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Brian Carbury - an ace in one day

Updated: Mar 31, 2023


Brian John Carbury, the son of a veterinary surgeon, was born in Wellington, New Zealand on 27th February 1918. He was educated at Kings College, Auckland and excelled at athletics. Giving up his job as a shoe salesman, Carbury went to England in 1937 and successfully applied for an RAF short service commission.


He began his flying training on 27th September and, after passing out in June 1938, he was posted to 41 Squadron, operating the Hawker Fury.

Just before the outbreak of war, Carbury was attached to 603 Squadron to assist with Spitfire training. His temporary posting became permanent in late September 1939.

On 7th December he damaged a He111 and on 7th March 1940 he shared in the destruction of another He111 east of Aberdeen. On 3rd July Carbury shared a Ju88.


When Richard Hillary met him on joining 603 squadron, he described him as


"6 foot 4, with crinkly hair and a roving eye. He greeted us warmly and suggested an immediate adjournment to the mess for drinks."


John Rendall, a member of the 603 ground crew recalls his time with Carbury:


"In those days I was a leading aircraftman fitter and worked on his Spitfire at times. My most abiding memory of him was his height, and his fine manners to all groundcrew. His man to man approach was very good as, at times, the gulf between officers and ranks was not good - though it improved as the war progressed."


Another of the groundcrew wrote:


I could have been closer to Brian, but for the accursed stupid gulf, which kept the gentlemen apart from the peasants, which still existed in 1938 until much later. However being a New Zealander, Brian had no time for such senseless class distinction and he fraternised with the NCOs and other ranks, probably to the consternation of his seniors - It most certainly surprised me as a long serving regular in the RAF.” (Ross, p56, RH)


When squadrons who had been in the thick of action were given a much needed rest towards the end of August, they were replaced by those such as 603 squadron who were yet to experience the full intensity of battle. 603 flew south to Hornchurch on 27 August and, on their first day in action on the 28th, Carbury damaged a Me109. In what was a taste of things to come, he claimed seven Me109s destroyed in the following three days from the 29th to the 31st. On 2nd September he shot down a Me109; two more on the 7th and probably a third; a probable He111 on the 11th; and another Me109 on the 14th.


Carbury's tally during the Battle of Britain was 15 enemy aircraft destroyed, 2 probables, 1 shared and 3 damaged. This placed him among the five top-scoring pilots of Fighter Command.


He is one of the few who were awarded the DFC (gazetted 24th September 1940) and Bar (gazetted 25th October 1940) during the period of the Battle.


Carbury's success in the air was due to his ability to get in close to his target. While aim and range had to be correct, camera guns showed that most pilots fired when out of range. The best ones, like Brian Carbury, got in close to the enemy before firing and would quickly pull away from the initial attack in order to gain height – not to ‘mix it’ from what was a vulnerable position. He initiated his attack from altitude, and opened fire from 150 yards closing to 50 yards and firing just one three second burst on each occasion.


John Mackenzie, one of the 603 groundcrew who knew Brian throughout the BoB said:


The ‘Carbury trick’ was the expression that we gave to his tactic of getting in very close to the enemy before firing. He didn’t mess around firing from distance. He could also push the Spitfire to its limits if enemy fighters got on his own tail thus shaking off all but the most experienced German pilots."


By 30 Sep 1940 (just over one month since moving south, 603 squadron had destroyed 37 enemy and 25 probable. Of these, Carbury destroyed nearly half.


603 returned to Scotland in December and on the 25th, flying from Drem, Carbury damaged a Ju88 north of St. Abb's Head. On 30th December 1940 Carbury was posted to 58 OTU Grangemouth as an instructor.


He did not fly operationally again after 30 December 1940 but served as an instructor until he left the RAF in 1944 as a Flight Lieutenant. The unusual circumstances of his post-Battle career have been investigated further by David Ross with some surprising findings.


“Brian Carbury was posted to 58 Operational Training Unit in December 1940. His promotion to Flight Lieutenant was gazetted on the 27th of April 1941. In 1944, it is believed Brian was dismissed from the RAF. As a consequence the service lost an outstanding fighter pilot and the fact that he remained an instructor for more than three years after the Battle of Britain and never returned to operational flying, leads one to consider that there were underlying problems.


Brian’s 603 colleagues, Ras Berry and David Scott-Malden, along with former members of the ground crew who had known him, including his own rigger and fitter, stated that he faced court martial for bouncing cheques. Today Brian Carbury’s case would certainly not be a serious misdemeanour but back in those days and, in accordance with RAF law, it carried a lengthy prison sentence if convicted. Wages were paid by two civilian companies. For the purpose of paying salaries, personnel were listed in alphabetical order with each company given responsibility for half of the list. Issuing a cheque for an account which did not hold sufficient funds constituted fraud obtained by false pretences. As he was accused of having committed the offence on between 9 and 17 occasions, he was therefore in a great deal of trouble. It had also been said that he had also refused to serve overseas because he was not prepared to leave his wife. There is much anecdotal information which alleges that while the couple were staying in a hotel local to RAF Grangemouth, she regularly ran up bills which Brian found increasingly difficult to pay. If the number of offences are anything to go by it would seem that his superiors had actually been quite tolerant of the misdemeanours and, as an officer, in accordance with RAF law, resigning his Commission to avoid a court martial was not an automatic right and therefore not an option he could take. Even if he had resigned his Commission there is no record of further service after his leaving date. The Air Officer Commanding would have also been aware not only of his achievements but also the problems he was having, thus suggesting a degree of tolerance on the part of authority until matters became serious.


Brian’s first marriage eventually broke down. His wife, described by members of his family as ‘a disaster for him’, subsequently deserted her husband. It is possible they were divorced in the 1940s. In 1948 Brian had his British pilot’s licence suspended for ferrying aircraft to Israel, which was not permitted at that time.


Brian eventually found employment as a sales representative for a heating and ventilation engineering company. He married again during the early 1950s to a woman who has been described as the antithesis of his first wife. Happily married, the couple settled in Telston Close, Bourne End, Wooburn near High Wycombe. He had just completed the redecoration of the home they had named ‘Haeremai’ when he was taken ill. Tragically, terminal acute monocytic leukaemia was diagnosed and Brian died soon after on the 31st of July 1961, in the War Memorial Hospital, High Wycombe aged only 43 years. His wife was at his bedside. He left a son, also called Brian.”


Photo and text courtesy of Battle of Britain Monument website and David Ross, 'The Greatest Squadron of them all'.



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