First Patrols

First Patrols (18 November 1939 – 17 December 1939)

This 18th of November marks the Squadron’s real entry into the war with its first operational missions after the training series of the previous months. In the morning, a section of B Flight is deployed on Le Touquet airfield : Flying Officer Hedley N. Fowler (N2303) ; Pilot Officer John R. Lloyd (N2312) and Brian P. Young (N2309) while a second is sent on patrol over Amiens with Flight Lieutenant James G. Sanders (N2306), Pilot Officer Levin Fredman (N2304) and Keith T. Lofts (N2310). The A Flight remains on the aerodrome of Merville, from which a patrol is carried out over Lille by Flight Lieutenant Leslie T.W. Thornley (N5581), Flying Officer Peter Collard (N5578) and Pilot Officer Stanley M. Wickham (N5582) between 11h00 and 12h15.

This stay at Merville is mainly marked by difficult weather conditions, which have the effect of drastically reducing air activity. Thus the following day, a patrol is carried out over the sector of Merville – Nieppe by Flying Officer Herbert S. Giddings (N5585), Flying Officer Peter Collard (N5577) and Pilot Officer Stanley M. Wickham (N5582) at 10h00 but quickly interrupted after only thirty minutes of flight. At the same time, the aerodrome proved deplorable, which led Squadron Leader Arthur V. Harvey to consider, on 22 November, a transfer to the airfield of Vitry-en-Artois.

Finally, the big event occurred on 5 and 6 December 1939 when King George VI toured to review the troops in France. For this purpose, Squadron Leader Arthur V. Harvey and Flight Lieutenant Leslie T.W. Thornley join the Lille-Seclin airfield with some of the ground staff, as well as one of the Gloster Gladiator Mk II.

Troops Review by King George VI, General John S.S. Prendergast Vereker, Lord Gort (B.E.F. Commander) and Prince Harry, Duke of Gloucester (B.E.F. Liaison Officer). Source : Imperial War Museum.


On 12 December, B Flight was sent to Abbeville in order to participate in an exercise with the Westland Lysander of No.51 (Army Co-op) Wing : No.2 and No.26 (RAF) Squadron. During the flights, Pilot Officer Brian P. Young is the victim of a motor problem and has to put his Gloster Gladiator Mk II in emergency near Berck.

After having obtained the authorization the day before, No.607 (County of Durham) and No.615 (County of Surrey) Squadron leave the airfield of Merville whose runway was considered deplorable. The transfer was made on 13 December 1939 in the morning, despite the bad weather, and all aircrafts are considered operational in the afternoon. The pilots are then housed at the Café de la Grande-Bretagne, while the rest of the staff are housed in the field in conditions deemed much better than at Merville.

On 17 December, two new pilots come to reinforce the Squadron : Pilot Officers Petrus H. Hugo and Flying Officer Woodwark are assigned respectively to A and B Flight.

The first, Petrus Hendrik Hugo, was born on 20 December 1917 in Pampoenpoort (Cape Province, South Africa). He studied engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand, before moving to the United Kingdom because of poor prospects in the South African Air Force. After obtaining his pilot’s wing at Sywell’s Civil Flying School, he joined the RAF with a Short Service Commission in April 1939. After his training at No.13 (RAF) Flying Training School in Drem, where he receives the mention “exceptional”, at No. 11 (RAF) Pool Group of St. Athan (23 October 1939) and at No.2 (RAF) Ferry Pool of Filton (17 November 1939), he is transferred to No. 615 Squadron [1].

Pilot Officer Petrus Hendrik Hugo. Source : The Battle of Britain London Monument.


The identity of the second is more difficult to establish. Indeed, his name is mentioned a few times in the ORB without ever mentioning his initials or first names. It disappears, moreover, from the strength towards the month of March 1940 without any precision. After a search in the London Gazette’s archives, the most likely hypothesis is that of George Stuart Woodwark (37842), appointed Pilot Officer at the end of his training in March 1937, he enjoys the rank of Flying Officer in 1939 before to be promoted Flight Lieutenant in November 1940. He was discharged from the RAF in 1949 as Squadron Leader. However, if the dates seem to match, there is no concrete evidence to suggest that the latter is the Woodwark of No.615 (County of Surrey) Squadron.

[1] Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia, Petrus Hugo : ; Battle of Britain London Monument, The Airmen’s Stories – F/O P H Hugo : ; BREW Steve. Blood, Sweat and Courage : 41 Squadron RAF 1939 – 1942. Fonthill, 2014, p. 549, 550 et 779.

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