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Air Commodore John Ellacombe DFC and Bar

Born in Rhodesia on February 28th 1920 Died: May 11th 2014 Age 94.

Air Commodore John Ellacombe, survived being shot down three times during the Second World War – twice during the Battle of Britain.

On August 15 1940 the Luftwaffe launched Adler Tag (Eagle Day), with the object of destroying Fighter Command by attacking the ground organisation and drawing the RAF’s fighters into the air. 

Nine Hurricanes of No 151 Squadron were scrambled during the afternoon and met enemy fighters near Dover at 18,000ft. 

Ellacombe quickly attacked a Messerschmitt Bf 109 and fired three bursts. 

The enemy fighter rolled on to its back and dived into the sea.

There was heavy fighting over the next few days, and on August 24 Ellacombe engaged a Heinkel III bomber. 

His fire hit its engines and the bomber crash-landed in Essex.

During intense fighting on August 30 he attacked a formation of Heinkels head on. 

He hit one, which crashed, but return fire damaged the engine of his Hurricane and he was forced to land in a field, where a farmer accosted him with a pitchfork.

On the following day Ellacombe damaged two Bf 109s before attacking a Junkers 88 bomber. 

When the Junkers returned fire, setting his Hurricane’s fuel tank ablaze, he bailed out. 

As he drifted to the ground, a member of the Home Guard fired on him. 

He was then marched to a police station where he was assaulted by a constable who thought he was German. 

Later in life Ellacombe remarked: “In two days, a farmer had attempted to kill me, the Home Guard had shot at me and a policeman had tried to kill me — quite apart from the Germans. I wondered whose side I was on.” 

He received hospital treatment for his burns, and his fighting days during the Battle of Britain were over.

After several months convalescing Ellacombe returned to No 151, which had been reassigned to night fighting. 

Equipped with the Hurricane and the Defiant, the squadron had little contact with the enemy; but Ellacombe developed a reputation for flying at night in the worst weather, and in April 1942 he was awarded a DFC for his service in the Battle of Britain and for “showing the greatest keenness to engage the enemy”.

Posted to No 253 Squadron as a flight commander, he found night fighting dull, and volunteered for daylight operations. 

He flew in support of the ill-fated raid on Dieppe, and as he attacked a gun battery his aircraft was hit by flak. Ellacombe managed to get over the sea before bailing out and being picked up by a Canadian landing craft.

After a rest tour, Ellacombe converted to the Mosquito before joining No 487 (NZ) Squadron, flying low-level intruder missions over France and the Low Countries. 

He attacked V-1 sites in the Pas de Calais and bombed roads and railways in support of the Normandy landings. 

He saw constant action attacking targets in support of the Allied armies and during the breakout from the Falaise pocket.

After 37 intruder bombing patrols Ellacombe was rested and awarded a Bar to his DFC

He spent the remainder of the war on training duties, but still managed occasionally to take a Mosquito on an operational sortie.

The son of an English doctor who had served during the Boer War, John Lawrence Wemyss Ellacombe was born at Livingstone, Northern Rhodesia, on February 28 1920 and educated at Diocesan College (Bishops) in Cape Town. 

In May 1939 he went to Britain to join the RAF, trained as a pilot and in July 1940 was posted to No 151 Squadron; he had never flown a Hurricane.

Post-war he remained in the RAF, most of his flying appointments being in Fighter Command. 

After service in Aden he led No 1 Squadron, flying Meteor jets, and he commanded the Fighter Development Unit at the Central Fighter Establishment, developing tactics for the Hunter and Lightning . 

He served in Washington as a liaison officer with the USAF on fighter operations before commanding the RAF flying training base at Linton-on-Ouse, near York.

Ellacombe was the senior serving representative at the Defence Operational Analysis Establishment, and on promotion to Air Commodore in 1968 was appointed Air Commander of Air Forces, Gulf, with headquarters at Muharraq, Bahrain. 

The withdrawal of British forces from Aden was scheduled for the end of that year, and Muharraq became a key staging post and support airfield . 

Ellacombe’s calm handling of affairs in Bahrain was recognised by his appointment as CB. 

His final appointment was in the MoD, and he retired in 1973.

Ellacombe then became Director of Scientific Services at St Thomas’s Hospital in London, and later administrator to the hospital’s trustees.

A good cricketer and rugby player in his younger days, he played golf three times a week until he was 88, and he was a keen follower of Middlesex CCC

He particularly enjoyed watching his grandchildren play cricket (some of them at county junior level, including a granddaughter who turned out for Essex Ladies).

John Ellacombe’s wife, Mary, whom he married in 1951 when she was serving in the WRAF, had served on Winston Churchill’s staff and been appointed OBE. She died in 2007, and he is survived by 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.

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 • Last Modified: 18 September 2014, 14:27