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'Rusty' Rushmer - 603 squadron

Born in Sisland, Norfolk on 12th April 1910, Frederick William Rushmer joined 603 Squadron, Auxiliary Air Force in 1934. Fred Rushmer (Aux) was 30 years old and nicknamed ‘Rusty’ by his fellow pilots in the squadron because of his dark red hair. Born in Norfolk in 1910 the Rushmer family were landowners in farming. Rusty loved fast sports cars and he owned an MG. He had been an engineering draughtsman in civilian life and he won the opportunity to experience flying in a competition entered by all the lads in his office. His first flight was at Horsham St Faith Norwich airport. He joined the 603 squadron at the age of 24 having moved to Edinburgh for a job at an engineering company. Called to full time service, Rushmer was one of the most experienced pilots in the squadron at that time and was appointed leader of Red section. As a flight lieutenant, he was made commander of B flight when it was sent to Montrose. Stapme Stapleton describes Rushmer as a very nice man with bright red hair. ‘He seemed far too nice to be a fighter pilot. It was hard to associate him being in such a profession. It didn't seem to suit him, like so many pilots in 603 squadron. He commanded great respect from us and was a good leader.’

Richard Hillary in The Last Enemy describes his arrival at B flight dispersal and his first meeting with Rusty:

As we came in, half a dozen heads were turned towards the door and Rushmer, the Flight Commander, came over to greet us. Like the others, he wore a Mae West and no tunic. Known by everybody as Rusty on account of his dull red hair, he had a shy manner and a friendly smile. Peter Pease, I could see, sensed a kindred spirit at once. Rusty never ordered things to be done; he merely suggested that it might be a good idea if they were done, and they always were. He had a bland manner and an ability tacitly to ignore anything which he did not wish to hear, which protected him like from outside interference from his superiors and from too frequent suggestions from his junior officers on how to run the flight. Rusty had been with the squadron since before the war: he was a Flight Lieutenant, and in action always led the red section. As 603 was an auxiliary squadron, all the older members were people with civilian occupations who before the war had flown for pleasure.”

Image courtesy of and copyright the David Ross Collection.

On 30th July 1940 Rushmer shared in destroying a He111 south-east of Montrose and his aircraft was hit by return fire. On 29th August he made a forced-landing at Bossingham in Spitfire P9459 after combat over Deal, slightly wounded.

(Above: Rushmer (left) with F/O Robin Waterston of 603)

Rushmer failed to retum from combat with Do17s and Me109s over Biggin Hill on 5th September 1940. His Spitfire, X4261, could have been that which crashed at Buckmans Green Farm, Smarden. The pilot from this aircraft was buried as 'unknown' in All Saints' churchyard, Staplehurst on 11th September.

An investigation of the crash site in 1970 failed to establish the pilot's identity. Rushmer was reported 'Missing' and his name is on the Runnymede Memorial, Panel 4. However a campaign to prove that the unknown airman was indeed Rushmer was begun in 1989 and his three surviving sisters were traced by Andy Saunders. Positive identification of Rushmer was established by a pocketwatch found at the site in 1970, this being recognised by the dead airman's sisters, In May 1998 a named headstone replaced the original and a service of dedication was held in September.

Further details of the search can be seen at:

Photos and text courtesy of Battle of Britain Monument website

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