Above: Sarre (centre).
There can be few examples of pilots feeling the impact of so many close encounters with death as much as Sgt Joey Sarre of 603 Squadron.
Alfred Richard Sarre was born on 9th November 1920 in Worthing and joined the RAFVR about March 1939 as an Airman u/t Pilot. Called up on 1st September 1939, he completed his training at 15 FTS Lossiemouth from 29th December 1939 to 10th June 1940.
He arrived at 5 OTU Aston Down on 10th June and, after converting to Spitfires, was posted to 263 Squadron at Grangemouth on 23rd June. He moved to 603 Squadron at Turnhouse (Edinburgh) on 3rd July 1940 and made his first flight on the 6th.
However Joey Sarre was shot down a total of four times in quick succession, including having his tail shot off, during the battle. On the second occasion, he was posted as ‘Missing’, even though he was actually in the hospital; Nobody had informed his C/O 'Uncle' George Denholm that he was safe. On returning to Hornchurch, his colleagues reacted as though they had seen a ghost and he found that his personal effects had been packed and were ready to be sent home. He was subsequently shot down on two more occasions. However it was following his second escape that his friends noticed the significant change in his personality from which he never recovered. He was eventually taken off operations and became an instructor.” (p48, Ross, ‘Stapme’).
As the biographer of 603 Squadron, David Ross, said: "The strain of battle on young Joey Sarre had been great and this latest experience pushed him almost to the limit. He knew only too well he had more than his share of luck and his experiences had taken severe toll. In an 8 day period, four of the Spitfires he had been flying had been lost – Sarre having crashed landed twice, baled out twice. Four times he was convinced he was going to die. Four times he cheated death. He had reached breaking point” (Ross, p248).
Joey was posted to a training unit as an instructor. Good squadron leaders like 'Uncle' George Denholm understood when a man was at the end of his limits and had him posted away for a rest, usually as an instructor at an Operational Training Unit.
“The training units at Sutton Bridge and Aston Down were staging post for many strung-out pilots. ‘You saw chaps who had really taken a shock extremely badly, said Birdy Bird-Wilson who instructed in both.
Joey Sarre was commissioned as Pilot Officer in February 1945 and promoted to Flying Officer on 25 August 1945 and released in 1946. However the strain had taken its toll on Joey. Jack Stokoe said of his friend: “…he became an instructor after losing his nerve during the Blitz. He never flew in combat again. Joey took his own life in 1980. (Ross, 'The Greatest Sqauadron, footnote p294)
Text courtesy of Battle of Britain Monument website; David Ross, 'The Greatest Squadron of them all', p294; and David Ross, 'Stapme'. Photo courtesy of Mark Stevenson.