and fired, and the Messerschmitt went into a vertical dive. Marshall followed it down from 22,000 to 5,000 feet, and then pulled out. The Messerschmitt was last seen diving vertically and out of control into the haze, about ten miles off Dungeness. This was confirmed by P/O English, and although the enemy fighter was not actually seen to hit the sea owing to the haze, it was claimed as destroyed
in view of the circumstances of the combat. The other Messerschmitts had dived away towards France and no other claims were made.
F/Lt. Hamilton had been killed in the attack, and in his report on this action S/Ldr. Townsend was highly critical of the Hurricane and Spitfire which joined up at the rear of his Squadron. He pointed out that they could not serve any useful function as weavers or rearguards, since they were on a different radio frequency and so could not communicate any warning, while their presence behind the Squadron made it more difficult for his pilots to keep a good look-out to the rear. As P/O Hodgson had become accustomed to seeing the lone Spitfire in his rear-view mirror, he failed to recognise the attacking fighter as an Me109 until it was already within firing range. In order to prevent similar confusion in future, Townsend recommended that if lone fighters wished to join up with another squadron, they should be instructed to attach themselves to the flanks where they could be clearly seen. Townsend added:
If this Spitfire pilot can be identified, I would like these facts brought home to him, because his action contributed to the loss of one of my flight commanders.
At 1036 hours on 30th August eleven Hurricanes of 85 Squadron were scrambled from Croydon, and then told to orbit Dungeness at 18,000 feet. As the Squadron circled, they could see a large enemy formation forming up over the French coast and then setting course across the Channel. As the enemy - about fifty He111's flying at 16,000 feet and escorted by Me110s stepped up to 20,000 feet - crossed the coast, the Squadron followed the formation inland, keeping up-sun of it, until they were well ahead of the enemy. Townsend then led a head-on attack against the bombers, each section attacking in turn. This broke up the bomber formation, although the fighter escort prevented many of the Hurricanes from further attacks on the Heinkels. Marshall, in Hurricane V6624 ('VY-D'), was forced to bale out when his aircraft was badly shot up. He was unhurt, however, and landed safely near Ashford.
Back at Croydon, Allard claimed two Heinkels destroyed, and Hodgson two Messerschmitts destroyed, one probably destroyed and one Heinkel damaged. Other claimants were Gowers, one Me110 destroyed; Goodman, one Me110 destroyed and one probably destroyed; English, one Me110 destroyed and one Heinkel damaged; Woods-Scawen, one Me110 destroyed; and Townsend and Booth, each with one Messerschmitt damaged.
At 1240 hours on 31st August 'A' Flight was at 'Released' and 'B' Flight at 'Thirty Minutes Available' when the whole of 85 Squadron was ordered to come to Readiness. Five minutes later S/Ldr. Townsend reported to Kenley control that the order had been complied with, only to be told that the Squadron was not in fact required at Readiness, but that its 'state' would be noted. Then, at 1251, 85 Squadron (twelve
Hurricanes) was scrambled from Croydon. As S/Ldr. Townsend took off over the aerodrome's eastern boundary, he saw bombs exploding beneath him. He ordered the Squadron to pursue the enemy aircraft, which were retreating to the south-east. In the ensuing chase Townsend was wounded in the foot and forced to bale out of his Hurricane. P/O PA Worrall also baled out, slightly wounded in his leg. The squadron claimed two Me109's and one Me110 con£irmed, by Townsend, Gowers and Worrall respectively; one Me109 Townsend - and one Do215 - Howes - probably destroyed; and two Me109's damaged, by Hemingway and Woods-Scawen.
With S/Ldr. Townsend in hospital, the squadron was led by F/O Woods-Scawen DFC when it was again scrambled at 1710 hours. Initially ordered to patrol over Hawkinge aerodrome at 20,000 feet, they were then ordered to intercept an enemy formation approaching the Thames Estuary. At
1740 hours about thirty Do215's were sighted at 16,000 to 17,000 feet escorted by approximately 100 Me109's and Me110's. The enemy formation was over the Thames Estuary and the squadron attacked about twenty miles south of Purfleet. Woods-Scawen positioned the squadron 1,000 feet above the bombers and
between them and the sun, and then led the squadron in to attack.
Marshall, leading Yellow Section, attacked the 3 bombers in the leading vic, giving a five-second burst which was seen entering the aircraft. The bomber dropped away from the formation, lurching violently, but Marshall was then attacked by enemy fighters and had to break away. His Hurricane (a new 'VY-D', serial not known) was hit in the rudder but not seriously damaged. As he began to climb to 22,000 feet, Marshall saw that the enemy formations had been scattered and were now flying to the south-east. The only enemy aircraft in sight were out of effective range at 30,000 feet, and seeing no other targets, he returned to base. P/O Hodgson force-landed his Hurricane instead of baling out, despite the fact that it was on fire, to prevent his aircraft crashing into a populated area or nearby oil storage tanks. Fortunately, Hodgson escaped unhurt.
The squadron claimed three Me109's confirmed, two by Woods-Scawen and one by Hodgson; three Do 215s probably destroyed, two by Allard, one by Marshall, and one Me110 probably destroyed, by Booth; and two Do 215s damaged, by Evans and Goodman.
Just over two hours later, at 1917 hours, the squadron (nine Hurricanes) was scrambled to patrol Hawkinge, and then vectored to intercept a raid over Dover. After anti-aircraft fire was spotted, nine Me109's were seen at about 15,000 feet over Dover, some 500 feet above the squadron. The squadron was led in behind them and complete surprise was achieved. The squadron claimed four Me109's confirmed, with no losses, the claims being made by Allard, Gowers, Lewis and Woods-Scawen.
Early on the morning of 1st September 72 Squadron with Spitfires moved in to join 85 Squadron at Croydon, their base at Biggin Hill having been so heavily bombed that it could now operate no more than one squadron. Just after 1100 hours 85 Squadron, led by P/O Allard DFM, was scrambled from
Croydon, and intercepted nine Me109's which were attacking the Dover balloon barrage. Allard claimed one enemy fighter destroyed, while Goodman claimed another. Goodman's Hurricane was damaged but he was unhurt, and the squadron suffered no losses.
Shortly before 1400 hours 85 Squadron was scrambled again, and intercepted an enemy formation of some one hundred and fifty or more Dorniers and fighters near Biggin Hill. Evans claimed both an Me109 and an Me110 destroyed, while Dorniers were claimed by Allard (again leading the squadron), English and Howes, the latter also damaging an Me109. Allard's Hurricane was damaged and he landed at Lympne, where his aircraft was destroyed on the ground during an attack on the aerodrome later that afternoon; Allard was unhurt. Gowers baled out with burns and was admitted to hospital; Booth also baled out with burns and fell heavily with a damaged parachute (and died of his injuries on 7th February 1941); Woods-Scawen was killed and Ellis was missing.
85 Squadron, down to eleven fit pilots and eight Hurricanes, was not called upon to operate on 2nd September, and with the loss of Woods-Scawen, Marshall took over the leadership of 'B' Flight. On the following day Marshall was promoted to Flying officer and 85 Squadron transferred from Croydon to Castle Camps, once more exchanging places with 111 Squadron. With 85 Squadron's air and ground echelons reunited, a further move to the north was made on 5th September, this time exchanging places with 73 Squadron at Church Fenton in Yorkshire. Church Fenton was a permanent station four miles south-east of Tadcaster, and was also the base of 306 (Polish) Squadron, just forming with Hurricanes and non-operational. The survivors of 85 Squadron were overdue for a break from front-line operations, and this was reflected in the way Marshall, now an Acting F/Lt., was now getting through at least a hundred cigarettes every day. He was, however, never more than a moderate drinker, even when unwinding with a close friend such as Paddy Hemingway, who was now Marshall's deputy on 'B' Flight.
On 8th September 85 Squadron was designated a 'C' Class squadron under a 'stabilisation' scheme introduced by Fighter Command. Under this scheme, 85 and the other 'C' Class units were to retain only a core of a few experienced pilots, the remainder being posted back into the 'A' Class squadrons in the south. Marshall was one of those retained on 85 Squadron, the others being Allard, Goodman, Hemingway, Hodgson, Walker-Smith and Sgt. ER Webster. Their job now was to receive freshly trained pilots from the operational training units and give them some experience of operations with the Squadron before they were posted south to one of the 'A' Class squadrons.
On 19th September a new squadron was formed at Church Fenton, designated 71 'Eagle' Squadron. This unit was to consist of American pilots serving with the RAF, but as yet no aircraft had been allotted to it and few pilots were available.
S/Ldr. Townsend rejoined the squadron on 21st September and immediately declared himself operational, although he still needed to use a walking stick. On the following day Allard, now Acting F/Lt. DFC, DFM in command of 'A' Flight, led Marshall and Hemingway on a patrol over the western area of the Church Fenton Sector. Flying in poor weather conditions over Lancashire, the section of three
Hurricanes ran low on fuel and had to force-land, Marshall bringing Hurricane V7349 down near Burnley. None of the pilots were hurt.
On the last day of September, six of the Squadron's most experienced pilots - Townsend, Allard, Marshall, Hemingway, Hodgson (now with the DFC) and Goodman flew their Hurricanes in formation over Halifax to raise subscriptions for, ironically, the local Spitfire Fund. Since moving out of Croydon, nine experienced pilots had been posted to 'A' Class squadrons, while twenty fresh pilots had been received from the operational training units, including two Frenchmen and two Poles.
The routine of receiving, training and sending away new pilots continued during the first three weeks of October, but on 21st October the squadron ceased its 'C' Class activities when ordered to specialise in night fighting immediately. Training for this role was to begin at once, and volunteers would be received to bring 85 Squadron's night operational strength up to twelve pilots as soon as possible. In order to prepare for its new task, on 23rd October the squadron moved from Church Fenton to Kirton-in-Lindsey, a permanent station sixteen miles north of Lincoln. Already based here were 264 Squadron and 307 (Polish) Squadron, both equipped with Boulton Paul Defiant Mk Is. The Defiant had proved a failure as a day fighter and 264 Squadron was now using them for night patrols, but 307 Squadron had only recently been formed and was non-operational. 616 Squadron also shared Kirton-on-Lindsey and, having seen action in southern England was now a Class 'C' squadron responsible for the day defence of the sector.
A satellite aerodrome at Caistor, twelve miles east of Kirton-in-Lindsey, was allotted to 85 Squadron but this was only a small grass-surfaced landing ground with limited facilities. Half a dozen of the Squadron's pilots were experienced in night flying, and these were to now to mount night patrols, while at the same time training the newer pilots in night flying.
On 26th October the Secretary of State for Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair, accompanied by Air Vice-Marshal TL Leigh-Mallory, visited Kirton-in-Lindsey. S/Ldr. Townsend told the two visitors that his Squadron needed Airborne Interception [later named RADAR] and suitable aircraft with adequate range and fire-power, but that in the meantime improvements should be made to the armament of the night fighting Hurricanes.
At about 1800 hours on the following day, at Caistor, S/Ldr. Townsend was talking to Marshall at dispersal and Townsend was taken by surprise when Marshall suddenly wrestled his commanding officer to the ground. Moments later Townsend realised why as an He111 flew across the aerodrome at very low level, machine gunning the landing ground. The two pilots got up and Marshall immediately took off in his Hurricane to give chase, together with Adjudant FHEJA de Labouchere of the Free French Air Force. Townsend, however, still using a walking stick, was not so fast, and when he reached his Hurricane he found that part of the engine cowling had been removed to service the aircraft. It took a further couple of minutes before the Hurricane was ready for take-off.
Townsend searched the local countryside but could find no trace of the raider. In the meantime, however, Marshall had caught up with the Heinkel and shot it down over the Lincolnshire coast at Saltfleet. The same enemy aircraft had also bombed Kirton-in-Lindsey, demolishing 85 Squadron's offices. Fortunately, the Squadron Adjutant, P/O TJ 'Tim' Molony, and the orderly room staff had gone to lunch. Molony noted in the Squadron diary: "85 has been bombed at Seclin, Merville, Debden, Croydon and Kirton. Total casualties, 1 killed."
Townsend and Marshall were by now good friends, and Townsend later wrote of Marshall:
He was a likeable fellow, about twenty-two, tall, thin and 'smiley'. He seemed to take a pleasure (which I shared) in teasing me, keeping always just within the limits of respect for me as his boss. I could count on his loyalty, and valued his advice.
('Duel in the Dark' by Peter Townsend, Harrap 1986)
On the evening of 27th October 85 Squadron operated from Kirton-in-Lindsey, having abandoned Caistor which had become a sea of mud. Shortly before midnight Allard intercepted an enemy bomber but could make no claim. On the following night Sgt. Goodman attacked a German bomber over the Humber estuary and was credited as having damaged it. On 29th October 264 Squadron moved out of Kirton-in-Lindsey, having been posted south.
On 1st November Townsend sent a report to Sector HQ detailing the inadequacies of the Hurricane for night fighter operations and requesting that, in the absence of any other suitable aircraft, Hurricane night fighter squadrons should receive the Mk II Hurricane before day fighter squadrons. Townsend even had to request the issue of 'black-out' paint to obscure the daytime camouflage in which his Squadron was still operating.
On 6th November 85 Squadron was ordered to Gravesend, in the Biggin Hill Sector, but the move was delayed as some pilots were still not fully night-trained, but on the following day 307 Squadron, still non-operational, was posted out to the Isle of Man.
On 18th November 85 Squadron was declared fully night operational, and moved to Gravesend four days later. This was a requisitioned civil aerodrome in Kent, two miles south-east of the town, where another Defiant unit, 141 Squadron, was based on night operations. At Gravesend 85 Squadron suffered a number of flying accidents at night, while the surface of the landing ground was usually muddy. There were no successes against the enemy, but 85 Squadron was strengthened by the return of some experienced pilots who had been wounded in the previous months. The squadron returned to Debden on New Years Day 1941 and began to receive Defiants on the next day, followed by the first air gunner on 5th January. Replacement of aircraft was gradual however, with operations still being flown with Hurricanes at night, daytime and nights being used to acclimatise to Defiants with their inferior performance, but snow and fog slowed progress.
52 Operational Training Unit was formed at Debden on 1st February to train fresh pilots from the service flying training schools on Hurricanes and Masters before they were posted onward to fighter squadrons.
On the evening of 14th February S/Ldr. Townsend, in a Hurricane, carried out his Squadron's first patrol of the night but was recalled when the weather began to close in. Once he had landed 85 Squadron was 'released' as the weather was expected to preclude any further flying that night. Usually, Townsend spent his nights at dispersal, no matter what the state of readiness, but as he was still recovering from a bout of flu, he retired to the mess, leaving Marshall and Paddy Hemingway to maintain a presence at dispersal. At about 2255 hours, the attentions.of Marshall and Hemingway were caught by the landing floodlight being switched on, to be followed by a twin-engined aircraft approaching, Debden and making a successful landing. The duty pilot, P/O WH Hodgson DFC, went out to the aircraft and met one of the crew, who was wearing an unfamiliar uniform. The visitor began to speak, and Hodgson then realised that he was being addressed by a German and that the aircraft was an He111. While the German fled back to the Heinkel, Hodgson became aware that an air gunner in the Heinkel was now covering the aircraft's retreat, and therefore ordered four nearby army officers - responsible for the ground defence of the aerodrome - not to shoot. (It later emerged that they had in any case left their revolvers in their quarters.) While Marshall and Hemingway continued to watch, unaware of the drama, the Heinkel taxied to the end of the runway and took off.
On 15th February the Squadron received its first Douglas Havoc. During February the Defiants, which had only been used on three operational sorties, were removed from the squadron, and the air gunners posted away as the Havoc's eight Browning machine guns were all forward firing and controlled by the pilot. The pilots were lectured on Airborne Interception [AI] and Ground Controlled Interception [GCI]. 'A' Flight was then despatched to Church Fenton - now the home of 54 (Night Fighter) Operational Training Unit - where they were converted, on Blenheims, to twin-engined aircraft. On 'A' Flight's return to Debden, Marshall led' B' Flight up to Church Fenton to undergo the same conversion course. As the air gunners departed, radio [radar] operators began to arrive on the Squadron.
On the night of 25th-26th February 85 Squadron achieved its first success at night when S/Ldr. Townsend, flying a Hurricane, shot down a Do17 which crashed near Sudbury, Suffolk.
During March, training on the Havoc, together with practice on AI and GCI procedure, was intense, and the squadron became non-operational in mid-March. On 6th April 85 Squadron reported itself night operational on its Havocs, and over the following few days the last of the Squadron's Hurricanes were ferried away.
On the night of 9th April, P/O GL Howitt and his operator, Sgt. H Reed, intercepted and destroyed an He111, 85 Squadron's second night victory. Marshall and his operator, Sgt. Hallett, took off a short while after Howitt, and the GCI soon put them on the track of a 'bandit.' Hallett then picked up the enemy aircraft on the AI and led Marshall to a visual sighting of the aircraft, which was in front, but a thousand feet below at an altitude of 14,000 feet. Throttling the Havoc back gently to prevent the engines from streaming visible flames from the exhausts, Marshall lost height and closed in behind the target, now identified as a Heinkel. The bomber's gunners opened fire almost at the same time as Marshall, who could see his De Wilde ammunition striking the port wing of the Heinkel. It pulled up, dived steeply and disappeared from view and from the AI screen. It was credited as 'damaged.'
That night Townsend (now Wing Commander) and his crew also intercepted a Heinkel, which was assessed as 'probably destroyed' after inflicting damage on Townsend's Havoc. Two nights later Townsend attacked a Ju88 which was credited as 'damaged.' Sgt. Berkley (pilot) and Sgt. Carr (radio operator) intercepted and damaged a Heinkel on the night of 16th April, while F/O Wheeler and his AI operator, F/O CA Maton, damaged another. Hemingway and Bailey, however, were credited with an enemy bomber confirmed as destroyed.
The award of the Distinguished Flying Cross to Marshall was promulgated in the London Gazette on 29th April.
85 Squadron moved to Hunsdon, in the North Weald Sector on 3rd May, this being a newly constructed aerodrome four miles south-east of Ware in Hertfordshire. 85 Squadron were its first tenants. In the following few days the squadron claimed a further two enemy aircraft 'probably destroyed' at night and two as 'damaged.' On the night of 10th May, during a massive raid on London, two enemy bombers were confirmed as destroyed by 85 Squadron. It was after one such night of operations that Wing Commander Townsend advised Marshall, "Nigger, you had better have a hot bath"; to which Marshall replied with a smile, "But sir, they say that only dirty people have to wash!"
A second tenant moved into Hunsdon on 22nd May when 1451 (Turbinlite) Flight was formed there, equipped with Douglas Bostons, most of which were fitted with an airborne searchlight in the nose. The idea was that, guided by its Airborne Interception [radar] equipment, the Boston would close within range of an enemy aircraft at night, ,and then illuminate it with the 'Turbinlite' to allow an accompanying single-engined
fighter to shoot the enemy aircraft down.
By this time very few of the old 'single-engined' pilots remained with 85 Squadron, most crews now having come from 54 Operational Training Unit. During June Wing Commander Townsend was posted to a staff job, being replaced as commanding officer of 85 Squadron by Wing Commander ADT Sanders. Then, on 7th July 1941, Marshall was posted to West Malling, a permanent station five miles west of Maidstone in Kent to form and command 1452 (Turbinlite) Flight, receiving promotion to Acting S/Ldr. He asked Paddy Hemingway - awarded the DFC a week earlier - to join him as his second-in-command, and Hemingway accepted. At West MaIling they shared a flat in the Officers' Mess, although off the station they now had to lead mostly separate social lives since one was usually required on duty when the other was off the station. Marshall was now courting Susan Pawle, a young lady who lived with her parents, on a farm close to Hunsdon aerodrome. Nevertheless, Hemingway was occasionally able to join them at Marshall's favourite West End restaurant, 'The Hungaria'.
West Malling was also occupied by 29 (Night Fighter) Squadron with Bristol Beaufighter Mk Ifs ,and 264 Squadron which had now moved there with its Defiants. 1452 Flight was equipped with Bostons, and remained non-operational while it began training exercises with 264 Squadron. Neither Marshall or Hemingway thought much of the' Turbinlite' idea, but. they agreed that it was better than being posted as a controller or flying instructor since there was at least an operational flavour to their flying. The flat glass noses of the Turbinlite aircraft made them difficult to keep on a straight course even in the calmest of weather and this added to the difficulty of attempting to maintain formation with another aircraft at night.
Ten days after Marshall and Hemingway had left 85 Squadron there was something of a reunion; the two friends, together with S/Ldr. James Wheeler, acted as ushers, and 'Tim' Molony was best man, at the wedding of Wing Commander Townsend to Rosemary Pawle - Susan Pawle' s cousin - at the parish church of Much Hadham, just to the north of Hunsdon. The reception was held at 'The Lordships' and then the couple were given "a rousing send-off" by 85 Squadron. On 3rd September 1941 Marshall was promoted to F/Lt. (war substantive) while retaining his acting rank of S/Ldr.
The Turbinlite aircraft of 1452 Flight and the Defiants of 264 Squadron continued to practice interception techniques - when Defiants could be spared from operational duties throughout the remainder of 1941 and into the spring of 1942. By then, however, it was recognised that Defiants were quite unsuited to Turbinlite co-operation work, being too slow for the system, and occasionally some Hurricanes were attached to work with 1452 Flight, although the Boston crews found that even these were not really fast enough. Nevertheless, 1452 Flight was now due to become operational in May, when a Hurricane squadron would become available to completely replace the Defiants.
On 18th April 1942 Marshall was at Hunsdon, visiting former colleagues of 85 Squadron and his girlfriend Susan. After taking off in Boston Mk III (Turbinlite) W8276 to return to West Malling, Marshall began an aerobatic 'beat up' of his girlfriend's home, during which his aircraft was seen to flip over onto its back and dive into the ground at Priory Farm, Widford.
Marshall's death was recorded in 85 Squadron's Operational Record Book:
18/4/42. S/Ldr. 'Nigger' Marshall on returning to West Malling with two passengers crashed at Widford in the field next door to Mr Pawle' s house. All were killed.
The two passengers were P/O RG Beard and Sgt. CW Allen.
Hemingway was on leave in Ireland at the time, but on receiving the news of Marshall's death he returned to West Malling immediately. There he was struck by the kindness and concern shown to him by Marshall's grieving parents who now lived in Dover. Despite Hemingway's protestations, they insisted that he accept their son's Jaguar car as a parting gift.
Marshall was then laid to rest in Maidstone Cemetery, Kent.
©Bruce Burton 2004
*The designation Dornier 215 was often used at this time but the aircraft were nearly always Dornier 17's, the 215 being an almost identical reconnaissance version.