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Richard 'Dickie' Lee - the epitome of an RAF fighter pilot

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

Richard Hugh Antony Lee was born in London in 1917 and educated at Charterhouse School. He epitomised the public image of the fighter pilot - tall, confident, and a public school educated extrovert and with a reputation for being at loggerheads with authorities - particularly because of his penchant for low level flying. His daring can be seen in a George Formby comedy film called 'It's in the Air' of the late 1930s when he flew a Hawker Fury through a hangar at Debden. Perhaps with Lord Trenchard as his godfather, it was little surprise that he entered the RAF College, Cranwell in September 1935 as a Flight Cadet and graduated in July 1937. On 1st June 1938 he joined 85 Squadron at Debden. Lee went to France with the squadron at the outbreak of war.

He destroyed a He111 over Boulogne on 21st November 1939 which was 85 Squadron's first victory. Lee was awarded the DFC (gazetted 8th March 1940). On 10th May 1940 he claimed a Hs126 destroyed, shared a Ju86 and damaged a Ju88. After shooting down two enemy aircraft on 11th May, he was himself shot down by flak but obtained civilian clothes and evaded capture, eventually making his way back to his squadron.

85 squadron in vic formation

On 22nd May 85 Squadron withdrew to Debden after sustaining heavy losses. Flying with 56 Squadron over Dunkirk on the 27th, Lee was shot down into the sea in Hurricane but was picked up after an hour in the water. He was awarded the DSO in May 1940.

85 Squadron on patrol May 1940

Back with 85 Squadron in August 1940, Lee was last seen in pursuit of an enemy formation thirty miles off the east coast on Sunday 18th. Thirteen Hurricanes engaged an overwhelming large enemy force of 200 aircraft, fifteen miles east of Foulness Island in Essex. Dickie Lee was last seen single-handedly chasing three Me110s out to sea. Lee was not heard of again and is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial, Panel 6. He was 23 years old.

At the time of his death Lee was an Acting Flight Lieutenant and is believed to have destroyed at least nine enemy aircraft.

Photo and text courtesy of Battle of Britain Monument website

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