Aviation – Aces

Hatfield was home to the de Havilland School of Flying (later Elementary Flying Training School No.1 or EFTS No.1), the RAF Reserve Flying Club (later the RAF Flying Club). While the DH.82 Tiger Moth was the standard training aircraft for the RAF, and the DH.98 Mosquito was developed as a fighter variant. From the Battle of France, the Battle of Britain, the night war and throughout WWII and beyond, Hatfield has featured in the lives of some of the heroes of the RAF.


Squadron Leader Anthony Charles Bartley (41816) – enlisted in 1939 and was in action over Dunkirk and throughout the Battle of Britain. Later, after a stint as an instructor, served as a production test pilot with Vickers Supermarine (makers of the Spitfire). Returned to active service in North Africa. Having been injured in a crash, he served in staff roles. Credited with 12 victories, plus one shared destroyed with several more probables and damaged. According to his autobiography he visited Hatfield on 2 July 1943 to attend Geoffrey de Havilland's birthday party, after having met him earlier in the day (however, Geoffrey de Havilland was born on 27 July). Post-war he rejoined Vickers Armstrong, and married the actress Deborah Kerr in 1947.


Group Captain John 'Cats-Eyes' Cunningham (90216) – a de Havilland apprentice before the war. He made his name on night-fighters. Flying first the Beaufighter and then the Mosquito, he became a household name.

Click here to go to his entry under Claims to Fame – Aviation Pioneers  



Squadron Leader Neville Duke (61054) – at one stage the top scoring RAF Spitfire V pilot in North Africa with 12 victories. He finished the war with 26 solo and 2 shared 'kills'; 1 probable and 6 damaged. Spent a week at No.1 EFTS at Hatfield during his RAF training in 1941, and flew at a post-war Hatfield display.

Click here to go to his entry under Claims to Fame – Aviation Pioneers  



Wing Commander Ian Richard Gleed (37800) – had his first flight at Hatfield (a joyride with the London Aeroplane Club) while still at school. He later became a member of the London Aeroplane Club (thought to have joined in April 1935). He gained his licence on 12 July 1935 at Hatfield. During WWII he possibly became Britain's fastest ace destroying five enemy aircraft, probably destroying a sixth and sharing in the destruction of another in two days. He saw action in the Battle of France, the Battle of Britain, the air battle over the Channel and Continental Europe before he was killed in action in North Africa.

Click here to go to the feature on him in the Aviation section  



Pilot Officer Edgar 'Cobber' Kain (39534) – New Zealander and WWII Battle of France ace. His log book shows that he visited Hatfield on more than one occasion before the outbreak of hostilities.


Group Captain Peter Townsend (33178) – Battle of Britain ace and later Equerry to King George VI. In this role, he was romantically linked to Princess Margaret and was scheduled to fly the aircraft she had entered in the 1951 Festival of Britain/King's Cup Air Race at Hatfield.


Wing Commander Timothy Ashmead Vigors (33554) – Flew Spitfires during the Battle of Britain, and the Brewster Buffalo in the Far East. Shot down in flames by Japanese fighters he was badly burned. If it wasn't for two Malaysians who found him and carried him out of the jungle he would have died. He finished the war with a series of training posts. Post-war held the UK agency for Piper aircraft and became a noted bloodstock agent (horse breeding). His final score was 6 confirmed destroyed, 1 unconfirmed, 6 probables, and 5 damaged and shared damaged. He appears to be unique among our aces as he was born in Hatfield on 22 March 1921 (but raised in Ireland).


Group Captain Percy Charles Pickard (39392) – Hero of Bomber Command and Operation Jericho. Commissioned as a Pilot Officer in 1937, he flew Handley Page Hampdens and Vickers Wellingtons in the early days of the war. Forced to ditch after one operation he and his crew spent 14 hours in a rubber dinghy in a rough North Sea awaiting rescue. He was awarded the DFC the following month. Later, he was given command of 311 (Czech) Squadron and was awarded his first Distinguished Service Order and the Czechoslovakian Military Medal. He then went on to command 51 Squadron, flying Armstrong Whitworth Whiteleys. For his leadership during Operation Biting (better known as the Bruneval Raid) he was awarded a second DSO. He went on to command 161 Squadron (the second RAF 'Moon Squadron' – tasked with dropping supplies and ferrying agents to and from Occupied Europe). He personally flew over 100 such missions – on one occasion rescued 7 agents who had the Gestapo hot on their heels – and received a third DSO. Given command of 140 Wing, 2nd Tactical Air Force, he could have sat the war out. However, he typically wanted to lead by example and spent 3 days at Hatfield learning to fly the DH.98 Mosquito used by the three squadrons (487, 464 and 21) in the wing. On 18 February 1944, Group Captain Pickard lead a formation of 19 Mosquitoes (18 bombers and one Film Production Unit aircraft) on Operation Jericho. A desperate attempt to free members of the French Resistance held at Amiens Prison – some of the 120 sentenced to death were to be executed the next day. It remains one of the Allies outstanding precision raids of WWII. All 19 Mosquitoes used on the raid are believed to have been built in Hatfield. Sadly, two were lost on the raid and Group Captain Pickard was among the three crewman killed.

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