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Squadron Leader John Pattison DSO DFC Legion d'honneur

Squadron Leader John Pattison D.S.O. D.F.C. Legion d’honneur
Born: January 27th 1917. Waipawa, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. Died: September 11th 2009 Age: 92

Squadron Leader John Pattison, who has died aged 92, was one of the few remaining New Zealanders who fought during the Battle of Britain, during which he was shot down and severely wounded; he recovered to have a distinguished war, being awarded a DSO and a DFC.

Pattison arrived in Britain at the end of July 1940, and with the RAF short of fighter pilots he was rushed through battle training in a few days. With just a handful of sorties flying Spitfires, he joined No 266 Squadron at Debden, Essex, during an intense phase of the Battle on August 26.

On his first operation the squadron intercepted a force of 40 enemy bombers and their fighter escort. Pattison became separated from the rest of his squadron, ran out of fuel and made a wheels-up landing in a field bristling with anti-aircraft obstacles. He was greeted by pitchfork-wielding farmers who took him for a German. Two weeks later he was posted to No 92 Squadron, based at Biggin Hill.

 At this point the Battle was reaching its climax, and the squadron was operating at maximum intensity. The pilots were flying three or four sorties each day.

After the major engagements of September 15, the Luftwaffe switched its attacks to London, and on September 23 Pattison was attacked by a Messerschmitt Bf 109 over Gravesend. He received serious wounds to his right thigh from a cannon shell and crash-landed as he attempted to come in at West Malling airfield. He spent the next eight months in hospital, but recovered to rejoin the squadron in June 1941.

John Gordon Pattison was born on January 27 1917 at Waipawa and educated at Wanganui Collegiate School before going to work on his father’s farm. As a young man he joined the Civil Reserve of Pilots, and learned to fly Tiger Moths at the Hawke’s Bay and East Coast Aero Club. With many others of his countrymen he volunteered for service with the RAF the day after war was declared. He completed his training and sailed for England.

A month after returning to operational flying following his serious injury, Pattison was made an instructor. A dashing pilot, he did not always set a good example to his students. He was not averse to some daring escapades and once “borrowed” another pilot’s Hurricane (without his knowledge) to get himself to a party. Later he was reprimanded and lost three months’ seniority for flying his Spitfire under the Severn railway bridge. In April 1942 he returned to operations, joining No 485 (NZ) Squadron, one of three that made up the Kenley Wing.

On April 26 he was taking part in a sweep over northern France when his formation was “bounced” by a force of Focke-Wulf 190s. Four of the New Zealanders were hit and two were lost. The engine of Pattison’s Spitfire was damaged, but he managed to glide across the Channel before bailing out near the Sussex coast. After 90 minutes afloat in his dinghy, he was rescued by an air-sea rescue launch.

Over the next 12 months he flew on many sweeps and low-level strafing attacks against transport targets over France. In July 1943 he was awarded a DFC for his “determination, zeal and courage”.

After a spell as the chief flying instructor of a fighter training unit, Pattison returned to operations in March 1944 with No 66 Squadron. Armed with bombs, he attacked targets in his Spitfire IX during the pre-invasion offensive, including the new V-1 sites in the Pas de Calais region.

On July 6 he was flying an offensive support mission when he intercepted a Messerschmitt Bf 109 near Chartres. He attacked the enemy fighter and registered hits before the German pilot bailed out. A month later he was flying a similar operation when he engaged and shot down a Focke-Wulf 190 near Montrichard. The squadron had just moved to a makeshift airstrip in Normandy, where Pattison flew many armed reconnaissance sorties armed with bombs and cannon.

Pattison was appointed to command his old squadron, No 485 (NZ), in September and he led it with great verve and tenacity as it supported the advancing armies through France and Belgium into Holland. He destroyed many enemy vehicles. When No 485 was withdrawn from the front line to convert to the Tempest, Pattison was rested and given a staff job with HQ 84 Group.

On March 20 he was awarded a DSO, the citation concluding that “he has set the highest standard of skill and courage and shown the finest qualities of leadership both in the air and on the ground”.

After being discharged from the RAF, in January 1946 Pattison returned to New Zealand. For the rest of his life he farmed at Waipawa before retiring to Havelock North.

Fearless in combat, Pattison was the epitome of the colourful fighter pilot. He was never afraid to enjoy himself or to take on authority, and his sense of humour remained sharp and direct throughout his life. When asked about his wartime flying he commented: “Wonderful times to have lived through, and with fantastic mates.”

He remained a champion of the 485 (NZ) Squadron Association, rarely missing their annual dinners. At the reunion of 2005 he was presented with a working scale model of the Spitfire he had been forced to abandon in April 1942. He noted that its miniature engine did not give off the sound of “the Rolls-Royce Merlin 12-cylinder symphony”, but agreed that it was like meeting up again with a faithful friend.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of D-Day in June 1994, President Chirac appointed him to the L├ęgion d’honneur.

John Pattison died at Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, on September 11. He is survived by his wife and four sons.

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: 02 July 2019, 13:35