Military Monday: RCAF in the Battle of Britain

File: Pilots of No. 1 Squadron RCAF with one of their Hawker Hurricanes at Prestwick, Scotland, 30 October 1940. CH1733.jpg IWM

When Winston Churchill said of the Battle of Britain “Never was so much owed by so many to so few” it wasn’t only the RAF in the skies.

No 1 Squadron of the RCAF, redesignated No 401 Squadron in Britain to avoid confusion, was part of the Battle, active on this date and for 53 days from 24 August 1940.

In 1,694 sorties (1,569 operational hours and 1,201 non-operational), three pilots were killed, thirteen wounded, and 17 aircraft lost.  The squadron claimed 30 enemy aircraft destroyed, eight probably destroyed and 35 damaged. 

There’s a brief history in Among Canada’s “Few”: The RCAF’s No. 1 Squadron in the Battle of Britain. has a memorial page for the first Canadian pilot killed — Robert Lesley Edwards.

It takes more than the pilots to make a functioning fighter squadron. The contributions of the ground crew who kept the aircraft flying is described in The Unsung Heroes: The Ground Crew of No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron. Several are mentioned by name. Trades such as clerks, cooks, motor mechanics, batmen, waiters and general-duties airmen should not be overlooked — pilots who are unfed and poorly supported don’t perform well!

All their names are in the passenger list for the Duchess of Atholl, on which they travelled from Halifax to Liverpool, arriving 20 June 1940. It’s available on microfilm C-5610 at Canadiana Heritage.

The officers, travelling first-class, are listed on images 18 and 19; also 66.

The NCOs travelling second-class, are listed on images 22 and 23..

A nominal roll with number, rank and trade as well as surname and initials of NCOs and other ranks starts at image 67 (surnames A-C), continuing with images 68 (C-G), 69 (G-L), 70 (M-R), and 71 (R-Y).



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