Pilot Officer George Furniss – 616 Squadron
George Furniss was born in Sheffield in 1924, the middle child of 5 surviving boys. After leaving grammar school, he joined the Air Force Receiving Unit in London on 1st February 1943. His enthusiasm and aptitude for flying meant he progressed through the ranks and soon became a proficient pilot, pilot navigator and later an instructor.
He trained with the Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) in Perth, Scotland and then he moved to South Africa. He was stationed in Mount Hampden progressing to the Service Flying Training School (SFTS) in Heany and the Central Flying School, Norton. The Service Flying Training School provided advanced training for pilots, including fighter and multi-engined aircraft. George flew the Airspeed Oxford, Harvard and Fairchild Cornell. He was based in Bulawayo, Cape Town and Rhodesia during 1944-45 returning to the UK in September 1945 when he was based at RAF Eastchurch, RAF Pembrey and RAF Hornchurch. In August 1946, he was demobbed.
In April 1948, George joined the Reserve Flying School at Doncaster where he flew the De Havilland 82A and Percival Prentice. In November 1951, he joined the Royal Auxiliary Airforce 616 Squadron at RAF Finningley. This was the first operational RAF unit to fly jets, namely the Gloster Meteors which were equipped with Rolls Royce Derwent engines.
During the week, George worked as a Steelworks Manager in Sheffield but at the weekend, he fulfilled his great love of flying and regularly flew the Gloster Meteor and Harvard from RAF Finningley. These pilots became known as the “Weekend Flyers”. He would fly every weekend where possible and his love was for the Meteor jet. He would regularly fly aerobatics, rat and terrier exercises and practise nightime flying. George would also fly gliders from the No. 24 Gliding School, Sheffield and entered the British National Gliding Contests in 1950 at Great Hucklow, Derbyshire.
On 1st August 1953, George was awarded a commission with the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. Sadly, it was on a training exercise from RAF Wymeswold on Sunday, 27th September 1953 that his Gloster Meteor 8 (WE912) caught fire over Spalding, Lincolnshire. George, now a Pilot Officer, successfully manoeuvred his fire-stricken Meteor aircraft away from the built up area of Spalding town, and was forced to eject from the aircraft at too low an altitude to ensure his own survival. George was killed instantly. It was recognised that by sacrificing his own life, he saved the lives of many others. He was 29 years old.
George left a wife of 4 years, Margaret and 12 month old twin daughters, Sheila and Gillian.
Sheila M Reynolds and Gillian M Akers
742301 Sergeant Alan N Feary RAFVR – 609 Squadron
Derby’s Forgotten Ace
Alan Norman Feary was born in Derby in 1912. He was educated at Derby Municipal Secondary School and worked in the Borough Treasurer’s Department. He joined the RAFVR in July 1936 and did his flying training at Burnaston aerodrome. Awarded his flying badge on 18th November 1938, Feary was called up on 1st September 1939. He was posted to 9 FTS, Hullavington for advanced training in December.
On 6th April 1940 Feary went to 5 OTU, Aston Down, where he converted to Blenheims before joining 600 Squadron at Manston on 4th May. He was then posted to 609 Squadron at Northolt on 11th June 1940.
Feary shared in the destruction of a Ju88 on 18th July, destroyed a Me109 on 12th August and destroyed a Ju87 and damaged a Me110 on the 13th. The next day Feary shot down a Ju88, which had just bombed Middle Wallop, killing some airmen who were trying to close the doors of one hangar. The bomb went through the roof and blew the doors off, which fell on the airmen, crushing them. Feary, already airborne, shot the enemy aircraft down about thirty seconds later. It crashed five miles away.
On 25th August he destroyed a Me110 and damaged another, on 7th September he claimed a probable Me109 and a damaged Ju88, on 24th September he destroyed a Do17 and the next day damaged another.
Feary was killed on 7th October 1940 when he was shot down in a surprise attack by Me109’s over Weymouth. He baled out but was too low. His Spitfire, N3238, crashed at Watercombe Farm, south of Warmwell. He was credited with 6 confirmed victories, 1 probable and 5 damaged, easily making him one of the most successful pilots with 609 Sqn. During a large part of the summer of 1940 he was the only SNCO pilot on the Squadron and some feel he was not recognised for the part he played purely because he wasn’t an Officer.
Sgt Feary is buried in Holy Trinity churchyard, Warmwell, only a short distance away from the airfield from which he flew during the Battle of Britain.
90334 Flight Lieutenant John Charles Dundas, DFC and Bar – 609 Squadron
Born on 19th August 1915, the son of Frederick Dundas and Sylvia Phillips, John Dundas was a Yorkshire native related to Lord Halifax and the Marquis of Zetland (the Zetland fortunes being founded by businessman Sir John Dundas in the 18th century). Known to his friends as ‘Dogs’, aged 12 he won a scholarship to Stowe and a year later had six credits on his school certificate. He followed this by going to Christchurch College, Oxford aged 17, taking a First in Modern Greats which followed from a modern history examination. He then went to France to study at the Sorbonne before finishing his education at Heidelberg. Returning to England, he became a journalist on the Yorkshire Post. In 1938, as a foreign correspondent specialising in European international affairs, he travelled to Czechoslovakia during the Munich crisis reporting on the international response, before accompanying Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax on a trip to Rome to meet Mussolini.
Dundas joined 609 (West Riding) Squadron at Yeadon in May 1938 as an Auxiliary pilot, his younger brother (later Group Captain Hugh ‘Cocky’ Dundas, DSO, DFC) joining 616 (South Yorkshire) Squadron.
On 18th June 1939 Dundas was taking off when the engine cut and the aircraft crashed into the side of a house in Victoria Avenue, Yeadon. Neither Dundas nor his passenger, LAC Hunter (from Harrogate) were injured. The occasion was the first squadron formation take-off. The aircraft concerned, Hawker Hind 6848, happened to be the CO’s aircraft, but that was no deterrent. The engine in K6848 decided to cut at the crucial moment. P/O Dundas throttled back to nurse the engine, but decided he couldn’t clear the houses in Victoria Avenue so put the aircraft earthwards. It touched down, but was still doing some considerable speed; he applied brakes but owing to the dampness of the aerodrome surface, the wheels skidded and the aircraft carried on unperturbed. It burst through the aerodrome fence, chopped down a windsock, which fell on a boy on a pushbike, and conveniently turned on its nose in the back garden of one of the houses. The aircraft leaned nicely on a well-placed tree and gently rested its rudder on the house roof. A lady occupant of the house had hysterics; she was restored with the aid of brandy. The brandy was passed on to the pilot and passenger who didn’t really require it. It was then handed to some unidentified airman to look after; he did, by drinking the lot. He calmly handed over the empty bottle when the aforementioned lady had further hysterics and quietly vanished. Aircraft complete write-off. Very good photos in the local newspapers. Plt Off Dundas had a short flip at dual in the Hind trainer, then was sent off solo. He cleared the houses this time with plenty to spare. The cause was ascertained as being a mechanical defect after a board of inquiry.
His next mishap occurred when Fg Off Dundas in L1084 was making his final landing, a perfect three pointer – two wheels and airscrew. A truly remarkable feat, only the airscrew being written off. There appeared to be some explanation like ‘I was landing uphill’.
Embodied with the rest of the Squadron in 1939, on the 11th June 1940 John formed part of the nine-strong Spitfire escort that flew with Churchill to France in his ill-fated attempt to convince the French to continue fighting. On 31st May 1940 he shot down a He111 and a Do17 over Dunkirk. On 13th July he destroyed a Bf110 over Portland Bill, claiming another on the 19th, and a third on 11th August, both also over Portland Bill. The following day he destroyed another off the Isle of Wight, and on the 13th destroyed one Ju.87 and damaged a second over Lyme Bay. On the 14th he claimed a Do.17 as Probable and shared in the Destruction of a He.111 over Romsey. On 15th September he shared the Destruction with P/O Tobin of a Do.17Z of 8/KG76 piloted by Feldwebel Heitsch which subsequently crashed at Castle Farm, Shoreham. Feldwebels Sauter, Heitsch and Pfeiffer survived but Feldwebel Schmidt died of his wounds. He destroyed a Bf.109 off the Isle of Wight on the 24th September and damaged another Do.17, and claimed a Bf.110/Do.17 Probable on the 25th off Bournemouth. On 26th September he destroyed a Bf.109 and damaged another off Southampton, and destroyed a Bf.110 off Portland the following day. He claimed another Bf.109 Probable near Warmwell on 7th October. Awarded the DFC, he destroyed another Bf.110 on the 15th.
In early November Dundas became B Flight Commander, and on the 27th claimed a Ju.88 probably destroyed. ‘A Ju.88 was reported by Operations to be going home down the coast. F/Lt J.C. Dundas, DFC on being refused permission to take a Section up to chase it, obtained sanction for practice flying and chased and caught it himself, sending it down (‘Probably Destroyed’) over Cherbourg. The enemy aircraft disappeared in smoke but Dundas did not wait to see it actually crash, being near an aerodrome that was well stocked with Me.109’s.’ The following day, 28th November 1940, flying Spitfire X4586 over the Isle of Wight, he destroyed a n Me109 from JG2 Richthofen, but was in turn shot down and killed almost immediately, two miles south of the Isle of Wight at 16:15 hours by his victim’s wingman, Leutnant Rudi Pflanz. His victim was JG2’s Commander, Major Helmut Wick, who had claimed 56 victories and was the highest scoring Luftwaffe pilot at the time. He had been awarded the Oak Leaves to his Knights Cross during the Battle of Britain, one of only three pilots thus rewarded. Wick had just destroyed the Spitfire of P/O Paul Baillon when he was attacked by Dundas and Sergeant Zygmunt Klein of 152 Squadron. Dundas was heard to say over the R/T ‘I’ve finished an Me.109 – Whooppee!’ to which his OC was heard to reply ‘Good show, John,’ after which nothing further was heard or seen of Dundas. Both Dundas and Wick were shot down and killed, their bodies never recovered.
Dundas is credited with 13½ enemy aircraft Destroyed, and 4 Probables.
Dundas, the last of the original Auxiliary Officers from 609, was described by Sqn Ldr Robinson as ‘an excellent pilot, if a little overconfident, and had to be watched’, the Squadron diary recording: ‘His courageous example and breezy personality are sorely missed.’
He was posthumously awarded the Bar to the DFC.
He is remembered on Panel 4 of the Runnymede Memorial.
Flying Officer Henry Peter Dixon – 607 Squadron
Born in 1915, the son of John Reginald and Elsie Margaret Dixon, of Heighington, County Durham, Peter Dixon was a pre-war pilot of the Auxiliary Air Force serving with 607 (County of Durham) Squadron. Called to full-time service in late August 1939, he took part in some of the first patrols of the war flying Gloster Gladiator biplanes.
During the latter months of 1939, known as the Phoney War, 607 and 615 Squadrons were deployed to France and Peter was attached to the latter at Merville on 15 November 1939. He saw action throughout the fighting in May 1940 and claimed three enemy aircraft destroyed, two shared destroyed and another two damaged, all Heinkel He 111 bombers. 607 Squadron were withdrawn to the UK in late May 1940 due to heavy losses and the untenable situation in France with Peter transferred to No 145 Squadron based at RAF Kenley. Almost immediately he was involved in air operations to cover the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) at Dunkirk, the air combat being particularly savage as the Luftwaffe tried desperately to stop the Allies withdrawing from the port. He was shot down on 31 May 1940 and the 25-year old died next day from his injuries; he had suffered from severe burns.
He is buried in the Dunkirk Town Cemetery.
Air Commodore Alex Dickson OBE QVRM AE** MPhil FRSA
Honorary Air Commodore No 7644 (VR) Squadron RAuxAF
Alex Dickson was born in Edinburgh and worked in journalism for most of his life. He worked initially for the Daily Mail and rose to be the managing director of Radio Clyde. He flew light aircraft and was a qualified gliding instructor. As Alex’s civilian career developed in the media he saw the opportunity to use his skills in a military capacity within the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. In due course he became a valuable asset on which the military could call.
When Turkey invaded northern Cyprus in 1974, he was the only reservist sent to help handle the 300 odd media who arrived from all over the world. His capability was quickly recognized and he was tasked to recruit others from the media whose skills would mirror his own and to form a Public Relations Flight within the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Individuals from this Flight could be mobilised to deploy, in uniform, to any trouble spot in the world to support the complex world of military / civilian communications and press briefings.
In the task of building his No 7644 (VR) Public Relations Flight, Alex’s people skills came to the fore. He would sanction only those who would bring key skills to the table, who would respect the skills of others, who showed further potential and who would ‘fit in’. Alex surrounded himself in excellence. He looked after his Flight like ‘a family’. And each and every one, despite holding down demanding primary jobs, was ready to deploy in uniform at very short notice to any trouble spot – as Alex had done to Cyprus so many years ago.
Alex was one of the first reservists into Saudi Arabia for the first Gulf War and he was the last to leave the Kingdom after the war. He briefed senior military officers on what to say publicly when questioned on difficult topics. He served alongside members of his ‘PR family’ in Germany, Holland, the USA, Gibraltar, Croatia, Kuwait and Iraq. He even dodged Scud missiles. When President Gorbachev came for lunch with Mrs Thatcher, the Royal Air Force had set up a press centre for the world’s media in a rather small room in RAF Brize Norton with very limited facilities. Alex immediately seized upon the opportunity and used his skills and his team to good effect smoothing the way to world peace.
When not in a trouble spot, Alex masterminded and ran courses in media communications for the RAF. He presented to politicians and senior military officers at times challenged what they probably didn’t want to hear. He produced more than a dozen films ranging from military low flying to security and for his work and impressive leadership he was promoted to the rank of Group Captain.
If all Alex’s achievements were not enough, he went on to become the Honorary Air Commodore of his former Unit, as it became a full Squadron. This appointment was a particularly senior position approved personally by Her Majesty the Queen.
Alex’s military story is quite unique. No one else formed a unit from scratch, personally selected and trained his ‘dirty dozen’, and commanded them for over 12 years. For his exceptional work he was appointed as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Later, in recognition of his further outstanding contribution to the military, he was decorated as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order. He was awarded an Air Efficiency Medal gaining two bars to this medal; decorated with a Gulf War medal with clasp, appointed as a Fellow of the Royal