Updated: Feb 20, 2022
John Ignatius Kilmartin was born in Dundalk, Ireland on 8th July 1913, one of eight children. His father, an Oxford graduate and civil servant in the new republic's office of the Deputy Commissioner for Forestry, died from influenza when John was nine years old and the boy was shipped out to Australia under a scheme to resettle deprived children.
He worked on a cattle ranch in Australia and as a bank clerk in Shanghai, where he was a professional jockey in his spare time. He joined the RAF on a short service commission in February 1937. He was posted to 6 FTS Netheravon on 5th June 1937 and joined 43 Squadron at Tangmere on 8th January 1938.
Photo and text courtesy of Battle of Britain Monument website
He was posted to No. 1 Squadron in France on 3rd November 1939. He shared in the destruction of a Do17 on the 23rd. On 2nd April 1940 he claimed a Me109, on the 20th a Ju88 and a He111, on 10th May he shared a Do17, on the 11th destroyed two Me110's, on the 12th a Me109, on the 14th two Me109's, on the 15th and 16th two Me110's and on the 17th he destroyed two more Me110's and damaged a He111.
At the request of the CO the exhausted pilots of No. 1 were withdrawn to England on 24th May, to be replaced by fresh pilots. Kilmartin was posted to Sutton Bridge to instruct at 6 OTU but on 11th June he was posted to 5 OTU Aston Down. He crashed on the aerodrome there on 16th August in Hurricane P3452, unhurt.
We were sent up for a dog-fight..and endeavour to 'shoot' each other down...On one occasion I went up with Kilmartin. We climbed to 10,000 feet, and he intimated that he would attempt to get on my tail. He succeeded. In frenzied eagerness I hurled my machine about the sky. Never, I felt, had such things been done to a plane. They must inevitably dislodge him. But a quick glance in my mirror showed that he was quietly behind me like a patient nursemaid following a too boisterous charge... Kilmartin climbed out of his machine with a sly grin at the corner of his mouth.
'Do you feel as dead as you should? he asked.
"That's alright," he said. "I meant you to. Now I'll give you a few tips for the next time."’
Richard Hillary, 'The Last Enemy'.
On 4th September he re-joined 43 Squadron at Tangmere, claimed a Me110 destroyed on the 6th and a Me109 on the 7th. The squadron went north to Usworth on the 8th.
John Kilmartin (seated, 2nd left) with other members of 43 Squadron, 7 September 1940. Within three hours of the photograph being taken, two fellow pilots were dead - F/Lt Richard 'Dick' Reynell (seated, 4th left) and S/Ldr C.B. Hull (seated, 5th left just out of shot)
Kilmartin was awarded the DFC (gazetted 8th October 1940).