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27 September 1940: An heroic attempt to save a fellow pilot's life

The bond between squadron members in combat throughout the Battle of Britain could be intense, even when when newly made, as could the lengths gone to in order to save their lives.

South African, Peter Dexter DFC, had only joined 603 squadron on 16th September after having recently converted to Spitfires two weeks previously. On Friday 27 September, Peter was in combat with 603 squadron over the Channel. One of his fellow pilots, Philip 'Pip' Cardell, was in combat with Me109s and was badly hit by Me109s. It is believed that Pip was wounded in the engagement and was attempting to get back to the English coast. Unfortunately he was forced to bale out just 400 yards off Folkestone harbour. His parachute failed to open but he surfaced again very quickly.

Peter Dexter, who had been flying with him and witnessed what had happened, kept making low passes over Folkestone Harbour in order to attract attention to Cardell’s plight to those on shore. However when he failed to get a response, Peter Dexter forced-landed his Spitfire on Folkestone beach, commandeered a boat and headed for his friend. Unfortunately despite Peter's heroic attempt to save Pip's life, Cardell was dead when they reached him.

Peter Dexter did not survive the war. His squadron was part of the escort for bombers attacking the marshalling yards at Hazebrouck on 14th July 1941. Over Boulogne, Dexter collided with Sgt. Panter and was reported 'Missing'. The Red Cross later reported that Dexter had been picked up dead in his parachute. He was buried in Samer Communal Cemetery, France.

Photos and text courtesy of Battle of Britain Monument website

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