22/05/2024
Norwich, GB 18 C
Researching and reporting on the lives of some really interesting people (RIP)

HAROLD WALMSLEY, aged 98

SPITFIRE ACE

Born in Preston, Lancashire, he got his first job working in Uxbridge, Middlesex as a metallurgical lab assistant.

He joined the RAF in December 1940, just too young to be in the Battle of Britain – to be “one of the few…”

Battle of Britain (courtesy eBay)

He was trained in Rhodesia and returned to the UK in June 1942 as a Sergeant Pilot. He was assigned to the 611 West Lancs squadron, flying Spitfires from Biggin Hill.

They were escorting bomber squadrons to northern France.

In January 1943, Harold shot down a FW190, his first ‘kill’, and he damaged three others. He followed this up by shooting down a Messerschmitt  BF109 on a flight to Amsterdam. He was commissioned shortly afterwards.

In August 1943, Harold joined the 132 (City of Bombay) squadron as Flight Commander. Their job was to sweep the Channel and provide escorts for bombers flying to France.

In January 1944 he shot down another FW190 over Abbeville. He was then rested after 20 months of continuous flying and was awarded the DFC.

He then had a short time as a Flying Instructor before being transferred to the 130 (Punjab) squadron. They were flying over Normandy, supporting Allied troops advancing eastwards after D-Day.

In December 1944, he was attacked by a group of Messerschmitts whilst he was trying to attack a locomotive. He managed to escape, shooting one down in the process. His report read, “My plane was definitely better than the Messerschmitt.”

But the following month his luck ran out. He was shot down by ‘friendly fire’ over the forest of Ardennes. He managed to bail out in time and landed in a tree. He was then rescued by friendly Belgian forest workers who smuggled him over American lines.

Due to the colour of his uniform, the Americans were not initially convinced he was British. They thought he was a German soldier trying to surrender. They took some persuading…but eventually he was returned to his squadron.

Due to bad weather in early 1945, it wasn’t until March that flying operations began again. And Harold was immediately successful once again, shooting down two  German Fokkers, one of which had chased him for 10 miles.

Then in a two-week spell in April, he shot down 7 more planes and damaged some on the ground. By now he was considered an ‘Ace’.

He was given command of 350 Belgian squadron, and they ended the war at Fassberg, near Hannover in Germany. There, Harold’s Wing Leader was Group Captain Johnnie Johnson, the RAF’s highest scoring fighter pilot of the war.

On the day the war ended, Harold wrote in his logbook, “Four Huns, bless ‘em, landed their 262s (Luftwaffe jet fighters) on the ‘drome in the evening, having taken off from Prague, bombed the Russians and then come here to surrender. Nice types!”

Harold immediately married Jean, a nurse he had met during the war. They were to have two children.

He was also awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre, and a bar to his DFC. The citation read, “for his fine example of determination and devotion to duty.”

He stayed in the RAF and was given command of 80 Squadron Germany, flying Tempest fighters.

In 1947 he became a qualified flying instructor and was posted back to his original 611 squadron, as adjutant and instructor. They were based in Southport.

But then he was posted back to Rhodesia, to RAF Heany, close to Bulawayo. He stayed there until it closed in 1954.

Back in the UK he went to Staff College and then took command of 67 squadron, based at Wildenrath in Germany.

He kept getting posted – and promoted. He was in charge of Flying Operations at Tangmere and then in charge of Boulmer, Northumberland, one of the chain of air defence fighter control units on the eastern side of the country.

RAF Boulmer (courtesy The Radar Pages)

In 1965 he was sent to Singapore to co-ordinate the RAF in the Indonesian Confrontation Campaign, and after that joined the Ministry of Defence.

He became the RAF parliamentary advisor to the Minister of Defence. This was Denis Healey, a man who he came to have great respect for. However, Harold had very little time for any other Labour politician.

Denis Healey (courtesy The Times)

His final job with the RAF was Senior Instructor on an officer’s war course, based in Greenwich. He retired in 1971 and Jean and himself moved to Waldringfield in Suffolk.

But he was persuaded out of retirement to become Deputy Director of the British Defence Consortium in Saudi Arabia. He did this for two years before taking another 2-year contract in Oman, advising on the development of the Sultan’s air force.

When his second retirement began, he bought himself a boat – and sailed to the Channel ports, then to the Channel Islands, Denmark and the Baltic.

He loved gardening too.

RIP – RAFs Intrepid Pilot

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