Uncle John’s Flight Log – February, 2006

“J. Curchin” is printed in India ink at the bottom of the dingy-blue ‘Form 414, Royal Air Force.’ It’s a pilot’s flying log book. It’s sixty-seven years old. In the upper left corner is a curious diamond-shaped pink sticker with the number S7560, once again in India ink.

To one side of the name is pencilled F/LT, The final rank my 23 year-old uncle reached before his fatal collision with an M.E. 109F in a dogfight over Dover on June 4, 1941. One of ‘The Few’ he had survived service throughout the Battle of Britain by nine months.

DFC & Log .jpg

John’s DFC and Logbook

During those appalling months of July to the end of October he had flown 130 flights, combat sorties and patrols in the defense of south-east England. John was awarded the DFC on November 1, 1940.  In the citation, the London Gazette records: “This officer has shown great keenness and skill in combat against the enemy. On a recent occasion he pursued an enemy aircraft thirty miles out to sea and finally destroyed it. He has destroyed at least seven hostile aircraft and shared in the destruction of others.”

The astonishing thing is that we now know with whom he finally collided, Heinrich Ruhl, from his picture, a rather diminutive German but of course equally dead – and equally mourned, no doubt.  We have Mark Crame, the compiler of the 609 Squadron website and Malcolm Page, tireless researcher, to thank for this and for much more amazing information.

My surviving brother and I went in 2005 to the Runnymede Memorial (pictured at the top). On a hill above the Thames, poised as if for flight, is this exquisite monument to World War II Air Force men and women who have no known grave. There, among twenty thousand, four hundred and fifty-eight others names carved in stone is our Uncle John.

Runnymede2.jpg

Carved in stone at Runnymede

This young man of no great virtue but incredible zest for life and prestigious flying and golf skill has captured the imaginations of a number of people around the world, not least my brother Richard and I.

It was following my older brother John’s death in 2001 that the DFC medal and his Pilot’s Flying Log Book were at last discovered in John junior’s house in Croydon. Our brother John was Uncle’s namesake, born 32 days after John senior’s death, and Aunt Dorothy had given the medal and flight log into brother John’s hands for safe keeping.

Inside the front cover are pasted the Sequence of Instruction for the D. H. Tiger Moth, the Airspeed Oxford and a Cheetah X Fuel System diagram.

The title page has simply “CURCHIN 42796” again in India ink and next to ‘Rank,’ again in pencil, “F/LT.” I seems Uncle John was proud of this final promotion.

In the bottom corner is an red oval ‘Royal Air Force, Central Depository’ stamp dated October 1946 with “Death Presumed” stamped above it.

The flight record begins on June 13, 1939 with Tiger Moth N6632. He went up as a pupil with F/O Burnside. He flew with Burnside until July 3rd and then on July 10 after seven hours of training comes “1st Solo” in red ink. Training was provided by Air Schools Ltd. located in Burnaston near Derby. On August 2 John’s Training in Tiger Moths ended with 25:35 dual hours and 25:15 solo flying hours.

On September 25, training aboard Oxfords began at Nº3 Flying Training School. In the interim, war had been declared on September 3, 1939.

Two days after beginning training in Oxfords John completed his first solo flight in that aircraft. On October 4, John took the first of a battery of test flights in the Oxford which lasted till October 30.

On October 24 John records his first cross country test to Sealand and back. His second followed the next day to Hullavington.

The stint in Oxfords to a Certificate ‘B’ was completed on November 15 with 21:00 dual hours and 28:00 solo hours.

On November 20 John records his first flights in an Oxford 6330 in the Advanced Training Squadron.

Acting Pilot Officer Curchin continued to fly Oxfords throughout December and January 1940. On Valentines Day he records his aircraft as ‘Hart,’ (the Hawker Hart was an obsolete biplane fighter of the 1930s sometimes used as a light bomber). He continued with Oxfords till March 31. On this page is noted his proficiency as ‘average’ and a remark by the officer commanding ‘tends to be overconfident.’

In the London Gazette of 26 April 1940, John is listed as having been promoted from Acting Pilot Officer on probation to Pilot Officer on probation on the 6th of April. Interestingly his service number (42396) given in the Gazette is consistently one-digit different from that written in the front of his flight log.

Blenheims were next, beginning on April 12.

By May 5 1940 John had under his belt: 57:15 dual hours, 103:25 pilot hours and 31:45 passenger hours. The summary is signed by the officer commanding at Nº5 Operational Training Unit, Aston Down.

For the rest of May and until June 11th, John appears to be have been stationed at Northholt with 600 Squadron, flying a combination of Blenheims, Oxfords and, once, a Tiger Moth. At the bottom of this page is “Posted to 609 Fighter Squadron 15/6/40.”

609 Squadron (West Riding) was also at this time operating out of Northholt, having moved in May from Yeadon in Yorkshire . The squadron suffered heavy losses providing air coverage for The British Expeditionary Force’s evacuation from Dunkirk, May 26 to June 4.

On 12th June 1940 John’s probationary period ended; he is confirmed in the July 23, London Gazette as Pilot Officer Curchin. On July 5, 1940, 609 moved again to Middle Wallop, Hampshire stationed there till 24 February, 1941. The Squadron was actually deployed at RAF Warmwell, in Dorset for the first three weeks, till 26 July 1940.  609 serviced Warmwell during subsequent periods until the squadron left for Biggin Hill in February 1941. These dates are probably not listed separately as Warmwell was a dispersal/satellite airfield to Middle Wallop.

With his new squadron, on June 15th and 17th John flew 3 hrs and 25 minutes in Harvard  P5865.  The first person to sign his flight log in 609 was F/ Lt. J.C. Dundas, officer commanding ‘B’ Flight. John could not possibly have imagined that he would be filling that position himself within ten months.

Then on June 17th began his fatal love affair with Spitfires and Spitfire IIs. After this date out of 362 flights, he few a Harvard on fourteen occasions and a Magister on five.

On July 2nd he made his first flight into France “…Dieppe, Rouen, Abbeville, Loos.”

His dance to death with the Spitfire was also fatal to others. On July 10, the battle of Britain began. The next day, less than a month after his transfer, he records “J.U.87 shot down.” The previous flight of the day had been a “Shipping Patrol,” the next “Intercept Enemy a/c.”

On the 4th & 5th of July 609 Squadron transferred to Middle Wallop from Northholt.

On July 15 John managed to crash on landing.

On August 8th, Uncle John reports an “M.E. 110 Shot Down.” On August 21st for a little light relief he records, “Escaped Barrage Balloon Shot Down.” 609 Squadron was in the thick of the Battle of Britain now, fighting for our lives. August 25th shows an ‘M.E. 109 Destroyed.” Other sources indicate this was five miles off Portland at 1730 hrs.

For August 1940 his flight record is signed by 609’s officer in command Squadron Leader George Darley. After that Michael Robinson became 609’s commanding officer.

On September 7th an “M.E. 109 Destroyed” and a “D.O. 17  Probably.” On September 15th a ‘D.O. 215 Destroyed. On September 24th “M.E. 110 Destroyed with Forshan.” The next day, “H.E. 111 K Destroyed with Aggie.” The next day, “H.E. 11K Destroyed.”

On the 25th of October comes a bit of ignominy, “L.F.P. Landed with u/c up.” Commanding Officer Michael Robinson notes in heavy red ink, “CARELESSNESS (double underline) Pilot landed with wheels retracted.”

There’s a little more to this entry. The plane he crash-landed was a Vickers Supermarine Spitfire Mk Ia X4590 PR-F. Its first flight had been on 30th September, 1940. It was delivered to 609 West Riding Squadron in October 1940. On October, 21st, 1940, whilst flown by Pilot Officer S. J. Hill (John’s bosom buddy and other half of the 609’s legendary ‘Heavenly Twins,’) it shared in the destruction of a Ju88 which was 609 Squadron’s 100th victory.

After repair X4590 was delivered to 66 Squadron. This aircraft is now preserved in its 609 Squadron markings in the Battle of Britain Hall at the RAF Museum, Hendon.

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‘Hendon’ Spitfire with great-nephew James Curchin in 2012

On the 24th of February 1941 the squadron moved to Biggin Hill air station, installing themselves in the nearby Southwood  Manor.

John Curchin

Brothers in arms: Flying Officer Hal Tidswell, Flight Lieutenant John Curchin, and Pilot Officer Sidney Hill

It appears from The History of No 609 (West Riding) Squadron, Pt IV (author unknown) that John was promoted on April 3 to F/Lt in charge of ‘B Flight. On April 6th the London Gazette records that John Curchin D.F.C. was promoted to Flying Officer.

He must have been busting with pride. According to The History of No 609 (West Riding) Squadron, Pt IV there was certainly a stupendous party at Southwood Manor involving stunts with a revolver and a mirror by John’s pal Sidney Hill.

On April 9th 1941 there is a terse note ‘went to funeral’ in the ink and handwriting of Michael Robinson’s monthly sign-off on the following page. Though dates do not mesh, light may be shed on this strange report from the 609 Squadron Ops record:

“17th April 1941… F/Lt Curchin today endured the ghoulish punishment by order of Station Commander of attending the funeral of a member of another Squadron, who had met his death slow rolling at low altitude. Curchin had been caught at the same manoeuvre.”

Below the funeral entry a section of remarks from April 11 to April 15th has been clipped out. Fortunately no flights were recorded on the reverse side of this page. One cannot help wondering what was excised.

On April 29, flying Spitfire IIP7542, while  “Escorting Bombers Over Dunkirk” John “Engaged with three ME 109s, aircraft damaged.”  The Operations Log records: “F/Lt Curchin and P/O Seghers were attacked by 3 E/A, and took quick-turn evasive action; Curchin firing 3 short bursts without apparent result. Both of these aircraft were holed, especially Seghers’. Finding E/A’s speed superior, they then climbed into cloud and returned to base.”

On May 8th came a day of glory for 609, John’s share was “1 M.E 109 Destroyed” and “1/2 M.E. shared with Sgt. Hughes-Rees.” The diary of Flight Sergeant ‘Tich’ Cloves records:- ‘Pilot Officer (sic) Curchin in 6699 shoots down a ME 110 while enemy were attacking a convoy in the Channel. 3 other Squadron pilots claimed kills in the same engagement including the CO.’

From the next day till May 14 John flew the ‘Enfield’ Spitfire P8098. Enfield was John’s home town. Enfield citizens raised the money to buy two Spitfire II— the P8098 and P8278. In part, citizens’ contributions were prompted by John’s victory rolls over Enfield in 1940 during the Battle of Britain (see newspaper story below).

On June 4, John’s second operational patrol lasted 40 minutes. Noted on the line is, “Pilot failed to return.” Below this Squadron Leader Michael Robinson has noted, “An exceptional Flight Commander and Fighter Pilot.” The plane in which he died was Spitfire II P7292. Nine days short of 2 years service Uncle John’s career in the Royal Air Force ends.

The record ends with the same oval Central Depository stamp and the red-edged oval lozenge “Presumed Dead.”

©Christa Grace-Warrick, 2006

curchin close

In 2007, new streets, close to the airfield in Biggin Hill, were named after the pilots who flew from there.

SERVICE RECORD

Nº30 ERFTS, Burnaston, Derbyshire: June 12 1939 to August 7 1939

Nº1 RAF Depot, Uxbridge, Middlesex: August 7, 1939 to August 28 1939

Nº3 FTS South Cerney, Gloucestershire: September 23 1939 to March 26 1940

Nº5 OTV Aston Down, Gloucestershire: April 6 1940 to May 3 1940

600 Fighter Squadron, Northholt, Middlesex: May 8 1940 to June 11 1940

609 Squadron, Northholt, Middlesex: June 11 1940 to July 5 1940

Middle Wallop, Hampshire: July 5 1940 to 24 February 1941

Biggin Hill, Kent: 24 February1941 to June 4, 1941

NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS

From The Palmers Green and Southgate Gazette, March 7, 1941

“Victory Roll” Pilot Awarded the D.F.C.

HAS DESTROTED AT LEAST SEVEN NAZIS

His “Keenness And Skill” In Combat

Grange Park Associations “Veteran” In Air Warfare

Some months ago there appeared in the Enfield Gazette the following paragraph, addressed “To an Unknown Pilot”:

“The unknown fighter pilot who on two occasions has done a ‘victory roll’ as he passed over Winchmore Hill and Enfield following the rout of a German air force might be pleased to know that watchers appreciate very much his reassuring signal.

“He may not hear the applause, but the waving of hats and handkerchiefs may catch his eye, and be taken for what the waving implies—a tribute to the courage and gallantry of the unknown pilot and his fighter comrades. The people salute you, Sirs!”

We now know that the cheerful “unknown” pilot-officer was John Curchin R.A.F., 23-year-old son of Mrs. H.W. Curchin of 97 Old Park Ridings, Grange Park.

It has already been announced that he has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, although the decoration has not yet been formally presented.

The official announcement of the award stated:

TRACKING IT DOWN

“He has displayed great keenness and skill in combat. Recently he pursued an enemy aircraft 30 miles out to sea and finally destroyed it. He has destroyed at least seven hostile aircraft and helped destroy others.”

When Pilot-Officer Curchin’s Spitfire was seen over Enfield. The young airman, in addition to showing natural elation at the success of his squadron in combat with machines of the Luftwaffe, was also saluting his mother before returning to his station.

John was actually born in Australia at Hawthore, near Melbourne. That was because his father the late Mr. H.W. Curchin, a skilled naval architect had been sent there from England in connection with the building of tonnage for the defeating of 1917 U-Boat  campaign.

He took Mrs. Curchin with him and the distinguished young pilot of the present war was born on Australian soil.

LOCAL CONTACTS

On the return of the family to this country after the war, John established a number of social and sporting contacts in the Grange Park district, and he made many friends who are proud of his achievements.

For some years he was a member of the Boys Scouts at St. Peter’s Church, and he has since been a popular member of the Vicars moor Lane Tennis Club.

Among other sporting activities he has played ago deal of golf, and has been a well-known member of the Bush Hill Park Golf Club. He was a successful competitor in many of the club’s competitions from time to time.

Having an urge to fly John became a member of the R.A.F. before the commencement of the present war, and he is thus by this time a  “veteran” in the matter of experience in warfare.

Readers will join with us in wishing this happy young warrior all the best of good fortune in the future.

_____________________________________________________________

From The Palmers Green and Southgate Gazette, June, 1941

‘ACE’ FIGHTER PILOT KILLED IN ACTION

“BRILLIANT ND FEARLESS FLIGHT COMMANDER”

Squadron Leader’s Great Tribute

Several times when the Battle of Britain was at its height last summer, residents in this district were thrilled by the “Victory Rolls” of a fighter pilot.

People waved their hats and handkerchiefs in tribute to the gallantry of the unknown pilot and his comrades.

Subsequently the “Gazette” was able to reveal the identity of the airman as Pilot-Officer John Curchin, the 23-year-old son of Mrs. H.W. Curchin, of 97 Old Park Ridings, Grange Park,

His victory rolls in addition to showing his natural elation at the success of his Squadron in routing the German Air Force, also constituted a salute to his mother before returning to his station.

MEMBER OF A FAMOUS SQUADRON

Then it was our proud privilege to record that this gallant pilot had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross—now it is our sad duty to record that Pilot-Officer Curchin, who has been promoted to Flight-Lieutenant, has been killed in action.

He was a member of a famous fighter squadron—one of that band of happy young warriors whose memory will always be enshrined in the moving words of the Prime Minister—“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

SQUADRON LEADER’S TRIBUTE

The first intimation that John was missing was conveyed in a telegram received by Mrs. Curchin last week. Later in the week confirmation of the worst fears was received in the form of a letter from her son’s Squadron Leader.

The Squadron Leader’s letter contained a magnificent tribute to Flt/Lt. Curchin and we feel we owe it to John’s memory that should be placed on record.

“It is with the deepest regret that I have to inform you that John has been reported killed in action,” wrote the Squadron Leader.

“TERRIBLE LOSS” TO SQUADRON

“I am afraid that it is quite impossible for me to tell you what this loss means to us, as it must to you. John was not just a brilliant and fearless flight commander, nor an outstanding pilot of 404 (for security reasons we have substituted a fictitious number for the squadron.—Ed). He WAS 404. He has done more than any one pilot his Squadron has ever had to make our name as high as it stands today. His loss to us is something very personal, and his personality is something that will always remain with us with us as long as 404 exists.

“You and your family have our deepest sympathy in your terrible loss and on behalf of all the members, officers and airmen of 404 I assure you that if in the future any of us can be of the least assistance to you, you have only to call on us.”

IN COMBAT

It was in March of this year that Flt/Lt. Curchin was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. The official announcement of the award stated:

“He has displayed great keenness and skill in combat. Recently he pursued an enemy aircraft 30 miles out to sea and finally destroyed it. He has destroyed at least seven hostile aircraft and helped destroy others.”

John was born in Australia—at Hawthorne, near Melbourne. That was because his father the late Mr. H.W. Curchin, a skilled naval architect had been sent there from England in connection with the building of tonnage for the defeating of 1917 U-boat campaign.

FIRST CLASS AMATEUR GOLFER

On the return of the family to this country after the war, John established a number of social and sporting contacts in the Grange Park and Enfield district

For some years he was a member of the Boys Scouts at St. Peter’s Church, and he has since been a popular member of the Vicarsmoor Lane Tennis Club.

Among other sporting activities he has played a good deal of golf, and has been a well-known member of the Bush Hill Park Golf Club. A first class amateur player, he had won many of the club’s competitions.

Having the urge for flying, John became a member of the R.A.F. some time before the commencement of the present war.

_____________________________________________________________

From The Palmers Green and Southgate Gazette, June, 1941

LATE JOHN CURCHIN “ARISTOCRAT OF THE AIR”

Mr. D. L. Flexman, of White Walls, Green Dragon Lane, Winchmore Hill, writes this tribute to the late 23-year-old Acting Flight Lieutenant John Curchin D.F.C. of 97 Old Park Ridings, Grange Park who, as reported in our last issue, has been killed in action.

This gallant young man thrilled residents last summer by “Victory Rolls” which were the expression of his elation at his Squadron’s successes in the Battle of Britain, and were tributes to his mother before he returned to his station:—

“All boys have a nuisance value—at least if they are healthy. I knew John as a boy, and he was no exception.

“When he indulged in his Victory Rolls over the district some persons complained; they did not understand.

“But later, when they realized that it was John Curchin, they looked forward—and not in vain—to his constant return to signalise another victory.

“Yet greater than all this was his nuisance value to the Luftwaffe, and we are all indebted to his squadron-leader for disclosing his prowess and skill, as even when being entertained on leave his reluctance to impart any information was a measure of his modesty.

“He dedicated his life to a great cause and his passing in combat leaves us poor indeed except for a memory which will remain to comfort his family, console his friends and be an inspiration to follow where he led. He took risks; he knew he took them.

“As a tribute to a very brave man I enclose £5 5s. towards a “Spitfire” which the enemy took so long to claim.’

_____________________________________________________________

From The Palmers Green and Southgate Gazette no date (with photo of plaques)

They died for their country

Members of Bush Hill Park Golf Club are unlikely to forget two of their former members who were killed in action during the last war. At the entrance to the course are red thorn trees and two memorial stones.

They commemorate Glider Pilot Sergeant David Bruce Wallace, who used to live in Old Park Ridings, Enfield and Flight Lieutenant John Curchin who may have been seen by many local residents when he executed victory rolls over Enfield after the Battle of Britain. …

… The Squadron involved was No. 617—the famous “Dambusters” squadron. David Wallace was a member of the squadron. He was shot down and wounded during the Arnhem landing and reported missing, presumed dead. Later his body was buried at the Oosterbeek cemetery.…

… John Curchin was a member of 609 squadron and he was stationed at Biggin Hill in Kent. He took part in the Battle of Britain in 1940 and was shot down in his Spitfire over the Channel near Dover in June 1941

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