Spitfire Pilot – Life Prematurely Ended

Spitfire Site

Spitfire Pilot

Life Prematurely Ended

In 2007,  a Spitfire crash site was uncovered in France, leading to the possible identification of the grave of the RAF pilot who remained ...
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In 2007,  a Spitfire crash site was uncovered in France, leading to the possible identification of the grave of the RAF pilot who remained missing since the war. It was 27th July 1944 when F/O Ernest Russell Lyon together with his squadron undertook a Rhubarb mission over a German airfield in Brittany. That day he was listed as missing. His family never knew what happened to him – until recently when a group of French aviation enthusiasts traced the remains of F/O Lyon and solved the mystery for his surviving relatives.
The following is the account of Russell Lyon’s career with No. 234 Squadron in the hectic days of 1944 which were dominated by Allied invasion in Normandy. Kindly provided by Richard S. Lyon, Russell’s nephew.

The author is indebted to the following researchers who have contributed hugely to the development of the story.
Jean Yves Le Lan (Comité d’Histoire du pays de Ploemeur).
Jean Robic, Farmer and enthusiast of WW2 history in the Ploemeur Region (excavated remains of Spitfire AR343)
Claude Hélias Researcher ?Spitfire Losses over Brittany in WW2, and other subjects
Sébastien le Coupanec(excavated remains of Spitfire AR343)
Alain Gargam(excavated remains of Spitfire AR343)
Michel Jaouen (excavated remains of Spitfire BM200)
Nigel Walpole (the author of the book Dragon Rampant – The Story of No. 234 Fighter Squadron)

Everything that remained from the Spitfire Mk. Vb AR343. A propeller boss, some engine parts, port exhaust pipes, fragment of the firewall and armoured backplate and a pair of compressed air bottles. Recovered from crash site at Kercavès in France during 2001-2003.
[the Lyon Family]

This story relates to my uncle Russell, and Spitfire MkVb AR343 in which F/O Ernest Russell Lyon was killed when his aircraft was shot down on a Rhodeo mission over Kercavès, near Lorient, Brittany at around 8pm on 27th July 1944.

Remembering Russell Lyon


Russell Lyon (right) around 1933, with half brother Stanley (centre) and brother James (left)
[the Lyon Family]

Russell was educated at George Watson’s College, Edinburgh. He finished school in 1941 and like many young men of his generation, enlisted with the forces as soon as he reached mature age. His chosen arm was the Royal Air Force; Russell wanted to be a pilot. His military record starts on 1st March 1941, at the age of just 18 years and two months.

After the initial flight training in th UK during the summer, Russell was promoted to Leading Aircraftman. He was then posted to the United States to complete his training. This he achieved on 20th May 1942, being awarded pilot’s wings and promoted to Sergeant. In September he received a temporary commission as Pilot Officer in Canada as Staff Pilot at No.41 Service Flying Training School Weyburn, Saskatchewan.

On 4th March 1943. Lyon was promoted to Flying Officer ad posted back to the UK. He received an operational fighter pilot training on Spitfires at No.61 OTU at Rednal. Finally, on 20th October 1943 he arrived at No. 234 Squadron RAF at Hutton Cranswick.

In Squadron Service

No. 234 Squadron RAF was a unit with long history. However, through a series of circumstances, at the time of Russel’s posting it was literally an entirely new unit under the process of reforming.

The unit’s doldrums began in January 1943, when the squadron was transferred for a rest period to the Orkneys, being stationed in Grimsetters and Skaebrae. It returned to Hornchurch in July 1943, only to be told to prepare for a posting overseas. Shortly afterwards the squadron was taken over by Sqn/Ldr Phil Arnott. In July 1943, they moved to Church Fenton, then, in August to West Malling. There the squadron was told that the overseas posting had been cancelled, and on 20th August 1943 Squadron Leader M.G.Barnett, a New Zealander, became a new Commanding Officer.

However, any anxiety the personnel might have about the overseas posting was not to end there. In September, the unit moved to Southend-on-Sea. From there, on 26th September Sqn/Ldr Barnett and most of the pilots were posted ’en bloc’ to Australia to form No. 549 Squadron. F/Lt E.D. Glaser became acting CO. The squadron moved to Hutton Cranswick and was virtually disbanded.

On 15th October the command of the unit was taken over by Sqn/Ldr Bocock DFC with the aim of reforming the unit at Hutton Cranswick as part of 12 Group. Checking the dates reveals that Russell Lyon arrived to the squadron only five days after, effectively becoming one of the founding pilots of the “new” unit.

On 25th October Sqn/Ldr Arnott returned and resumed command. F/Lt Walton DFC was nominated as ‘A’ Flight Commander, and F/Lt Lattimer as ’B’ Flight Commander. Additional pilots soon began to come in and soon the squadron was practising air-to-air fighting in the old aircraft left over from the disbanding. The first operational sortie was led by a Sgt Crowhurst in search of a ditched Mosquito.

The aircraft received by 234 were a collection of rather dated – two to three years old Spitfires Mk. Vb. By 1944, this mark of the Spitfire was no longer a serious contender in fighter-versus-fighter combat and indeed, No. 234 Squadron was to be one of only a few fighter units in 1st line service over the Channel and France to retain this mark until September 1944. However, the Luftwaffe was by that time greatly overstretched on three fronts and so it was entirely possible that the pilots would complete a tour of duty without coming into contact with their opposite numbers. In these conditions, the aircraft could still be put to good use against ground targets, transport and communication targets. 

The role of the squadron became once again that of convoy patrolling and bomber escort. Whilst at Hutton Cranswick, an RAF base in East Yorkshire, Russell wrote to his sister-in-law May, who had married his brother Stanley in 1940. In the letter Russell arranged to meet May on his way through Newcastle during a seven-day leave that he had been granted from 14th December 1943. At this time Stanley was abroad on active service.

With the beginning of the new year 1944, No. 234 Squadron moved to Coltishall with the aim of joining the offensive operations over occupied Europe. On 6th February the squadron took part in their first Ramrod, escorting 72 American Marauders to Paris and back. The operation took one hour and fifty minutes. On 8th March, another operation ‘Jim Crow’ was undertaken, two pairs of Spitfires doing armed shipping reconnaissance between Ijmuiden and the Hook of Holland.

In March 1944 it was time for another move, this time to Bolt Head in the area of 10 Group. Here they were engaged in ‘Rodeos’ – ground attack operations. These sorties were often routed close to the enemy airfields in the hope of catching enemy aircraft at a disadvantage in their landing or start circuit. Such a flight occurred on 20th April, consisting of 8 aircraft flying along the route Mont St. Michel – Rennes – Grand Champs – Plestin and back.

Group portrait of the “A” Flight of No. 234 Squadron, winter 1943-44. The pilots, from left to right, are: Dennis Sims, Alan Frost, Charlie Potter, Johnny Johnston, Judy Fraser, Reg Hooker, David Ferguson (sleeves rolled up centre), Pete Bell,”Wally” Walton, Dick Jacobsen, (Ernest) Russell (nicknamed Ben) Lyon ( 5th from right)
“Pete” Pedersen, Roy Fairweather, Sgt.Smith, Len Stockwell
[Photo by kind permission of David Ferguson]

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10 Comments | Add New

By Chris Carter  |  2012-04-22 at 17:44  |  permalink

A fine tribute to a brave man. I am interested in the section about 234 Sqn’s history from April to November 1943. My father joined 234 at Skaebrae (Orkneys) at the end of April. At this time OC ‘B’ Flt was Flt Lt ‘Dave’ Glaser and the Sqn Commander was not, I believe, Sqn Ldr Arnott. My father’s log book was signed by Glaser and the OC each month. The OC’s signature |(which is all I have to go on) was GCB and what looks like Lund or Lind. However, following the Squadron’s return to the south at West Malling Sqn Ldr Bennett was in charge (counter-signing the log book for August and September. Entries for October ’43 were signed by ‘Dave’ Glaser as OC ‘B’ Flt and counter-signed by Eric Bocock as OC. Dave Glaser was still very much there. The next log book entries for 549 Sqn in Australia were also signed by Glaser and Bocock as OC ‘B’ Flt and OC respectively. My father told me, many years ago, that the ‘whole squadron’ was shipped to Oz via the USA.. Unless the squadron was posted to the far east in 2 separate groups, which seems unlikely, it would seem that the sequence of events outlined above has some errors. What I can say for certain is that on 2nd Nov 1943, Messrs Bocock, Glaser and Carter were on 234 and as of March 1944 all three were on 549.

By Paul CATTERALL  |  2013-08-28 at 20:23  |  permalink

I am the great nephew of Eric Bocock who was my Grandmothers brother. I have some photos of Eric and 549 in Australia which may also show your father would be happy to forward them to you

By Chris Carter  |  2014-08-09 at 08:50  |  permalink

Hello, Paul,
thanks for your e-mail. Apologies for such a slow reply, but I had stopped looking at 234 Sqn stuff and have been searching for more on 549 Sqn. I have copies, from the public domain, of photos taken at Darwin. Specifically, the Squadron photo with Eric Bocock front and centre. I also have photos of my father, a pilot called Wally Gadsden, and other squadron aircrew. Unfortunately, none of the photos, apart from the first above, show Eric Bocock. I would be glad to have copies of any pictures you have, whether they show my father or not. If you are interested I might be able to help identify some of the people in the photos.
Chris Carter
PS. Resulting from my research, I was saddened to discover that, having survived the war, Eric Was killed in a flying accident in 1946.

By John Engelsted  |  2016-03-16 at 09:59  |  permalink

Hi Chris.

I am very interested i knowing more about your father. Could you please contact me at je@logit.dk

John Engelsted

By DAVID COWARD  |  2013-01-26 at 18:39  |  permalink

I am using my friend John’s email to find out any information on my late father – FO John Liversedge Coward, a Spitfire pilot with 234 Squadron, who was shot down and killed in 1944. He is buried in Guidel Cemetary France. In particular I would like to see a photograph of my father as I was only a few months old when he was killed. My mother remarried and I have no recollection of seeing a photograph of him as I grew older.

By Derek Greenhalgh  |  2014-06-18 at 20:27  |  permalink

I am the brother of F/Lt Dennis ‘Charlie’ Greenhalgh, 234 Squdn. killed in action May 10/11th 1944 in the Pas de CalIais area of France. I have photographs of him with ‘Dumbo’ Dave Glaser’s dog, and of Glaser sitting astride a cannon of a Spitfire Vb, and pulling on the cannon cover!! The GCB mentioned is almost certainly Squdn. Ldr. G.C.Banning-Lover who died within the last few years. I have the announcement of his death printed in the Daily Telegraph. I also have all my brother’s log books . In addition, I have a letter from P.L.Arnott written to my parents when my brother was posted ‘Missing’ Squdn. Ldr. Arnott also sent Dave Fergusson to see my parents and explain the circumstances. I remember his visit well. I was 18 at the time and had already been accepted for aircrew training.

By John Engelsted  |  2016-03-16 at 09:57  |  permalink

Hi Derek.

I am very interested i knowing more about your brother. Could you please contact me at je@logit.dk

John Engelsted

By John Walton  |  2014-12-17 at 17:40  |  permalink

My father was in the 234, F/Lt William “Wally” Walton he was shot down and captured by the Germans in 1944. He passed away in 1994. I have photos from him in the RAF, not sure they are all 234 or other squadrons. I can be contacted at jww100@aol.com

By Sally Fairweather  |  2015-10-12 at 21:46  |  permalink

My father was Roy Fairweather who luckily for us came home safely. He died in 2004. I typed his memoirs for him in his retirement years and have quite a section devoted to his time with the RAF. I also have a section of the diary written at the time by Stan Farmiloe (English) who was also attached to the squadron at some time. Ray Stebbin was another and to date I think he may still be alive. I have several photos that I an happy to upload if anyone would like them. Several are of squadron members but quality of course is quite poor.
Dad wrote of Len Stockwell’s death and Dennis Sims. I would have to spend some time going through these documents to see what else I have. Let me know if anyone is interested. I will make a point of looking for a photo of John Coward.

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