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Tim Vigors - once pursued a bomber wearing his dressing gown and pyjamas

Timothy Ashmead Vigors was born in Hatfield, Hertfordshire on 22nd March 1921 to an Anglo-Irish family. His father was originally a stockbroker but the family had been landowners in County Carlow for centuries. He was brought up in Leicestershire and educated at Eton.

After leaving he did six months cramming and passed the entrance examination for the RAF College Cranwell, entering it in January 1939 as a Flight Cadet.

After the outbreak of war, cadets who had not completed their courses were enlisted in the regular RAF on 7th September 1939 as Airmen u/t Pilots and each given an airman number.

Vigors graduated on 23rd December 1939 and was granted a permanent commission. He joined 266 Squadron at Sutton Bridge from Cranwell on 6th January 1940. He was posted to 12 Group Pool Aston Down on 17th January and after converting to Blenheims joined 222 Squadron at Duxford on 24th February. The squadron re-equipped with Spitfires in March 1940. Over Dunkirk on 31st May Vigors probably destroyed a He111 and on 1st June destroyed a Me110. During the night of 19th/20th June an unidentified aircraft was reported overhead and Vigors, in dressing gown and pyjamas, was sent up to investigate. He lost his bearings, sighted a bomber and fell in with it in the hope that it would lead him to an airfield. The aircraft was a He111 and it opened fire scoring hits on Vigor's Spitfire. He shot it down near Sunk Island, Yorkshire and then landed at Barkston airfield, from where he had carried out night flying training from Cranwell.

On 25th July Vigors damaged two He111s; on 30th August probably destroyed a Me110; on the 31st destroyed a Me109 and probably two more and then made a crash-landing himself at Hornchurch when his undercarriage failed to come down.

On 1st September Vigors destroyed a Me109; on the 3rd destroyed a Me110 and damaged another; on the 6th damaged a Me109; on the 7th probably destroyed a Do17; on the 9th he shot down a Me109 in flames and was then shot down himself and made a crash-landing on allotments near Dartford in Spitfire X4059, with his left aileron and tailplane shot away and glycol tank punctured.

Vigors spent the night in London. Leaving Liverpool Street Station the next morning and escorted by two policemen, he was attacked by a crowd who thought he was German. After realising their mistake they chaired him.

Back with the squadron, Vigors probably destroyed two Me109s on 30th October and damaged a Me109 on 2nd November.

He was awarded the DFC (gazetted 1st October 1940).

Vigors was posted away on 27th December 1940 to Singapore, where he joined 243 Squadron as a Flight Commander on 12th March 1941. It was then reforming at Kallang. On 21st November 1941 Vigors was given command of 453 Squadron at Sembawang.

The squadron was formed in Australia on 29th July 1941 for service in Malaya and was assigned to the defence of the Fleet. Inexplicably the fleet commander, who should have maintained contact with Vigors, only broke radio silence when under air attack and when on 10th December Vigors led eleven Buffalos to fend off attacks against HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales the Repulse had already gone down and the Prince of Wales was sinking.

All Vigors could do was to fly over the survivors in the water and provide support for the rescuing destroyers.

On 14th November Vigors, with Sgt. O'Mara, was in action against a large force of Japanese fighters. His petrol tank was hit and he baled out, badly burned. On the way down, he was attacked five times, avoiding the fire by climbing the cords, collapsing the parachute and dropping. Nevertheless, he was wounded in the thigh.

Vigors landed in the jungle on top of Penang Mountain. He hobbled down a path, losing blood and was picked up by two natives, who applied a tourniquet, carried him down the mountain on a makeshift stretcher and handed him over to the British.

Vigors was taken to hospital and then evacuated by train to a hospital in Johore. Here, heavily bandaged, he was visited by a chaplain, who expressed doubt that he was Vigors, as he had buried Vigors five days before. This must have been Sergeant O'Mara, who was also shot down in the engagement.

The corpse had been recovered from the sea, badly burned, and an incorrect identification made.

In early 1945 he returned to the UK and was posted to command RAF Castle Camps. Vigors took part in the first Battle of Britain flypast over London on 15th September 1945.

He retired from the RAF on 8th November 1946 as a Squadron Leader, retaining the rank of Wing Commander.

Vigors began civilian life by setting up a photographic agency in Ireland, but then joined the bloodstock auctioneers Goffs. In 1951 he left to start his own bloodstock agency.

As one of the first people to foresee a future for private aviation Vigors also set up, in the late 1950s, a firm specialising in private and executive aircraft. Based at Kidlington, near Oxford, he had the agency for Piper aircraft. When his firm was taken over by CSE Aviation, Vigors returned to the bloodstock business, where he had considerable success.

Vigors inherited the family farm, Coolmore in County Tipperary and moved there in 1968. He began building it into the famous stud farm which it is today.

In the mid-1970s Vigors sold the business and went to live in Spain. He returned to Newmarket in the early Eighties, remaining there until his death on 4th November 2003.

Photos and text courtesy of Battle of Britain Monument website

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