Flying Officer John D Bisdee RAFVR – 609 Squadron
John Bisdee was born at Weston-super-Mare on 20 November 1915 and educated at Marlborough College. He was awarded an Exhibition at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Afterwards he went to Spain to learn the language, only to be evacuated on the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. He became a management trainee with Unilever.
A member of the RAFVR from July 1937, he was called up on 1 September 1939. After completing his training he was commissioned on 1 December, joining 609 Squadron on the later that month. Bisdee was still with 609 at the start of the Battle of Britain. On 18 July 1940 he shared in damaging a He111, on 11 August he claimed a Me110 destroyed, on the 25 another damaged, on 7 September a Me110 destroyed and another damaged, on the 26 a He111 probably destroyed, on the 27 he shared a Me110, on the 30 probably destroyed a Me109 and on 7 October shot down another Me110!
In sweeps over France, Bisdee shared a Me109 on 21 May 1941 and destroyed another four in the following weeks. He was awarded the DFC in July 1941 and posted to 61 Operational Training Unit as an instructor. He had a small speaking part in the film ‘The First of the Few’ (1942).
He was next given command of 601 Squadron in March 1942 and on 20th April he led 12 Spitfires from the aircraft carrier,USS Wasp, off Algiers, to fly to Malta. The next day, flying from Malta, Bisdee destroyed a Ju88 but was then jumped by Me109s and shot down. Baling out, he discovered that his parachute harness had been damaged and he was being held by one leg strap. Once in the sea he extricated himself and managed to inflate his dinghy. A six mile paddle took him back to Malta where he then unknowingly walked through a mined beach. On 10 May 1942 he shot down a Cant 1007 and next day he probably destroyed a Me109.
In 1943 he was appointed Military Governor of Lampedusa. In North Africa, Bisdee trained Free French pilots at Bone. Later, after a brief spell in Corsica, he was on the staff of 323 Wing in charge of night-fighter personnel in Italy. Bisdee was made an OBE (gazetted 14 June 1945) and released from the RAF in 1945 as a Group Captain.
After the war Bisdee returned to Unilever and rebuilt their networks in France and Italy. In 1951 he was appointed sales director of D&W Gibbs, the toothpaste makers, later becoming chairman. He retired in 1977 and died in October 2000.