[Sgt Alfred 'Joey', Sarre, 603 squadron]
‘Juggling with Jesus’
Being a fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain was fraught with danger and close shaves were commonplace. They were often referred to humourously by pilots as ‘Juggling with Jesus’. 603’s Sgt Alfred ‘Joey’ Sarre had his fair share of these experiences.
On Friday 30 August 1940, Joey’s tail was shot up in combat with Me110s over Deal at 11.10am but, despite extensive damage and loss of control, he managed to get his badly damaged Spitfire XT-F back to base. He was scrambled again in the afternoon in another Spitfire XT-X. This time the tail of his Spitfire was shot off completely by Me109s at 4.55pm. Despite spinning out of control, Sarre was able to bale out and his Spitfire crashed at Addington Park near West Malling. On this occasion he was deemed ‘missing’ even though he was in the hospital - nobody had informed 603 squadron that he was safe. On returning to Hornchurch, his colleagues reacted as though they had seen a ghost. Joey found that his personal effects had been packed and were ready to be sent home.
However such was the urgent need of pilots that he was back in the air again. On Wednesday 4th September, Joey was fortunate to land with a dead engine near Ashford. Just three days later, on Saturday 7th September, he was shot down and wounded in combat over the Thames at 5.30pm. Sarre was hospitalised for wounds to his hands.
However the effect of so many near misses, had taken their toll. He knew only too well he had more than his share of luck. In an eight day period, four of the Spitfires he had been flying had been lost – he had crashed landed twice and baled out twice. Four times he was convinced he was going to die. Four times he cheated death in quick succession. He had reached breaking point.
It was following his second escape that his friends noticed the significant change in his personality. Sarre’s Commanding Officer, ‘Uncle’ George Denholm, recognised that Joey had taken enough punishment after his near miss on 7th September. Following his physical recovery, he was posted to a training unit and became an instructor. The strain took its toll on Joey. Jack Stokoe, a squadron colleague said of his friend: “…he became an instructor after losing his nerve during the blitz. He never flew in combat again.”
If you would like to hear more about fighter pilots such as Joey Sarre and others in 603 squadron on either a London walking tour or whole day tour in East Kent, please get in touch now.
You can also visit the website www.thebattleofbritain.co.uk, call 07852 765901 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos and text courtesy of the Battle of Britain monument and 'The Battle of Britain: Then and Now'; David Ross, ‘Stapme’ and David Ross ‘The greatest squadron of them all – the definitive history of 603 squadron’