Updated: Feb 18, 2022
Ernest Cecil John Wakeham was born at Yelland Farm, Rattery, South Devon on 20th February 1921. He attended King Edward VI Grammar School at Totnes. He was a keen sportsman, rugby player and won a rifle shooting prize. After studying at South Devon Technical college in Torquay he joined the RAF on a short service commission in February 1939, even though as a farmer’s son, he would have been in a reserved occupation and not likely to be called up.
His training was carried out at 11 FTS Shawbury. He gained his wings on 22nd July 1939 and passed out with an 'Exceptional' rating. He returned to Rattery on leave with some pilot colleagues to help with the hay harvest.
He joined 145 Squadron at Croydon on 23rd October 1939. Although equipped with Blenheims, 145 began to receive Hurricanes in March 1940.
In May the squadron began ferrying Hurricanes to France and supporting the squadrons there. On the 18th Wakeham destroyed a He111 and damaged another over Dunkirk and on the 19th destroyed another.
On the 27th he damaged a Me110 but was stunned by a glancing bullet whilst attacking and lost consciousness. Wakeham came to after falling 5,000 feet and returned to the attack.
Later in the day he was shot down in Hurricane P3314, making a forced-landing between Ostend and Dunkirk. He joined the thousands of troops on the beaches and was evacuated by ship. He returned to Yelland Farm to convalesce and became a regular dart player at the local Church House Inn.
Wakeham was awarded the DFC (gazetted 21st June 1940).
When he returned to 145 Squadron, he quickly racked up further successes. He shared in destroying a Do17 on 7th July; claimed a He111 on the 11th; shared a Do17 on the 19th; shared a Ju88 on the 29th; and on 1st August claimed a Hs126.
However Ernest Wakeham's luck was soon to run out. He was one of five pilots from 145 Squadron who failed to return from combat with Ju87s and Me110s over a convoy south of the Isle of Wight on 8th August in Hurricane P2957.
Wakeham was only 19 and is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial, panel 10. He is also commemorated on the WW2 memorial tablet in Rattery church.
Text and photo courtesy of the Battle of Britain Monument website.
Above photograph and additional research courtesy of Peter Smerdon via Valerie Wakeham.