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Eric 'Sawn-Off' Lock - Top 3.5% fighter pilots accounted for 30% of kills in the Battle of Britain

The top scoring allied fighter ace in the Battle, Pilot Officer Eric Stanley Lock, was born in Bayston Hill, Shrewsbury, Shropshire on the 19th April 1919 to Dora and Charles Edward Lock. They worked the land at Bomere Farm and ran a business with the adjacent Sharpstone Quarry. He excelled at sports, particularly skating, swimming and riding. He left school in 1933 and went to work helping his parents who had moved on to farming at Allfield. As with many young men of this era who would go on to be successful pilots in the RAF, Eric got his first experience of flight with Sir Alan Cobham’s ‘Flying Circus’, paying five shillings for a flight in de Havilland DH61 ‘Giant Moth’ G-AAEV at Prees Heath. A chance meeting with aviator, Amy Johnson, at a gliding club on the Long Mynd in the Shropshire Hills further cemented a growing interest in flying.

After his eighteenth birthday Lock joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve in February 1939. He began weekend flying and went solo in a remarkably short time by completing this flight on 3rd March. When war broke out, Lock was called to full-time service and went to 6 SFTS at Little Rissington. He was posted to 41 Squadron, then based at Catterick in Yorkshire, to fly Spitfires. He became known as 'Sawn-off' because he was so short in stature.

July was a busy month for Lock but he found the time to marry Miss Margaret Victoria Meyers, known to all as Peggy. Peggy was a former Miss Shrewsbury and the daughter of a family from London, Ontario in Canada. Peggy stayed with Eric’s family as he went off to fight in the war.

Lock’s first victory in combat came on 15th August 1940 when he was credited with shooting down a Me110 near Seaham Harbour. There was no further contact with the enemy till early September when the squadron was sent south to Hornchurch. This was a busy sector and the squadron was soon constantly in action. On 5th September the squadron was ordered to Manston for patrol duties. In combat off the Maidstone patrol line, Lock claimed one Me109 destroyed and one probable. Within half an hour he was back in combat and claimed a remarkable two He111s destroyed and another Me109, giving him a total of four aircraft destroyed and one probable in just one day. During this combat Lock was wounded slightly in the leg, but after a short visit to hospital he returned fit for duty the next day.

He claimed further kills straight away:-

  • On 6th September Lock claimed a Ju88

  • on 11th September he claimed a Ju88 and an Me110

  • On the 14th September he claimed two Me109s off the coast between Dover and Deal

  • on 15th September Lock destroyed a Me109 and a Do17 shared with Tom Neil of 249 Squadron.

A few days later both men would record their descriptions of the event for the BBC. Lock was again in action on the 18th September and in two patrols claimed one Me109 destroyed and two more probable. On the 20th September he claimed a He113 and an Hs126 both destroyed although the He113 was misidentified in the heat of combat.

Lock was awarded the DFC (gazetted 1st October 1940). He had scored 15 kills in 16 days.

Lock experienced a quiet period of four weeks rotation rest before returning again into the thick of the action.

  • On the 5th October he destroyed two Me109s plus another probable in three patrols

  • On the 9th he claimed one Me109 destroyed and two more as probables.

  • On 11th October he again claimed a Me109 destroyed while patrolling with 92 and 66 Squadrons.

Final victories in the period known as the Battle of Britain came with claims of one Me109 on each of the 20th and 25th October. He was awarded a bar to the DFC (gazetted 22nd October 1940).

17th November would see Lock’s luck finally run out. Scrambled with ‘A’ Flight at around 0930, 41 Squadron encountered a large group of Me109s at 25000 feet just north of the Thames Estuary and engaged them. It started off well and Lock added to his tally with two Me109s destroyed before he himself was shot down by the fighters of JG54. His Spitfire (P7554) crashed at Martlesham Heath and Lock was severely wounded in his left arm (previously weakened by a fall from a horse) and both legs. He was trapped in his crashed Spitfire for some two hours before being taken from the cockpit. He was carried two miles by soldiers on a makeshift stretcher to hospital.

During his recovery Lock was awarded the DSO (gazetted 17th December 1940). He was the highest scoring allied pilot in the Battle of Britain with 21 kills to his name.

He was to remain in hospital for some four months, leaving only for a day in April 1941 to attend his investiture at Buckingham Palace. He underwent fifteen operations for the removal of splinters. Lock was now something of a celebrity, particularly in his local Shrewsbury. He attended local ceremonies and continued to recuperate at his parents' home in Bayston Hill.

On 27th June 1941, after a refresher flying course, Lock was posted to 611 Squadron at Hornchurch to take command of ‘A’ Flight. The squadron was engaged in offensive patrols over occupied France. On the 6th July while taking part in a ‘Circus’ over Lille Lock destroyed a Me109. He destroyed two more on the 8th and 14th.

A brief visit home was cut short and Lock resumed patrols over occupied France. On 3rd August 1941, a ‘Rhubarb’ operation was mounted in the Calais area. Lock was paired with F/Lt. EC Cathels of 403 Squadron and was last seen strafing troops on a road at Hardelot. He was heard shouting ‘look at the bastards run’ over the R/T and then silence. It has been presumed that Lock had been shot down and most likely by ground fire. Neither his body nor the aircraft were ever found. He is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial, Panel 29 (see below).

Research courtesy of John Wheeler.

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