Saturday 28 November 2020

Battle of Britain: 80 Years On

Today, Tuesday 15th September, we remember the sacrifice of the Royal Air Force, Women's Auxiliary Air Force, and those who served during the Battle of Britain.

To mark the eightieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain, we would like to share the story of OKS Wing Commander John Scatliff Dewar DSO DFC.

John Scatliff Dewar was the highest-ranking officer to be killed during the Battle of Britain and was one of the first of only four officers to be awarded the double honour of DSO and DFC during the war.


Early Life and Education at King's

John was born at Mussoori, Lahore Province in India on 10th August 1907. He was educated at The King's School, Canterbury from January 1922 to December 1925. He was very involved in School life - he became a School monitor in 1924 and played in the Cricket XI and Rugby XV. Particularly talented at rugby, he also played in the Kent Public Schools Rugby trials from 1924 to 1926. During this time, he became a Sergeant in the Officer Training Corps and editor of the Cantuarian. 

Training and Early Career

Upon leaving King's, John entered the Royal Air Force College in Cranwell as a Flight Cadet and graduated in December 1927. He was confirmed in the rank of Pilot Officer on 17th January 1928 and promoted to Flying Officer just over a year later. He qualified for deck landings on carriers and was posted as a flying instructor to the School of Naval Cooperation, based at Lee-on-Solent, on 18th July 1929. On 6th May 1933, he was posted to 822 Squadron on board HMS “Furious” and served with them in the Mediterranean. On one occasion he was washed overboard during a storm in the Bay of Biscay but was quickly rescued. He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant on 1st February 1934 and transferred to 801 (Fleet Fighter) Squadron on board the same ship on 10th July 1934. On 23rd June 1936, he was posted to the Armament Testing Section at the Experimental Establishment, based at Martlesham Heath, where he served as a test pilot.

He was promoted to Squadron Leader on 1st February 1938 and was posted to Station Headquarters at Thorney Island on 23rd March 1938.

Second World War

On 20th November 1939, he was posted to 11 Group Pool at St Athan for a refresher course on Hurricane aircraft and was posted to 60 Wing in France on the 25th of November where he took command of 87 Squadron, based at Lille/Seclin, on the 2nd of December 1939. At 12.45 pm on the 8th of May 1940, he was returning from a sortie in bad weather in Hurricane LR-L and was low on fuel and was forced to land at an airfield at Villefranche. As the aircraft landed its wheels dug into the mud and the aircraft overturned, injuring his chest and leaving him suffering from shock. In spite of this injury, he continued to fly, claiming the shared destruction of a Dornier 17 and two Junkers 87s of I/StG2 on the 11th of May and a Junkers 87 on the 12th of May. On the 20th May of 1940, the squadron received orders to return to England which they did on the 22nd of May, where they were based at Debden before relocating to Church Fenton to refit.

For his actions during the Battle of France he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross which appeared in the London Gazette of the 31st of May 1940. The citation reads:-

“This officer has shot down five enemy aircraft and led many patrols with courage and skill.”

In the same edition came the announcement that he had been also been awarded the Distinguished Service Order with the following citation:-

“Before intensive operations started this officer injured his right shoulder in a severe flying accident. Despite this, he flew regularly and led his squadron with skill and dash, more than 60 enemy aircraft being destroyed by them. He remained in command of the squadron throughout the operations, in spite of the injured shoulder, trained his new pilots well, and continued throughout to be a very efficient commander, inculcating an excellent spirit in his squadron.”

87 Squadron became operational once again on the 22nd of June 1940 and on the 5th of July they moved to Exeter where John Dewar assumed command of the station there the following day, but officially transferred from 87 Squadron on the 12th of July. He continued to fly on operations occasionally, usually with 213 Squadron.

At noon on the 11th of July 1940, John Dewar was leading B Flight, 87 Squadron when they sighted a formation of enemy aircraft off Wittering in Sussex. On his return to Exeter he filed the following report of the action which followed: 

The enemy aircraft was Messerschmitt Bf110C-4 2N+EP of 9/ZG76 and it crash-landed at Grange Heath near Lulworth at 12.10 am. It had also been attacked by pilots of 238 Squadron, as well as by Dewar and lastly by Flying Officer Hugh Joseph Riddle of 601 Squadron. The enemy pilot, Staffelkapitän Oberleutnant Gerhard Kadow was shot and wounded by soldiers as he attempted to burn his papers after the crash while his gunner, Gefrieter Helmut Scholz, was slightly injured during the action.

On the 5th of August 1940, he went to Buckingham Palace to be decorated.

At 6.40 am on the 13th of August 1940 Blue Section, B Flight, 87 Squadron, led by John Dewar along with Australian, Flying Officer Richard Lindsay Glyde and Pilot Officer Dudley Trevor Jay, was scrambled to patrol Portland. At 7.35 am they sighted and engaged a Junkers 88 at a height of 6,000 feet, some ten miles to the south of Selsey Bill. On his return to base he filed the following report of the action:

On landing, he claimed a share in the destruction of the enemy aircraft with the two other aircraft from B Flight and reported that he had opened fire at a range of two hundred yards. The missing pilot was Richard Glyde, who was flying Hurricane P3387 and was thought to have been hit by return fire from the enemy aircraft which had damaged his aircraft's cooling system as Jay had seen glycol streaming from his engine as they broke off the combat. No trace of him or his aircraft was ever found.

At 5.30pm on the 25th of August 1940 John Dewar was leading B Flight, 87 Squadron when engaged an enemy formation at a height of 10,000 feet near Lulworth. On his return he filed the following combat report:

He claimed the Ju88 was destroyed and the Me109 was probably destroyed.

He was promoted to Wing Commander on the 1st of September 1940.


At 3 pm on the 12th of September 1940, he took off from Exeter in Hurricane Mk 1 V7306 for a flight to Tangmere to visit his wife there. He had been briefed on enemy activity over Selsey Bill and had planned to fly by a route from Exeter via Winchester to Tangmere in order to avoid the balloon barrage over Southampton and was expected to arrive there at around 3.40 pm. He failed to arrive and was reported as missing the following day. The weather was very poor and although enemy operations were hampered that day, there was an enemy attack on Eastleigh airfield at about the same time as he was flying in the area and it is thought that he may have become engaged in the action there. One of the aircraft involved in the action over Southampton reported seeing a lone Hurricane following his Squadron before it became engaged. Squadron Leader R.S. Mill, acting Station Commander at Exeter, formed the opinion that Dewar would have seen the anti-aircraft fire over Southampton as he was passing at about the same time. The squadron operations diary recorded that he: - "Must have run into more trouble than he could cope with."

A body was washed ashore at Kingston Gorse in Sussex on the 30th of September 1940 which was identified as that of John Dewar by means of the laundry marks on his shirt. A tunic was found near the body marked "J.S.D" which had both the DSO and DFC ribbons on it. It was reported on the 13th of October 1940 that: -"It was established that this officer was killed by machine-gun fire, there being machine gun bullet wounds in the back and head and the left leg was practically shot off."

His wife received the following telegram dated the 2nd of October 1940:

"Deeply regret to inform you that further information received states that your husband Acting Wing Commander John Scatliffe Dewar DSO DFC is reported to have lost his life as the result of air operations on Sept 12th/40. Letter follows. The Air Council express their profound sympathy. His father has been informed."

He was the highest-ranking officer to be killed during the Battle of Britain and was one of the first of only four officers to be awarded the double honour of DSO and DFC during the war. 

He is commemorated on the war memorial at North Baddesley in Hampshire.


Information provided by Peter Henderson and The King's School, Canterbury War Records

Sharing the story of Wing Commander John Scatliff Dewar

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