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Remembering RAF Hornchurch's hero pilots who saved lives over Dunkirk

PUBLISHED: 15:00 27 May 2018

On the 27th June 1940, a very special guest arrived at Hornchurch and unbeknown to the airmen it was His Majesty King George VI had come to present medals to some of the gallant heroes that took part in the Dunkirk evacuations by defending the skies over and around the beaches.
The men in question would receive awards for shooting down enemy aircraft and their bravery in action, they are as follows: P/o Johnny Allen DFC, 54 sqn, F/l Robert Stanford Tuck DFC, 92 sqn, F/l Alan Deere DFC, 54 sqn, F/l Adolph ‘Sailor’ Malan, DFC, 74 sqn, S/l James Leathart DSO,54 sqn. Photo: Imperial War Muesum

On the 27th June 1940, a very special guest arrived at Hornchurch and unbeknown to the airmen it was His Majesty King George VI had come to present medals to some of the gallant heroes that took part in the Dunkirk evacuations by defending the skies over and around the beaches. The men in question would receive awards for shooting down enemy aircraft and their bravery in action, they are as follows: P/o Johnny Allen DFC, 54 sqn, F/l Robert Stanford Tuck DFC, 92 sqn, F/l Alan Deere DFC, 54 sqn, F/l Adolph 'Sailor' Malan, DFC, 74 sqn, S/l James Leathart DSO,54 sqn. Photo: Imperial War Muesum

Archant

As we approach the 78th Anniversary of Dunkirk, we need to look back and remember some of those that have long been overlooked - the brave pilots that flew from Hornchurch during this crucial time in the world's bitterest conflict.

Pilot Officer Johnny Allen of 54 Squadron receives the DFC from King George VI at Hornchurch on the 27th June 1940. Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding Air Officer Commander-in-Chief, Fighter Command, standing in the centre, just behind the King with his hands clasped behind his back. Photo: Imperial War MuseumPilot Officer Johnny Allen of 54 Squadron receives the DFC from King George VI at Hornchurch on the 27th June 1940. Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding Air Officer Commander-in-Chief, Fighter Command, standing in the centre, just behind the King with his hands clasped behind his back. Photo: Imperial War Museum

The peril then faced by the British nation was now suddenly and universally perceived, as the British Expeditionary Force retreated from France.

The first RAF patrols took place on May 16 1940 over Ostend and were then tasked with protecting the evacuation over the nine days of ‘Operation Dynamo’ from May 26 to June 3.

The RAF flew 2,739 fighter sorties, with Fighter Command claiming 262 enemy aircraft and losing 106 of their own.

‘Operation Dynamo’ was put into action, with the plan to evacuate as many troops as possible from under the noses of the Germans using a flotilla of small boats and naval warships with air support being given by squadrons flying most notably from RAF Hornchurch.

King George VI congratulates Flight Lieutenant Alan Deere of 54 squadron on his award of the Distinguished Flying Cross presented at RAF Hornchurch. Photo: Imperial War MuseumKing George VI congratulates Flight Lieutenant Alan Deere of 54 squadron on his award of the Distinguished Flying Cross presented at RAF Hornchurch. Photo: Imperial War Museum

The RAF were bitterly maligned by the soldiers on the beaches with quotes like “where’s the bloody air force?” while our brave pilots fought vehemently to deny the enemy the total air supremacy which they needed to be able to have wreaked havoc on the whole operation.

What is still not made clear to the public even today even with the most recent ‘Dunkirk’ film is the fact that many brave young pilots flying from RAF Hornchurch risked their lives to help protect the retreating troops from the beaches.

Although not seen by those men on the beaches – because many of the aerial battles were fought at high altitude or inland – a bitter fight was ongoing away from the retreating armies view to try and keep the German Luftwaffe from being able to inflict more carnage.

Winston Churchill made a statement on June 3 1940, saying he would make sure people knew the truth and the following day made his now famous speech to the House of Commons “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” in which he profoundly praises the efforts of the Royal Air Force against the might of the German Luftwaffe.

On June 27 1940, a very special guest arrived at Hornchurch.

Unbeknown to the airmen it was King George VI, who had come to present medals to some of the gallant heroes that took part in the Dunkirk evacuations by defending the skies over around the beaches.

The men would receive awards for shooting down enemy aircraft and their bravery in action, they were: P/o Johnny Allen DFC, 54 sqn, F/l Robert Stanford Tuck DFC, 92 sqn, F/l Alan Deere DFC, 54 sqn, F/l Adolph ‘Sailor’ Malan, DFC, 74 sqn, S/l James Leathart DSO,54 sqn.

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