Flight Lieutenant Jimmy Corbin DFC
Born: August 5th 1917, Maidstone, Kent. Died: December 8th 2012. Age 95
Corbin arrived on 66 Squadron as it moved south to Surrey in late August 1940, as the Battle was reaching its climax. Because he had so little experience, he was dispatched by his CO to the north of England for a few weeks’ extra training before returning to 66, which had moved to Gravesend. During the final month of the Battle, Corbin was in action over his native Kent.
As the Battle of Britain was drawing to a close, Corbin’s CO, Squadron Leader Athol Forbes, decided that 10 of his pilots should record their impressions of the great air battle while memories were fresh. He chose a cross-section of officers and sergeants from different backgrounds and with different experiences – Corbin was one of them.
In between flying on operations, the 10 scribbled down their thoughts. Corbin contributed the third chapter of their classic book Ten Fighter Boys, which was published by Collins in 1942 – and by which time five had perished. The book was reissued in 2008. In 2007 Corbin decided to complete his story, publishing his own book, Last of the Ten Fighter Boys.
In the New Year of 1941, Fighter Command went on the offensive, carrying out sweeps over northern France. Corbin’s Spitfire was hit by anti-aircraft fire and damaged over Calais, but he managed to return safely to base. During a strafing attack against an airfield on the Brest Peninsula, Corbin and his leader damaged a number of aircraft on the ground.
In June 1941 he attacked a Heinkel bomber which was returning from an attack on Liverpool and probably destroyed it; a month later he shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109 while escorting a force of Blenheim bombers over the Dutch coast. After a year of almost continuous operations, he was rested and became an instructor at a fighter training unit.
William James Corbin was born at Maidstone on August 5 1917 and educated in the town at St Michael’s School. He trained as a teacher, and in April 1939 joined the RAFVR . He was called up on the outbreak of war.
After his spell as an instructor, Corbin was commissioned and joined a Spitfire squadron sent to North Africa in support of Operation Torch, the Allied landings in Algeria and Morocco in November 1942. He saw a great deal of action with 72 Squadron as the Allied armies moved eastwards towards Tunis, shooting down a Bf 109 (with another probable) and damaging at least three more fighters.
He was also engaged on many sweeps shooting up motor transports and aircraft on the ground. During these operations, the Spitfires faced intense enemy ground fire, and Corbin recorded in his diary that he felt “a little shaky at times”. As the Allies closed on Tunis, he attacked a motor torpedo boat – which exploded from the concentrated fire from his cannons; he also damaged two others. A few days later the war in North Africa was over and, after 450 hours’ operational flying, Corbin was rested and returned to Britain to be a gunnery instructor. He was awarded a DFC.
At the end of the war, Corbin left the RAF and returned to Maidstone, where he took up a teaching post. He joined the RAF Reserve and enjoyed flying Tiger Moths and Chipmunks at weekends until the Force was disbanded in 1955. He received the Air Efficiency Award.
After 10 years teaching at Collier Road School, Corbin joined the staff of Maidstone Technical School, retiring as a senior master in 1980. He lived most of his life in the Maidstone area, and in 2011 was granted the Freedom of the Borough.
Corbin and his wife were keen golfers, and he played at Bearsted until late in life. He then made daily visits to the club for his ‘medicinal whisky’ until shortly before his death.
Jimmy Corbin was briefly married during the war. He married, secondly, in 1955, Jeanne, who survives him with their son and two daughters.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.