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Pushed to breaking point

[George 'Sheep' Gilroy, 603 squadron)

The turning point in the Battle was arguably the decision to focus the attention of the Luftwaffe on 7 September 1940 towards bombing London rather than on RAF airfields. Perhaps most fortuitous of all, was the relief it provided to the pilots themselves. The period of intense fighting in South East England between 24 August 1940 and 6 September had seriously depleted the strength of Fighter Command. In this fortnight alone - 103 pilots had been killed and 128 seriously injured - a quarter of Fighter Command's operational pilots.

(Bill Rafter, 603 squadron)

For 603 squadron which had just moved to Hornchurch and action from 28 August, the implications were significant. In under two weeks, their casualties included:-

Don McDonald (Killed in action 28 August)

Lawrie Cunningham (KIA 28 August),

Ian Ritchie (wounded 28 August),

Noel 'Broody' Benson (KIA 28 August),

Colin Pinckney (wounded, 29 August),

Robin 'Bubble' Waterston (KIA 31 August),

'Sheep' Gilroy (wounded 31 August)

Richard Hillary (badly burned, 3 September)

Dudley Stewart-Clark (wounded, 3 September)

Fred 'Rusty' Rushmer (KIA 5 September)

Bill Rafter (wounded, 5 September)

Bill Caister (captured/POW, 6 September).

[George 'Sheep' Gilroy, 603 squadron]

The greatest challenge was now two-fold: first, pilots who had survived were to date were desperately tired and in need of rest. Second, such was the length of time to recruit and train new pilots, Spitfires and Hurricanes were now being flown by desperately inexperienced replacements many of whom had little experience of flying or fighting.

('Rusty' Rushmer and 'Bubble' Waterston, 603 squadron)

If you would like to hear more about fighter pilots such as Bubble Waterston 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, call 07852 765901 or email

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’

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