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Bastian Maitland-Thompson - aka 'the Big Man'

Updated: Mar 31, 2022


Bastian Maitland-Thompson was born on 19th January 1916 in Brondesbury Park, London (then Middlesex). When t was three months old he was taken by his mother, Mildred, to Buenos Aires in Argentina, where his father, Howard, was a rancher.

He returned to the UK aged eight in 1924.

He was public-school educated and opted for a career in law and local government. At 6ft 4ins and seventeen stone he was made for rugby and played for Harlequins. Despite his size, he was accepted for pilot training with the RAFVR and this led to him being called up on 1st September 1939 and posted to 3 ITW at Hastings. Flying training was completed at 8 FTS, Montrose, followed by a posting to No.1 School of Army Co-Operation at Old Sarum.



Above: Maitland-Thompson standing second from left at Old Sarum.

After two months service with this unit he was posted to 92 Squadron with Spitfires at Biggin Hill. Geoffrey Wellum described his arrived with 92 in 'First Light':


"The new man is a huge chap. Six foot plus the rest; a front row forward, it seems, and what a formidable one he must have been. He is also a successful amateur boxer. Thank God he's on our side. In private life he is a barrister; 'Just deny all knowledge, old boy'


How he talked his way into the cockpit of a Spitfire goodness only knows. I would have said that his mere size would have made it quite impossible. He exude an old world 'Barretts of Winpole Street' Victorian courtesy and politeness that is totally engaging. Phrases such as 'I do declare', 'Pon my soul', 'Quite capital' and 'A stoup of ale would be most acceptable' all come out in a natural and quite charming manner. Already he is known as 'Big Tom' or just 'the Big Man'. ... The Big Man settles into the way of life of 92 Squadron quickly and easily. Now content with his lot, he takes the whole thing in his stride with the nonchalance of a founder member."


(Geoffrey Wellum. 'First Light', pp174-5)



The available records do not show whether he brought down any enemy aircraft during the Battle but he was still serving with 92 Squadron on 9th May 1941, when he was returning from an offensive patrol very short of fuel. On approach to Biggin Hill his engine coughed and stopped. Unable to gain height he crashed into the side of the valley next to the airfield. When his fellow pilots rushed to the crash site they found Bastian staggering up the hill with a bloodied face and dragging an injured leg. He greeted his CO with

'I'm sorry, I seem to have made a ******* mess of my aircraft.'

Further on at the end of a large furrow they found a steaming engine, torn from it’s mountings and resting beside the cockpit, the port wing lying several yards away and the tail at ninety degrees to the rest of the fuselage. He was almost as badly damaged as his aircraft and had to spend the next two months on sick leave. The aircraft was beyond repair.


On 27th July 1941 Maitland-Thompson was promoted to Flying Officer, his last flight with 92 was on 17th September 1941 at Gravesend, Kent. He moved to 51 OTU at Cranfield, Bedfordshire on 18th November 1941 on a night-operations course for Blenheim and Beaufighter pilots. The New Year saw him return to flying duties with 29 Sqn at West Malling, Kent.


1942 had further significance for him as on 27th April he was married at Christ's Church, Mayfair, London to Jean Temple, a twenty-three year old war-widow. She was very petite and had formerly been a ballet dancer. The Biggin Hill hcaplain, Douglas O'Hanlon, performed the ceremony. Physically they were complete opposites but they were devoted to each other.

He also acquired a very small car, an Austin 7, which to onlookers he appeared to sit on, rather than in. Apart from a week's course on beam approaches in the middle of June, he remained with the squadron until 3rd October 1942.


Rested from operational duties he was posted to 54 OTU at Charter Hall as a Flying Instructor and reported for duty on 11th October. Sixteen days later he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and, after his spell of instructing, he was posted back to flying operations with 604 Squadron at Scorton, Lancashire on 25th May 1943. His black collie dog, George, had accompanied him to 604 and often flew seated on the navigator's lap.


He was promoted to Acting Squadron Leader in July 1944 and, after several more operational sorties he was "time expired" and was once again posted back to 54 OTU for another spell of instructing. With the Allied forces advancing towards Germany, Maitland-Thompson was posted to command 219 Squadron with the rank of Acting Wing Commander at the end of March 1945. The squadron was based at Gilze-Rijen in Holland. At the end of hostilities he remained with 219 in Holland.


On 28th July he and some junior officers crossed the border into Germany to visit an Officers Club for lunch. On the return journey along the Bergsteinfurt Road, his jeep skidded on the wet road. His physique meant that he was partly outside the vehicle and his body impacted a tree, killing him instantly.


He was buried in Enschede Eastern Cemetery on 1st August 1945.





Photo and text courtesy of Battle of Britain Monument website



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