09.05.1942 No. 118 Squadron Spitfire Vb BL264 NK-? Sqn/Ldr. John Harold Gilbert Walker
Operation: Circus 168
Date: 9 May 1942 (Saturday)
Unit: No. 118 Squadron - Motto: "Occido redeoque" ("I kill and return")
Badge: On waves of the sea an ancient ship in full sail in flames.
Type: Spitfire Vb
Base: RAF Ibsley, Hampshire
Location: Probably ditched in the English Channel
Pilot: Sqn/Ldr. John Harold Gilbert Walker 40036 RAF Age 23 - Killed
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REASON FOR LOSS:
After the Battle of Britain offensive operations by German fighter aircraft against England gradually diminished and by the early summer of 1941 had virtually ceased. In an attempt to draw out the enemy fighters the RAF began a series of attacks on continental Europe using small numbers of bombers heavily escorted by fighters. These operations, codenamed Circus began on 10 January 1941 with a raid on Forêt de Guînes, France. Circus 168 was such an operation to bomb railway yards at Hazebrouck, Northern France and carried out by a mere 6 Boston III bombers with a close escort of no less than four Spitfire squadrons one of which was 118 squadron.
Hazebrouck railway marshalling yards (Courtesy IWM)
A Spitfire Vb of 121 Squadron (Courtesy IWM)
Rendezvous was at 13:00 hours and with the Spitfires of 118 squadron acting as Target Support the Bostons subsequently bombed the railway marshalling yards at Hazebrouck. But at 13:35 after turning for home the Spitfires of 118 squadron were attacked from high altitude by a force of at least 25 Focke-Wulf Fw 190s (and possibly some Messerschmitt Bf109s) of JG26. Caught unaware the squadron very quickly lost four Spitfires and their pilots: they were Sqn/Ldr. Walker, F/Sgt. Michael Bay Green (Runnymede Memorial Panel 74), Sgt. Geoffrey Shepherd in Spitfire Vb AB798 (PoW) and Sgt. Franklin Wales Hough (RCAF) (Killed - buried Dunkirk Town Cemetery). Another Spitfire Vb W3722 piloted by wounded P/O. Thomas was severely damaged but managed to make it to RAF Manston in Kent where it crash landed whilst Spitfire Vb BL580 piloted by Dutch P/O. G.H. Aalpoel having run out of fuel, crash landed at RAF Tangmere in West Sussex.
Sqn/Ldr. Walker in Spitfire Vb BL264 was last seen in combat with Fw109s near Saint Omer.
Four days later on 13 May 1942 [see note 1 below] his body was recovered from a dinghy found eight miles south of Dungeness. Whatever the circumstances Squadron Leader Walker had clearly managed to reach the Channel and unwounded, baled out of his Spitfire and got into his dinghy. Ironically, it seems that help was not at hand and he subsequently died from exposure. His death is recorded as having occurred on 9 May 1942.
Scale 1" = 12.5 Miles
Sqn/Ldr. John Harold Gilbert Walker (left) was born in 1918 at Nottingham the son of John William Walker (an Engineers Merchant) and Grace Walker nee Gilbert of Wollaton Park, Nottingham. He entered Nottingham High School in 1930 aged 12 having won a Foundation Scholarship. In 1935 he took his OTC 'A' Certificate and became the Company Sergeant Major that year. He was in the First XV Rugby and Victor Ludorum in 1935. He left in 1935. (Details courtesy of Nottingham High School Archives).
He entered the RAF and began his ab initio course on 24 May 1937. He was granted a short service commission in the Royal Air Force as an Acting Pilot Officer on probation with effect from and seniority of 9 August 1937 announced in the London Gazette of 24 August 1937.
He was posted to No. 3 Flying Training School at RAF South Cerney near Cirencester in Gloucestershire on 21 August 1937 and the following year on 26 March he joined the staff at the School of Naval Co-operation at the Royal Naval Air Service at Ford in Sussex. He was confirmed in the rank of Pilot Officer with effect from 24 May 1938 as announced in the London Gazette of 31 May 1938. In February 1939 he was posted to No. 25 Squadron at RAF Hawkinge in Kent later relocating to RAF Northolt, West London on 22 August of that year. He was to remain with 25 squadron throughout the Battle of Britain.
His promotion to Flying Officer from 24 November 1939 was announced in the London Gazette of 28 November 1939 a date that coincidentally was a significant date in his operational career. On that date he was one of the 6 regular pilots of number 25 Squadron who, together with 6 auxiliary pilots from 601 (City of London) Squadron of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, were despatched to attack the seaplane base at Borkum on the island of Sylt in North Germany. Led by Flight Lieutenant Michael Fitzwilliam Peacock of 601 this composite squadron of 12 Blenheim 1Fs took off in the early afternoon on the 250 odd mile flight across the North Sea. Nearing the end of their journey they flew through a rainstorm before emerging from the clouds just before dusk. Achieving complete surprise they attacked in four sections of three at full throttle and flying at under 100 feet raked the base from every angle. Five of the mine-laying sea planes lying on their slipways were hit and two of them seriously damaged. During the attack one Blenheim flew through a gap in the mole (a featalternatively credited to Fl/Lt. Michael Peacock and to F/O. John Walker) whilst others came in low over the hangers. Though fired upon by coastal patrol boats, machine gun posts and pom-poms the Blenheims all returned safely. Fl/Lt. Peacock received the Distinguished Flying Cross in recognition of his "splendid dash and courage". Despite its daring the raid was of minor consequence and is today only remembered for being the first long range fighter attack of the war against Germany.
Bristol Blenheims of 25 Squadron - July 1940 (Courtesy IWM)
Throughout most of 1940 and the Battle of Britain he continued to fly with 25 squadron engaged on convoy escort duties, defensive patrols and several offensive sorties to the Belgian and Dutch coasts. And in the midst of his flying activities of 1940 he married Iris Vivienne Burrows Tacey at Nottingham.
He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant with effect from 24 November 1940 as announced in the London Gazette of 3 December 1940 and in early 1941 having flown in excess of 50 operations with No. 25 squadron was posted to No. 54 Operational Training Unit at RAF Church Fenton for a period of rest followed by service as an instructor at three different Signals Wings.
He was promoted to Squadron Leader (temporary) with effect from 1 December 1941 as announced in the Supplement to the London Gazette of 16 December 1941.
After attending No. 59 OTU for conversion training to single-engine fighters he joined 118 Squadron in early March 1942 and over the next two months participated in over 20 Circus Operations as well as numerous scrambles before finally losing his life whilst flying on Circus 168.
He was buried at Wollaton (St. Leonards) Cemetery in Grave No. 319 on 19 May 1942 [See Note 1 below]
Grave photographs courtesy Tony Glover
He is commemorated on the Battle of Britain Monument in London, the Nottingham High School War Memorial, St Leonard's Church War Memorial, Wollaton.
A section of the Battle of Britain Monument in London
Certain sources record that Sqn/Ldr. Walker's body was recovered 12 days after the attack on Hazebrouck i.e. 21 May 1942. However the Probate Calendar record for John Harold Gilbert Walker clearly states that his body was recovered on the 13 May 1942 i.e. 4 days after the attack. Wollaton Cemetery Records state that his funeral took place there on 19 May 1942. It is therefore impossible that his body was recovered as late as 21 May and logistically 13 May would seem about right considering the date of his funeral.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for Nottingham High School and all the relatives and friends of the pilot - January 2016
With thanks to the sources quoted below.