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.