First reinforcements

First reinforcements (4 October 1939)

The day of 4 October 1939 is marked by the arrival of several pilots to reinforce the No.615 Squadron. However, the majority of them are relatively inexperienced either from flying schools or through rapid promotions as part of the RAF’s wartime expansion.

Squadron Leader Hedley N. Fowler

14 December 1943


The Flying Officer Hedley N. Fowler (39457), although born in London on 8 June 1916 spent part of his childhood in Australia (Adelaide) when the family followed the father (Officer in the Royal Navy). It is true that he has an Australian connection as his maternal grandfather, Henry Ayers, served as Prime Minister of South Australia between 1863 and 1873. He returned briefly to England to attend school at the prestigious Rugby School [1]. Returning to Australia in 1933, he studied mechanics at the University of Adelaide, then joined the Royal Australian Air Force, where he got his wings on 8 December 1936 and won the Mannock Cup, before being transferred to the Royal Air Force with a Short Service Commission as Pilot Officer on 19 February 1937 [2]. After his training at No.6 (RAF) Flying Training School of Netheravon [3], he joined No.3 (RAF) Squadron on 22 May 1937 [4].

Flying Officer Herbert S. Giddings

The Flying Officer Herbert S. Giddings (37283) [5] was born in 1915 in Knaresborough (North Yorkshire – England). He joined the RAF with a Short Service Commission in July 1935 [6]. After training at No.3 (RAF) Flying Training School Grantham on September 28, 1935, he joined No.65 (RAF) Squadron at Hornchurch on 5 August 1936.

Flight Lieutnant Richard Dunning Pexton

Pilot Officer Richard D. Pexton (72150) [7] was born on 26 October 1913, in Yorkshire. After attending St. Peter’s School in York, he worked at the family farm in Watton (East Yorkshire), while joining the Territorial Army as Second Lieutnant in the 5th Battalion, Green Howards, on 5 November 1932. He join later the RAF Volunteer Reserve as a pilot on 26 January 1938 [8].

Pilot Officer Stanley M. Wickham (40773) was most likely born in 1917 in the Sydney area, where he attended North Sydney High School. Holder of a pilotage certificate at the Sydney Aero Club [9], he joined the RAF around 1938 with a Short Service Commission [10].

Pilot Officer Brian P. Young (33376) was born on 5 May 1918, in the province of Natal (South Africa). After his schooling at the Michaelhouse School, he joined the RAF in 1936 with a Permanent Commission. Following his training at RAF College Cranwell, he joined No.32 (RAF) Squadron on 30 July 1938 [11].

Finally the most important reinforcement arrives by a strange combination of circumstances. This is Flight Lieutnant James G. Sanders (37510) [12] in charge of taking B Flight. He was born on 19 June 1915, in Richmond upon Thames in the suburbs of London. Educated, partly in Italy in Genoa where he meets some worries following his remarks on Benito Mussolini [13]. He joined the RAF with a Short Service Commission on 25 November 1935 [14]. After his training at No.10 (RAF) Flying Traning School of Ternhill (1st February 1936 [15]), he joined the prestigious No.111 (RAF) Squadron on 10 August 1936 [16]. In particular, he has the privilege of being the third to be converted on the new Hawker Hurricane when his Squadron is designated to test the aircraft. Unfortunately, an incident broke out in the summer of 1939 when James G. Sanders performed some unauthorized acrobatics aboard a Gloster Gauntlet after Squadron Leader Harry Broadhurst criticized his flying skills. [17] The various tensions (and probably ego) between the two men will, nevertheless, be well managed by the Fighter Command. If James G. Sanders is indeed transferred to a much less prestigious unit, No.615 (County of Surrey) Squadron wins a particularly experienced Flight Lieutnant.

[1] Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia, Hedley Fowler : ; RAF Commands forum, Antiques Roadshow 11.09.16 – Squadron Leader Hedley Neville Fowler : ; Australian War Memorial, Military Cross : Squadron Leader H N Fowler, RAF :

[2] The London Gazette, 2 March 1937, p.1417 :

[3] Flight, 25 March 1937, p.308 :

[4] Flight, 10 June 1937, p.584 :

[5] Battle of Britain London Monument, The Airmen’s Stories – F/Lt. H S Giddings : ; SHORES, Christopher. Those other Eagles. London : Grub Street, 2004. p.211.

[6] The London Gazette, 8 October 1935 :

[7] Battle of Britain London Monument, The Airmen’s Stories – F/Lt. R D Pexton :

[8] The London Gazette, 26 April 1938 :

[9] The Cumberland Argus, 20 December 1939 :

[10] The London Gazette, 14 March 1939 :

[11] Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation, Air Vice-Marshal B P Young :

[12] Battle of Britain London Monument, The Airmen’s Stories – F/Lt. J G Sanders : ; FRANKS, Norman. Dowding’s Eagles: Accounts of Twenty-five Battle of Britain Veterans. Pen & Sword Aviation, 2015. 272 p. ; WYNN, Kenneth G. Men of The Battle of Britain: A Biographical Dictionary of The Few. Frontline Books, 2015. 584 p.

[13] Imperial War Museum, Sanders, James Gilbert (Oral history) :

[14] Flight, 20 February 1936, p.204 :

[15] London Gazette, 4 February 1936 :

[16] Flight, 3 Septembre 1936, p.257 :

[17] The Telegraph, Obituaries Wing Commander J G ‘Sandy’ Sanders, 19 August 2002 :

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