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Alan 'Al' Deere - brave, resilient and fortunate to survive

Alan Christopher Deere was born in Auckland, New Zealand on 12th December 1917 and educated at St. Carries School, Wanganui. Deere worked briefly as a shepherd and then as a clerk with Treadwell, Gordon, Treadwell & Haggitt, solicitors at Wanganui. But after a joyride he took to flying.

In April 1937 he applied for a short service commission in the RAF and he sailed for the UK on 23rd September in the RMS Rangitane. On 28th October 1937 he began his training at 13 E&RFTS White Waltham, moved to 6 FTS Netheravon in late January 1938, completed his training and joined 54 Squadron at Hornchurch on 20th August 1938. The squadron began to receive Spitfires in March 1939.

Deere's experience as a fighter pilot was characterised by significant good fortune as he recognised himself in his autobiography 'Nine Lives'. On a flight in May 1939, Deere was overcome by anoxia and lost consciousness. His aircraft went into a dive and he came to just in time to pull out. He suffered a burst eardrum and was off flying for three months.

Deere was also a fearless and highly resilient fighter pilot. On 23rd May 1940 Deere and P/O JL Allen escorted F/Lt. JA Leathart, who flew a Master to Calais-Marck airfield to pick up the CO of 74 Squadron, S/Ldr. FL White, who had made a forced-landing there. The rescue was effected and Deere shot down two Me109' and damaged another. Later the same day he destroyed a third.

54 Squadron just before Dunkirk, Deere is seated second from left.

On 24th May Deere shot down a Me110 and on the 26th two more. On this day he was appointed 'A' Flight Commander and promoted to Acting Flight Lieutenant.

Deere was leading 54 on a dawn patrol on the 28th as part of a Wing of three squadrons. With poor visibility, he lost visual contact with the other two Hornchurch squadrons. The Spitfires of 54 crossed the Belgian coast alone. Sighting a Do17, Deere gave chase with three members of his flight. He damaged the bomber but was hit by return fire and, with his glycol tank holed and producing smoke, he decided to make a forced-landing on a beach. He was knocked unconscious as the Spitfire ploughed through the sand. After coming to, he got out of the now-burning aircraft and was taken by a soldier to Oost-Dunkerke, where he had his head injury dressed. Deere decided to make for Dunkirk, commandeered a bicycle and was eventually picked up by British soldiers heading for Dunkirk in a lorry. They abandoned it on the outskirts of the town because of congestion on the road. Deere got on a boat back to Dover, caught a train to London, went by Underground to Elm Park station and arrived back at Hornchurch some nineteen hours after he had taken off. He was still carrying his parachute.

He was awarded the DFC (gazetted 12th June 1940), which was presented to him by the King in a ceremony at Hornchurch on the 27th.

His success in the air throughout the evacuation of Dunkirk and into the Battle of Britain. Deere shared in the unconfirmed destruction of a Ju88 on 17th June. He destroyed a Me109 on 9th July and, after colliding with another, made a crash-landing in a cornfield, but escaped with minor injuries.

On 24th July he probably destroyed a Me109; on 12th August he destroyed two Me109s and a Me110; on the 15th he destroyed two Me109s, probably a third and damaged another but had to bale out at a very low level from Spitfire R6981 after being chased back across the Channel by two German fighters. He escaped with a slight fracture of the wrist and, after an overnight stay at the Queen Victoria Cottage Hospital, East Grinstead, he returned to Hornchurch.

Deere probably destroyed a Me109 and was then shot down by a Spitfire on 28th August and baled out of Spitfire R6832. On the 30th he probably shot down a Do17. The next day he was the pilot of one of three Spitfires caught in a bombing attack as they were taking off from Hornchurch. Deere's aircraft was thrown on to its back and he was left suspended in his harness. He was released by one of the other two pilots involved, P/O EF Edsall, who despite leg injuries crawled across and released Deere, who then took his rescuer to Station Sick Quarters.

On 3rd September Deere probably destroyed a Me110. He was awarded a Bar to the DFC (gazetted 6th September 1940). On 8th January 1941 he was posted to SHQ Catterick and was made Operations Room Controller there.

His portrait was made by Orde in February (below).

He retired on 12th December 1967 as an Air Commodore.

He received the DFC (US), the C de G (Fr), was made an OBE (gazetted 1st June 1945) and was ADC to the Queen in 1962.

In 1959 Deere's book of his wartime experiences 'Nine Lives' was published in London.

Passing up a better-paid job with the American aircraft company Fairchild, Deere spent the next 10 years as the RAF civilian director of sport.

He died on 21st September 1995.

Photo and text courtesy of Battle of Britain Monument website

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