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11 July 1940: Auxillary pilots called into action

By the time that the Battle of Britain began in July 1940, one quarter of all squadrons (14) were Auxillaries. These originally consisting of 'weekend fliers' who provided an additional pool of pilots should they be required in the event of war. Most were significantly higher up the social scale than those from the RAF Volunteer Reserves. Auxillary pilots were recruited locally and often from wealthy, aristocratic families. Unlike Volunteer Reservists who were paid £25pa and deliberately recruited from lesser professions in offices and factories, would-be Auxillary pilots paid for their own licence to fly (£96) which alone prevented young men from ordinary working working families to join. The fact that Auxillary squadrons were akin to highly exclusive gentlemen's clubs added to the difficulty of meeting the social criteria for joining. Successful recruitment was often based upon one's social network and suitability.

609 squadron (West Riding) Squadron was one such example and was founded in February 1936. Among them was Philip Henry 'Pip' Barran was born at Chapel Allerton, Leeds on 20th April 1909. His parents were textile and coalming magnates. Pip went to Repton School from September 1922 to December 1926. He was stocky, boisterous and a good rugby player. He joined 609 Squadron Auxiliary Air Force in early 1937. At the time he was training to be mining engineer and manager of a brickworks at a colliery owned by his mother's family.

He was appointed ‘B’ Flight Commander early in 1939 and called to full-time service on 24th August 1939. He was made up to Acting Flight Lieutenant in October 1939.

But Barran was to become one of the earliest casualties in the Battle of Britain. On 11th July his Spitfire was severely damaged in a morning combat with Me109s over a convoy off Portland. He tried to reach the coast but was forced to bale out five miles off Portland Bill. He was picked up, wounded and badly burned, but he died before reaching land.

His commanding officer described him as "the very best of AAF officer, a born leader who communicated his enthusiasm to others".

Barran, who was 31, is buried in Lawnswood Cemetery, Leeds.

If you would like to hear more about fighter pilots like Pip Barran, please contact Dr Anthony Medhurst on or 07852 765901.

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