At a moving service held in Chester Cathedral on Friday 6 August a beautiful bronze plaque was dedicated in memory of the 79 pilots and ground crew of 610 (County of Chester) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force who gave their lives during World War Two.
The service was led by the Dean of the Cathedral, Dr Tim Stratford. The plaque was the inspiration of Dr Michael R Oliver OBE DL and his son Mark who own Oliver Valves in Knutsford where a small museum to the 610 Squadron is based.
Although the plaque was completed some time ago, it was not until the recent relaxation of Covid restrictions that the event could take place in the presence of members of the 610 Squadron Association, the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force Foundation.
Dr Michael Oliver said, “We have all been remiss in waiting over 75 years to remember these brave young men who lost their lives and gave us our freedom. This magnificent Cathedral dates back almost 950 years and it is with the utmost gratitude that our plaque has been dedicated and now hangs on these hallowed walls”.
Group Captain Bob Kemp, a former Inspector of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, gave an overview of the history of the Auxiliaries and Mr Michael Lewis, Chairman of the 610 Squadron Association, spoke in detail of the Squadron’s losses and successes during World War Two.
Mr Lewis made mention of the 132 enemy aircraft shot down by 610 Squadron plus the destruction of 50 V1 flying bombs.
The lesson was read by the Lord Lieutenant of Cheshire, Mr David Briggs and the prayers including the Royal Auxiliary Air Force prayer were led by the Dean. The Commandant General, Air Vice-Marshal Ranald Monro, was in attendance. The service was followed by a lunch held in the Cathedral hosted by Dr Michael and Mrs Jennifer Oliver.
Gp Capt Bob Kemp, AVM Ranald Monro, Lord Lieutenant, Dr Michael Oliver
HISTORY OF 610 (COUNTY OF CHESTER) SQUADRON
Based on a submission by Oliver Valves who sponsored the Plaque Dedication Service. The Company is also the custodian of 610 Squadrom memorabilia.
610 Squadron was formed on the 1Oth February 1936 at Hooton Park in Cheshire as one of the Auxiliary Air Force squadrons. Initially a light bomber squadron, flying Hawker Harts, then in May 1938, Hawker Hind biplanes. Jn September 1939 the first Spitfire Mk1 arrived at Hooton. Then stationed at RAF Gravesend in Kent in May 940, the Squadron covered the end of the Battle of France and the evacuation from Dunkirk, being in action almost daily they destroyed 16 enemy aircraft. Losses were also high with 8 of the Squadron pilots killed, including the Squadron leader. Then it was on to RAF Biggin Hill, the most famous and most bombed fighter station in the RAF. 610 Squadron were based here for the next battle, the Battle of Britain. In the ensuing battle the Squadron destroyed 86 enemy aircraft however losses for the Squadron were high.
At the height of the battle, on 24th August 1940, 26-year old Flight Sergeant Ronnie Hamlyn, who was born in Harrogate and nicknamed the “Pied Piper of Harrogate”, whilst waiting to be reprimanded outside the Commanding Officer’s office, was scrambled three times that day, shooting down first a JU88 and then four BF109’s, making the first ’Ace in a day’ in the RAF (and only one of two in the RAF in the Second World War). He would go on to shoot down 1 more enemy aircraft in the Battle of Britain and ended the war as a Wing Commander. Then to RAF Westhamptnett (otherwise known as Goodwood) in December 1940, carrying out sweeps in the Calais and Bolougne area as part of Wing Commander Douglas Bader Big Wing’ or ’Bader’s Bus Company’, which would involve as many as six Squadrons flying together. When Wing Commander Bader was shot down over France his Second in Command, Squadron Leader Howden of 610 Squadron gave the order ’see him safely to the ground’, as Bader parachuted to earth minus one of his prosthetic legs.
In April 1942 the Great Johnnie Johnson took over as 610 Squadron’s Squadron Leader, he would end the war as the RAF’s Highest scoring ace with 38 Kills. 610 Squadron would change bases a number of times during the Second World War. In August 1942 they covered the Dieppe raid, Operation Jubilee, and at the end of 1943/44, whilst stationed at West Marling, Friston and Lympne, 610 Squadron perfected the technique of flying alongside the VJ flying Bombs and tipping them harmlessly into the English Channel using their own wing tips. A total of 50 \/1 flying bombs were destroyed.
In September 1944, an Historic day, the Squadron flew off German soil for the first time and later that month 610 Squadron would give air support to the 2,000 aircraft and gliders of the British first airborne division, who parachuted into Arnhem in Holland as part of Operation Market Garden. In December 1944 they were stationed on the Continent, first in Belgium and then Holland. In February 1945 they moved back to England. And in March 1945 the Squadron was disbanded. The Squadron would be reformed at RAF Hooton Park in June 1946 flying first Spitfire Mk14’s and then Spitfire Mk22’s, then in 1951 Gloster Meteors Mk4’s and in 1952 Gloster Meteors Mk 8’s. The Squadron disbanded again in 1957.
Even though the history of 610 (County of Chester) Squadron only covers 20 years it was one of the most distinguished and decorated Squadrons in the RAF, comprising of approximately 200 members at any one time. Its Pilots came together from 14 different Nations and it would end the Second World War with a tally of 132 enemy aircraft destroyed and a further 99 1/a probably destroyed or damaged and 50 flying bombs destroyed. Also staggering, in its 20 year history, is 610 Squadron starting off with open cockpit biplanes and finishing off flying fast jets.