Pilots and planes

Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies

From an estimated crew of around 3,000, only half survived the four month battle. Many of those with Hertfordshire connections who did survive would be killed later in the War.  The average life expectancy of a spitfire pilot during the Battle of Britain was four weeks.

PILOT OFFICER PETER MILDREN - Peter Mildren was born near Westmill in 1919. In August 1940 he joined 54 Squadron which was heavily involved throughout the Battle of Britain, which he survived. On 11 February 1941, his squadron left Biggin Hill but 20 minutes later it was attacked by five Messerschmitts and his Spitfire crashed.
Courtesy of Felsted School
After the War, Mildren's parents refused permission for his name to be included on a proposed war memorial. As he was Westmill's only casualty no memorial was actually constructed. However, his brother and sister-in-law left a bequest to the church for this purpose. On 31st August 2019, 80 years to the day that he was commissioned in the RAF, a memorial was unveiled at a packed service at St Mary’s Church, Westmill.
Peter Mildren's memorial in Westmill Church, 2019 (HALS ref Additional Topographical Survey)
PILOT OFFICER GORDON THOMAS MANNERS MITCHELL - Gordon Mitchell was born in September 1910 and was to become one of the first casualties of the Battle of Britain. He was the only son of Mr and Mrs T.R Mitchell of ‘Graylands’, in The Broadway, Letchworth. Mitchell was commissioned as a Pilot Officer into No.609 Squadron (Auxiliary Air Force) on the 11 November 1938. He was shot down in combat over a convoy off Portland on 11 July in Spitfire L1095 and reported 'Missing'. His body was washed ashore near Newport, on the Isle of Wight. Mitchell is buried in All Saints churchyard, Willian, near Letchworth.
FLYING OFFICER STEPHEN ROCHFORD - Stephen Rochford was born in 1916, the son of Joseph and Lena of Broxbourne, whose family owned the nurseries there. He joined 53 Squadron and took part in reconnaissance duties as well as undertaking bombing missions. On 24 August 1940 he took off to patrol ports near Holland and on the way back, his plane crashed into houses near Dover, killing all on board and the occupants of one house. He is buried in Hertford Cemetery.
FLT LT HON BRUCE DAVID GRIMSTON DFC - Bruce Grimston was born in 1915 and was the youngest son of the 4th Earl Verulam of St Albans. He fought in the Battle of Britain and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in April 1941 in recognition of a successful attack at Bremen. He flew more than 30 raids over Italy and Germany; two older brothers were also in the RAF, one of whom died in 1943. He was killed in action on 12th or 13th July 1944, aged 28 and is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.
By May 1940, the government needed to speed up aircraft producation and the idea of public appeals was pushed. More than 1,000 Spitfire appeals were set up by councils, businesses, voluntary organisations and individuals, all fired up by the sight of German planes overhead. Not only did these local events do a great deal to raise money, they also served made people feel as if they were doing their bit for the war effort. Spitfires could be named after a town that had raised sufficient money to buy one. The RAF had about 300 Spitfires fighting in the Battle of Britain at any one time, with total combat losses estimated at about 260.
Weekly Telegraph, 30 August 1940 (ref HALS Acc 3030)
St Albans Spitfire Fund campaign, August 1940
HALS (ref Herts Advertiser 2 Aug 1940)
Promoting Hertford's Spitfire fund, August 1940
HALS (ref Hertfordshire Mercury 23 Aug 1940)
This page was added on 09/07/2020.

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