Two brothers - one dream
|Tony & Patrick Woods-Scawen.|
Growing up in Farnborough, Hampshire, I often passed 55 York Road, a red-bricked semi-detached house, on my way to playschool or when visiting an old friend’s house along that same narrow road. Back then I would not have even noticed number 55, because it looked like any other ordinary house at the time, just like it does today. It was not until recently, when I discovered who used to live in that house that it became of interest to me and now whenever I find myself on York Road I am reminded of a brave but tragic story, told so excellently in Ralph Barker’s book That Eternal Summer.
During the 1930’s, 55 York Road was the home of two brothers, Patrick and Tony Woods-Scawen. The two boys were educated at Salesian College on Reading Road, which is located just around the corner from their old home. Patrick was the eldest of the two brothers, born in Karachi, India on 29 June 1916. Tony was also born in Karachi, on 18 February 1918. The Woods-Scawen’s returned to England in 1924, after Patrick and Tony’s mother fell ill.
To begin with the two brothers boarded at the Salesian College but when their mother passed away they moved into 55 York Road to live with their Aunt Nellie. When their education was completed Patrick was employed as a storekeeper and Tony as a clerk. The jobs were steady enough but dissatisfactory for the adventurous spirits of the Woods-Scawen brothers. Living close to the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough it was almost impossible for the two boys to avoid falling in love with the idea of a flying career. Both Patrick and Tony were already known for their interest in fast machines. My Grand-Mother, Edna Roberts, lived near the Woods-Scawens at this time and recalled many occasions when the two brothers were seen racing around the town on motor-bikes. The two of them were very playful characters and very popular amongst their peers. Their wit and charm soon won the affections of one young woman in particular, a pretty blonde called Una Lawrence, also known as Bunny or Bun-Bun to Patrick and Tony. It was almost impossible for the two boys to avoid falling in love with her.
Eleven years have now passed since That Eternal Summer’s first publication and over 71 years have passed since the Woods-Scawen’s story reached a saddening end. As a Farnborough local living close to the airfield that once attracted the Woods-Scawen’s to a career in aviation, I can’t help but to once again pay tribute to their remarkable story.
Patrick was the first to join the Royal Air Force on a short service commission in October 1937. At the age of twenty one, Patrick left 55 York Road behind and travelled to Kings Cross where Bunny waved him off. He was destined for Prestwick in Ayrshire to begin his elementary flying training.
Tony was keen to follow in his big brother’s footsteps but at this point it seemed that a career in the RAF was unlikely for him. With a spell of suspected TB, Tony missed a year of schooling with a patch on his lung and did not pass out with a School Certificate like Patrick did. The patch eventually cleared but his eyesight was left permanently impaired and he needed glasses when reading. With this against him it seemed that his chances of becoming a pilot in the RAF were slim. However in March 1938 he did join the air force on a short service commission. Tony’s eyesight had not improved; instead he had sneakily passed the mandatory eye examination by memorising the eye-test card.
During this time Patrick was busy enjoying himself at Prestwick flying the Tiger Moth and socialising with his fellow students and the locals. On 9 January 1938 he was posted to No.11 Flying Training School at Wittering and then moved to Shawbury in Shropshire. Patrick continued to correspond affectionately with Bunny, who had promised, perhaps nonchalantly, to marry him when he was promoted as a squadron leader. Patrick’s letters to Bunny evidently exposed his love for her. In one particular letter he yearned for Bunny to send him a photograph of herself so that he could show her off to his pals. Bunny was reluctant at first but she eventually gave in and did send Patrick a photograph. She also sent one to Tony.
Patrick successfully completed his flying training and on 20 August he was posted to No.85 Squadron at Debden. ‘I have flown a Hurricane’, he wrote to Bunny, ‘so have reached the eighth heaven. The seventh, sixth and fifth are you. But my God, what an aeroplane!’
Tony prepared for his training by acquiring special flying goggles with corrective lenses to improve his vision. Various tests loomed over him to begin with but he managed to scrape through them before being sent on to Woodley to begin his flying training. On 21 May 1938, Tony was posted to No.6 Flying Training School at Netheravon and just like his brother he made the most of the pre-war social scene around him. By the end of the year Tony was posted to No.43 Squadron, stationed at Tangmere, where he learnt to fly the Hawker Hurricane. The chaps in the squadron soon discovered Tony’s questionable eyesight and nicknamed him ‘Wombat’ because apparently he looked a bit like a rabbit and was as blind as a bat, but Tony’s infectious nature quickly won the approval of his colleagues. In a letter to Bunny Tony tells how the experienced pilots in the Squadron, particularly Caesar Hull and Frank Carey, took him under their wings. ‘For some strange reason, they have been giving me the benefit of all their terrific flying skill by taking me up for wizard dogfights and drilling me in aerobatics. I can now roll at 2-300 feet without being too scared, thanks to them, but I still get plenty frit on occasion.’
Patrick was also given a nickname by the boys in No.85 Squadron when he was dubbed ‘Weasel’ because of his sharp features and size. Unsurprisingly Patrick became enormously popular and well known around the station.
After war was declared on Germany, Patrick was soon posted to France with the Squadron as part of the RAF Component in support of the British Expeditionary Force. The so called ‘Phoney War’ was then in effect and it proved a testing time for many of the pilots who felt bored and frustrated by the lack of action. Those squadrons based in France also endured a long, cold winter, with inadequate equipment and generally poor facilities. In the New Year, Patrick was given a welcomed ten days home leave in mid-January, during which he drove to Tangmere with Bunny to visit Tony. It was a happy reunion for them all but perhaps difficult for Patrick who knew that he would soon have to tear himself away from Bunny and return to France.
The letters between the Woods-Scawen brothers and Bunny continued. When Patrick returned to France he reminded Bunny not to forget that they were going to marry when he was made a squadron leader. He was also fully aware of Tony and Bunny’s endearing correspondence, which he playfully referred to in his writing, as did Tony. There was clearly an understanding of a shared fondness between the three of them but it did not affect their individual relationships as one might imagine. Exactly where did Bunny’s true affections lie? It was a question that undoubtedly troubled both Patrick and Tony, but despite this quiet competition, the brothers did not let it affect their bond.
The unstoppable German blitzkrieg was unleashed by Hitler on the 10 May 1940. At 0410 hours that morning Patrick and his colleagues were disturbed by the tremendous sound of numerous Luftwaffe engines overhead, combined with the thumping sounds of anti-aircraft fire being pumped into the air. Within minutes six Hurricanes took off from base to engage the enemy bombers. Flight Lieutenant Bob Boothby led his section from A Flight with Pilot Officer David Mawhood and Flying Officer Ken Blair in tow. They engaged two Junkers Ju 88s at 12,000 feet near Grammont. Boothby fired two lengthy bursts of ammunition into one of the bombers which went down pouring oil with a dead engine. Mawhood witnessed the Ju 88’s descent but in turn his Hurricane was struck by fire from the second Junkers and perspex splinters blinded him in one eye. Mawhood retaliated by firing four bursts into the enemy machine despite his injury. Blair also attacked this aircraft with a few bursts of his own and watched heavy smoke pour from its starboard engine as it went down. The Ju 88 crew managed to bale out of their aircraft, but they were soon captured by Belgians and handed over to the British.
Flight Lieutenant Dickie Lee was leading his section of B Flight, with Flying Officer Derek Allen and Pilot Officer Patrick Woods-Scawen slightly on his wing tips. The three of them encountered a formation of Hs 126s and made various attacks but the results were inconclusive. Within forty minutes the six Hurricanes had engaged the enemy and returned to base to rearm and refuel. Patrick was back in the air at 0730 hours on a patrol with Dickie Lee and Flying Officer Allan Angus. A Ju 88 was spotted at 15,000 feet between Armentieres and the Fort-de-Nieppe and the Hurricanes gave chase. The bomber took evasive action and dived down to the deck with the rear-gunner firing continuously at the trio. Lee reported firing short bursts from close range but saw no apparent results except for black smoke issuing from one of its engines. Lee’s Hurricane was badly hit but he managed to get back to base without further incident. Angus also attacked the enemy aircraft and reported that after two bursts he ‘saw the rear gunner disintegrate’. He also noticed that its starboard engine had stopped and he last saw it diving to the ground near Ghent. Angus then discovered that he was out of ammunition and that he had no oil pressure. His engine seized and he force-landed at Celles. Within a few hours Angus returned to the Squadron after hitching a ride back to Lille/Seclin. Patrick did not fire his guns on this occasion, but nine days later he would soon claim his fair share of enemy aircraft.
On Sunday 19 May, at approximately 1000 hours, Patrick was out on the aerodrome when he noticed three Hurricanes above duelling with several enemy aircraft. Not one to miss the fight, Patrick raced to his aircraft and took off to join the action. He managed to shoot a Messerschmitt Bf 109 down in flames, five miles east of Seclin, after a single burst of just two seconds. Patrick then climbed to 5,000 feet and then latched on to a second Bf 109 which he attacked with several short bursts from 100 yards range. The 109 dived to the ground trailing black smoke. Two enemy fighters then opened fire on Patrick from the behind and forced him to break away from the action. Patrick’s ammunition boxes were empty so there was nothing more he could to but evade their attacks before landing safely back on his aerodrome.
Later in the day Patrick was back in the hostile air, this time leading Blue Section on patrol between Seclin and Lille/Marcq. At about 1550 hours Patrick caught sight of a single Bf 109 travelling east. Suspecting a trap, Patrick ordered his section to cover him while he delivered a stern attack on the enemy fighter from 100 yards. He fired one burst lasting two seconds which subsequently caused the 109 to dive steeply, emitting smoke. Patrick watched the enemy aircraft crash-land in a field five miles west of Tournai. The engagement was witnessed by Pilot Officer Shrewsbury, who joined up with Patrick after the encounter to continue their patrol.
Soon enough Patrick picked out another enemy aircraft while patrolling Lille to Seclin at 8,000 feet. It was a Dornier Do 17 which was flying slowly east at the same height as Patrick. Once again Patrick covered his back by suspected a possible trap, so this time he climbed into the sun to get behind the unsuspecting bomber. It was an intelligent move because in this new position (at about 10,000 feet) Patrick saw seven Bf 109s nearby at his own height. He attacked the enemy fighters head-on, firing continuously from 600 yards until they passed by underneath his aircraft. Patrick noticed the leading 109 pouring smoke as it dived away. He then turned his Hurricane as quickly as he was able for another pass at the fighters but suddenly a cannon-shell hit his engine, which burst into flames. Patrick baled out of his aircraft (Hurricane P2547) as fast as he could and took to his parachute. He landed safely two miles south-west of Lille, despite being shot at twice by French soldiers on the way down. It is believed that Uffz Wemhoner of 5/JG26 was the pilot that shot him down.
During the Battle of France Patrick and his comrades had demonstrated exceptional abilities in combat against unfavourable odds, but it was not enough to stem the insurmountable German advance. The day following Patrick being shot down the Squadron began to evacuate from France. No.85 Squadron’s diarist recorded the following: ‘20/5/40. Squadron Leader Peacock reported to take over from Squadron Leader Oliver, who left for England with Pilot Officer Woods-Scawen and Sergeant Pilot Deacon by air transport.’
The Squadron had suffered a great deal from the intense fighting in May. It had lost a great deal of aircraft but also, and more importantly, a great band of pilots, that were either killed, wounded, or listed missing. Squadron Leader Peacock, who had only just arrived in France to assume Command of the Squadron, failed to return from a patrol on the 20th and two days later the Squadron arrived in Debden to reform.
On 25 June 1940, the London Gazette acknowledged Patrick’s accomplishments in France by writing:
Pilot Officer Patrick Philip WOODS-SCAWEN (40452).
During May 1940, this officer destroyed
six enemy aircraft, and assisted in the
destruction of others. On one occasion,
although heavily outnumbered, he attacked
without hesitation a large formation of enemy
aircraft, shooting down two of them. His
own aircraft was hit by a cannon shell and
he was slightly wounded, but succeeded in
escaping by parachute and rejoined his unit.
He has displayed great courage, endurance,
The Woods-Scawen family together with Bunny were enormously proud of Patrick’s exploits in France.
On 23 May, Squadron Leader Peter Townsend, DFC, arrived at Debden to take command of No.85 Squadron with the task of bringing it back to operational efficiency. Townsend had previously served with No.43 Squadron, where Patrick’s younger brother Tony was now busy preparing for operations over Dunkirk. Of Tony, Townsend remarked that he was ‘as brave as a lion and as blind as a bat’. During the weeks to come Townsend’s assessment of Tony could not have been more accurate.
On 31 May, No.43 Squadron, also known as ‘The Fighting Cocks’ began to carry out patrols over the Channel, with orders to protect shipping vessels coming back from Dunkirk. On its second patrol that morning, the Squadron reached their patrol line as instructed and swept the sky between Calais and Dunkirk. On approach to the smoky beaches of Dunkirk, where British troops were desperately being evacuated, large numbers of Bf 109s were seen with Bf 110s breaking out of cloud away to the west. The nine airborne Hurricanes of No.43 dispersed in three sections and soon found themselves outnumbered by about six to one. Tony was flying in Blue Section with Squadron Leader George Lott leading. In a flash the Squadron was engulfed in a storm of Messerschmitts. For several long minutes Lott found himself evading 109 after 109 as they tried to latch on to his tail. Tony was also forced to evade the fighters but he did manage to fire a couple of steady bursts at one of the Messerschmitts, which knocked pieces off its port wing. Suddenly another 109 swept up beneath Tony’s Hurricane and shot up his radiator. Glycol poured into his cockpit and the windscreen became smeared with oil. There was nothing for it but to get out of the fight and get back home. Tony returned to Tangmere and despite his damaged aircraft and a tricky landing he escaped unharmed.
In early June he wrote to Bunny and asked ‘Are you engaged or married or anything equally horrible yet? I won’t be so enthusiastic about it if you go and do something silly like that.’ He also mentioned the Squadron’s recent patrols, writing in his boyish way: ‘We have been having prodigious Hun-fun, but little else’.
After the evacuation of British troops and shipping from Dunkirk, No.43 Squadron was then ordered to fly patrols over the Amiens-Abbeville line to cover the remaining depleted forces being withdrawn.
During an evening patrol on 7 June, Tony was flying number 2 in Blue Section, led by Squadron Leader Lott on course for Amiens-Abbeville, but when they approached the French coast the Squadron caught sight of Bf 109s and 110s, which they dived upon in line astern. Tony followed Lott down towards the enemy fighters but all of a sudden his Hurricane was hit from behind and his cockpit blazed with intense heat. With no time to spare, Tony pulled the cockpit hood back and evacuated his aircraft near Le Treport. After a safe descent, but now behind enemy lines, Tony gathered up his parachute and hid in a ditch. When all appeared clear Tony set off, eventually trekking some twenty miles across country without being detected by the Germans. After some time Tony fell in with a retreating motorised transport unit which took him to Rouen, but the bridge over the river had already been blown up. Tony found another way to cross the river by persuading a ferryman, whom he held at gun point, to get him across. A No.43 Squadron Intelligence Report records that Tony’s ‘recollection of the journey is hazy as he was continuously being bombed and spent a lot of his time sheltering in cellars. At Le Mans he fell in with No.73 Squadron and travelled by train to Caen and Cherbourg where he arrived 6 days after being shot down’.
Wearing a tin hat and an army major’s jacket, Tony turned up in the Mess at Tangmere, with his parachute gathered in unruly folds under his arm. John Simpson, a pilot in No.43, wrote about Tony’s return at the time in a letter to his good friend Hector Bolitho:
‘George (Squadron Leader Lott) and I were having a lunchtime drink in the hall when Tony walked in, wearing an army shirt and a tin hat. Under his arm was his same old parachute. On the 7th, when we lost him, he had baled out over the German lines. He landed all right and hid in a ditch. After it was dark, he crept out and he walked twenty miles, still hanging on to his parachute. He found a British patrol with whom he was eventually evacuated. But I wish you could have seen him walk into the mess, his face covered with smiles. He said to George, ‘I am sorry I am late, sir.’ All George did was to call Macey and say, ‘Bring us a drink.’ George asked Tony why he had lugged his parachute all the way home with him and Tony said, ‘Well, I know that this one works and I might have to use it again.’
The continuous patrols had proven costly for No.43 Squadron and a much needed rest was in order for the Fighting Cocks. Patrick, with No.85 Squadron, was on the verge of returning to operational patrols when the first phase of the Battle of Britain opened on 10 July 1940.
After the fall of France Hitler had desired peace with Britain, but failing to obtain it he then sought the neutralisation of the British so that he could be left undisturbed with his plans to conquer the east. But unlike with France and the Low Countries, Germany’s deadly Blitzkrieg tactics could not be enforced upon Britain with the Channel surrounding her shores. If Germany was to invade Britain then they had to secure air supremacy in order for their invasion barges to cross the Channel unmolested by the RAF.
The Luftwaffe’s initial attacks against Britain were against shipping convoys and ports, designed to disrupt British supplies and also to draw Fighter Commands Hurricanes and Spitfires up into the air where they could potentially be destroyed. No.85 Squadron was actively involved in flying daily convoy patrols, operating from Debden’s satellite landing grounds at Castle Camps and Martlesham Heath. The Squadron’s efforts during this time were acknowledged in a telegram sent from Air Vice-Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory to Squadron Leader Peter Townsend: ‘I am very pleased to see what an excellent month’s flying No.85 Squadron put in during July. I should like to congratulate you on the performance of your Squadron, both in attacking the enemy and in your training. I much admire the spirit and keenness shown by you and the other members of the Squadron.’
The flying experience Patrick had acquired before war broke out, together with the combat experience he gained in France, was invaluable for a Battle of Britain fighter pilot. Many Luftwaffe pilots now opposing the RAF had already gained vital experience in the late 1930’s, when the Luftwaffe’s Condor Legion fought in the Spanish Civil War. Even before the Battle of France had begun many Luftwaffe pilots were already experienced flyers and fighters and the combat tactics they employed were far more evolved than those currently used by the RAF. Such were the calibre of men now coming for Britain, in numbers which greatly unfavoured Dowding’s Fighter Command. But in spite of the odds, the RAF quickly adapted to modern aerial tactics in what would be the greatest air battle fought in any theatre of the Second World War. British aircraft production would be steady but as the days passed by during the summer and autumn of 1940, Britain would always be found in desperate need of pilots. Experienced young men like Patrick would prove essential in opposing the Luftwaffe in combat.
Patrick’s first claim of the Battle of Britain occurred on 29 July, during an afternoon convoy patrol off Felixstowe. As Blue 3 flying at 12,000 feet, Patrick sighted enemy aircraft travelling east at approximately 8,000 feet. He wagged his wings and informed Blue 1over the radio but there was some sort of R/T failure because Blue 1 did not receive his message. Patrick broke away from his section and chased a Dornier 17 out to sea. When in position Patrick performed a quarter attack out of the sun, then followed up with another long burst from his eight .303 machine guns. Initially the German bomber took no evasive action but suddenly it reduced in speed and skidded toward the sea with one wing lowered. Pieces fell away from its engine and centre section but Patrick was distracted from witnessing its fate due to four Bf 109s, in line astern, turning towards the sun. By now Patrick was over occupied enemy territory and with no ammunition left and hungry 109s about, he made a dash for home.
The weight of the Luftwaffe’s attacks increased in early August. On Thursday 8th the core of the day’s battle raged over a convoy codenamed Peewit. Consisting of twenty merchant ships with nine naval escort vessels, Peewit set out on the previous evening’s tide from the Medway and attempted to pass through the Dover Strait undetected at night. German radar on the Calais coast spotted the convoy which subsequently led to an attack by E-boats in the early morning hours. As the sun rose and the cloud base lifted the convoy became dangerously exposed to a heavy air assault, fronted by Junkers Ju 87 dive-bombers. The convoy suffered repeated attacks throughout the morning which continued late into the afternoon.
At 1540 hours twelve Hurricanes of No.43 Squadron were ordered off to protect the convoy which by then was positioned off the Isle of Wight. Flight Lieutenant Thomas Morgan was leading the Fighting Cocks into battle. Tony was leading Yellow Section in Hurricane P3214. As the Squadron approached St Catherine’s Point, hordes of enemy aircraft were spotted. By 1600 hours over 80 Ju 87s and 68 Bf 109s and Bf 110s were making their way to Weymouth Bay. The ingenuity of British radar along the coast had exposed the enemy’s approach so that two Hurricane squadrons were already in position to meet the attack. No.43 was one of them, in company with No.145 Squadron, led by John Peel. Some of the fighters were tasked with setting fire to the barrage balloons protecting the convoy so that the Ju 87 Stukas could dive-bomb the ships with their notorious accuracy. High above the 87s were Bf 109s and Bf 110s circling like eagles. Tony climbed towards the 109s but his section was immediately engaged by Bf 110s that dived on them from above and astern. Tony turned into three of them flying in line astern and led his section into a head-on counter attack. With the third and last 110 lined up in his gun sight, Tony thumbed the gun button on his control column, giving it a long burst. The closing speed between Tony’s Hurricane and the 110 was tremendous and in seconds they zoomed passed one another. Tony snatched a brief look behind and saw white smoke trailing from the twin-engine fighter. Tony then scanned his surroundings and spotted a formation of Stuka’s heading south on their way home. Tony engaged by diving through the formation which welcomed him with a hail of return fire. He managed to score strikes on one of the 87s which emitted clouds of smoke before breaking away to port. Tony then opened fire at a second Stuka, which also issued smoke as it dived away, narrowly avoiding a collision with another 87. Still diving through the formation, Tony lined up another Stuka in his sight and expended the remainder of his ammunition with a long burst. The Stuka poured black smoke as it dived towards the Channel. When Tony finally emerged from the Stuka swarm he was bounced by a fighter that had been waiting for him. Tony immediately took violent evasive action and in doing so caught a glimpse of his Stuka close to the sea pouring black smoke. Tony finally ducked into cloud and managed to lose his pursuer before returning to Tangmere.
During the scrap Tony’s Hurricane had sustained visible battle damage so when he landed back at base his ground crew approached with caution, fearing the worst for the pilot inside. Tony emerged, apparently in one piece, much to the relief of his onlookers. He was slightly wounded however by shell splinters in his legs. Out of the twenty merchant ships in convoy Peewit, only four reached Swanage unscathed, six were badly damaged and had to sail for other ports, seven were sunk in the Channel and the rest were damaged. The Luftwaffe claimed twenty RAF fighters destroyed but in fact the RAF lost thirteen aircraft destroyed and five were damaged in the heavy day’s fighting. The Luftwaffe fared worse from the convoy battle losing ten Stukas and twelve fighters destroyed with an additional four fighters and eight Stukas damaged. Two of Tony’s colleagues, Pilot Officers Cruttenden and Oelofse had been shot down and killed by enemy fighters. His mentor Frank Carey had also been wounded in the arm after fighting with 110s.
That night Tony secured a few hours leave and returned to Farnborough to take care of his injuries and of course to see Bunny. Once at home Bunny helped him pick out the splinters which his medical officer had diagnosed as ‘multipule foreign bodies in both legs.’ Tony pressed Bunny to marry him instead. She promised she would marry him in a fortnight, half serious, just like the time she had promised to marry Patrick when he was made a squadron leader. Tony took the commitment seriously and booked a friend’s cottage near Tangmere for their honeymoon. It was an impossible dilemma for Bunny who was clearly fond of both brothers, but with Tony being stationed closer to Farnborough than Patrick, she found it difficult to resist his charm.
At lunchtime on Monday 12 August Tony was back in the air leading Yellow Section in Hurricane R4108. During the patrol three Heinkel 111s were sighted flying at 15,000 feet off Portsmouth. Tony gave the order to attack and his section began to chase the bombers over the Channel. Tony selected his target and closed in. At 200 yards range his eight Brownings began to flash at the enemy machine. He fired three deflections bursts while closing to 50 yards range but his own aircraft was struck by return fire. With a damaged engine and oil tank, Tony had no choice but to break off the interception and return to Tangmere.
The next morning Tony was back in the air leading Yellow Section in Hurricane R4102. It was 13 August 1940, a significant day during the Battle of Britain because the Luftwaffe launched Adler Tag.
Adler Tag, or Eagle Day, was to be the start of intended mass attacks designed to knock out the RAF once and for all. At 0645 hours Tony and his colleagues ran into a large formation of KG 54 that was intending to bomb the RAE at Farnborough and Odiham. There were thirty Junkers Ju 88s in the lead of the formation, followed by another wave of 88s and He 111s. Bf 110s were also sighted flying above and behind the oncoming bombers. The Squadron approached the first wave of 88s head-on which caused the bombers to break formation. Tony attacked one bomber from astern with a long burst but he did not see any results and then broke away to engage the second formation. He then opened fire on another bomber which could have been a He 111 or a Ju 88. Tony was not sure which because of his poor eyesight. What he did see was black smoke streaming from the bomber’s port engine and its starboard engine stop dead. The enemy aircraft continued to fly south, losing height rapidly. Another Hurricane began to attack the same bomber, so Tony left him to it and peeled away and made his way back towards the main formation. Again Tony attacked what he thought was a He111 or maybe a Ju 88, he couldn’t be sure. Either way his attack caused jet black smoke to pour from its port engine before it licked with vivid red flames. The bomber dived steeply and disappeared into cloud. Tony then attacked three stragglers but their return fire struck his engine. Initially Tony was tempted to bale out but he decided that he could probably force-land the aircraft instead. After selecting his spot, he took his Hurricane down and landed on Northend Farm, Milland near Midhurst at 0727 hours. As Tony scrambled away from his Hurricane it burst into flames. It had been an exhausting morning for Tony but by midday he was airborne once again. Such was the pace of battle.
After an evening patrol on 15 August, Tony reported the following:
I was yellow 1 in the rear section of 43 Squadron – flying at 15,000 ft when the enemy a/c [aircraft] were sighted. I remained up above them in the sun when our squadron engaged them. Seeing that the enemy fighters weren’t going to play, I attached myself to 4 Heinkel 111[s] flying south at 17,000 ft where I was joined by yellow 2 who had just engaged a JU 88. We attacked simultaneously just after crossing the coast at West Wittering, employing small deflection tactics at close range... The majority of my attacks were directed at the port aircraft which shortly afterwards crashed into the sea with a trail of thick white smoke issuing from it. (Yellow 2 witnessed this) I then attacked the opposite flank a/c together with my No 2 and when I ran out of ammo the He 111 was obviously damaged, the port engine issuing intermittent dense black smoke and flying in a see-saw fashing – though this might have been evasive action. The 2 rear gunners had long since ceased fire... I called up yellow 2 telling him to return to base with me [as] we were uncomfortably far out to sea and I had no more ammo. We landed at base safely. On the whole the rear gun fire of the 111’s was inaccurate.
Tony’s last statement about inaccurate return fire seems ironic given the fact that the aircraft he was flying on this sortie, Hurricane R4107, code lettered ‘FT-B’ returned to Tangmere with two bullets in its main spar.
The following day the Squadron intercepted a raid destined for Tangmere during the afternoon. As usual Tony was leading Yellow Section when the Squadron engaged two large formations of Ju 87 Stukas near Selsey Bill in a head-on attack. A melee ensued and Tony soon found he had become separated from his section. He then saw several Stukas flying low at 500 feet. Tony dived towards the last machine in the formation and opened fire with deadly accuracy. The Stuka dived steeply into a slight turn and soon crashed into the sea about two miles south-east of Bembridge. Another 3 second burst from Tony’s guns put another Stuka into the sea near the Sussex coast, but he discovered that his radiator had also been hit. Tony made way for home but on his way back he was attacked by four Bf 109s that damaged his engine. Tony managed to dive away towards the Isle of Wight but he was forced to crash-land with his wheels up in a field near Parkhurst. The landing was difficult because he had to land in such a small space, but somehow he managed to grind to a halt but in doing so he was thrown forward on his straps and three of his front teeth were knocked out. Naturally dazed by the crash-landing, Tony was assisted to the ferry which crossed to Southampton. His Hurricane N2621 was a write-off.
That night Tony stayed in a hotel in Southampton where he drowned his sorrows with the locals. The following morning he telephoned the squadron adjutant and asked him to send someone to pick him up and pay his hotel bill. Tony was soon returned to Tangmere feeling the worse for wear, but as ever he was greeted by his friends who were thrilled to see him back with the Squadron once again.
Tony’s contribution to the RAF was deservedly recognised a few days later when he was awarded a DFC for his service. The citation to his DFC reads as follows:
Pilot Officer Charles Anthony WOODS-SCAWEN (40770).
This officer has taken part in all engagements
carried out by his squadron since the
commencement of hostilities. He has destroyed
a total of six enemy aircraft, and
severely damaged several others. In June,
1940, Pilot Officer Woods-Scawen was shot
down, landing some 25 miles within French
territory, but succeeded in making his way
back to his squadron. In spite of the fact
that this pilot has been shot down six times,
he has continued to fight with unabated
courage and enthusiasm, and has shown outstanding
qualities as a resourceful and
News of Tony’s award was another chest swelling moment for the Woods-Scawen family. Bunny was also proud of Tony, as she had been with Patrick at the announcement of his DFC.
Bunny made a special effort to travel to Tangmere to sew the purple and white medal ribbon onto Tony’s uniform. That night Tony turned on the charm and Bunny finally agreed to marry him in all seriousness. Two nights after this, Bunny went out with Patrick and when in the corner of a favourite night spot she began to cry. ‘What’s the matter, Bun-Bun?’ Patrick inquired. Bunny told him of her decision to marry Tony, delivering a devastating blow for Patrick. Ever the gentlemen, he soon settled her down. ‘That’s all right, Bunny,’ said Patrick. ‘It can’t be helped.’ Patrick’s love for both his brother and Bunny far outweighed his own disappointment. ‘You’ll starve on Tony’s money.’ said Patrick. ‘Now that I’m a flying officer, I’ll make you an allotment out of my pay.’ The warm gesture had Bunny crying again.
Tony told his groundcrew that the award was just as much theirs as it was his, for all of the hard work they had put in around the clock keeping his aircraft serviceable. He even apologised to Flight Sergeant Parker for the number of aircraft he had lost or brought back damaged and divulged his secret about his bad eyesight. ‘But for God’s sake, Flight,’ said Tony, ‘don’t breathe a word of this to anybody, or they’ll whip me off ops.’
On 18 August, the Luftwaffe intensified its attacks over Britain by heavily bombing RAF airfields on mass, including Biggin Hill, Croydon and Kenley, all of which were badly hit. Goring’s Luftwaffe was not only trying to rid British fighters in the air but also on the ground. The day’s violence would end with heavy losses to both sides. No.43 Squadron claimed four enemy aircraft shot down and others damaged after intercepting a Stuka attack on Tangmere. Tony’s mentor and friend Frank Carey was shot down by Messerschmitt 109s of JG 27 during this attack and he was forced to crash-land his Hurricane at Holme Street Farm, Pulborough. He was wounded in his right knee by a stray bullet and taken to hospital.
During the evening Patrick’s friend in No.85 Squadron, Dickie Lee, was also shot down and reported missing. He was last seen by Peter Townsend in pursuit of enemy aircraft thirty miles off the east coast, but Lee would never return from the pursuit and his Hurricane would never be found.
Patrick’s next official claim during the Battle of Britain occurred on 26 August. At 1449 hours, twelve Hurricanes of No.85 Squadron took off to patrol base before being vectored to the Maidstone area. Thirty minutes later the Squadron spotted a formation of Dorniers escorted by a daunting number of Bf 109s near Eastchurch. Squadron Leader Townsend brought his pilots round in a wide turn, moving into echelon as they levelled out about two miles away from the bombers. Townsend throttled back to reduce closing speed as he led the squadron towards the Dorniers head-on. Townsend lined his opponent up in his sight and held his position, ignoring the streams of tracer darting overhead. He held his gun button for as long as he could until fearing collision he pushed the control column forward and broke away below. The head-on attack forced the leading section of the Dorniers to break formation and a general melee followed. Not far behind Patrick was leading Green Section into the attack. He fired a short burst at one of the bombers and then broke away below to avoid a collision. He then climbed back into the action and delivered another frontal attack on the main formation but he was travelling too fast and he overshot. The excess speed would not be wasted. Patrick climbed again and engaged about 12 Bf 109s which were coming down in a shallow dive to protect the bombers. He fired a three second burst into the belly of a 109 and claimed that ‘it seemed to whip stall’. Patrick’s Hurricane also stalled in the climb, so he dived away, unable to confirm any definite results of his attack, but he thought that it was probably destroyed. Patrick then swept in from dead astern and opened fire at one of the Dorniers which was being attacked by his colleagues, sergeants Walker-Smith and Howes. Patrick saw black smoke pour from the starboard engine in one big puff before it stopped. The Dornier then dived through clouds where it was engaged by other Hurricanes of the Squadron. Patrick pulled back on the stick and climbed back up into the blue. He made a final attack on the large formation of Dorniers which had turned back across the Channel. Patrick expended the remainder of his ammunition and left the Dornier he had singled out streaming white smoke. Before heading back to base, Patrick followed the formation for a little while, called up the ground controller and passed on the formation’s location and course.
Two days later Patrick was found patrolling with the Squadron at 18,000 feet. Shortly after 1600 hours the Squadron received an order to intercept ‘Raid 15’. Towsend led his section towards Dungeness, with Hamilton’s section on his right, Allard’s on his left, and Patrick’s Green Section under his tail. Soon enough twenty enemy fighters were spotted near Dungeness. No.85 Squadron approached the enemy from the sun and engaged. An extract from Patrick’s combat report continues:
The EA [enemy aircraft] on sighting us all turned to the left I was able to give one EA a long burst from the quarter following to astern. The EA half rolled and I delivered another long burst from astern.
Black smoke and what appeared to be petrol from the wing tanks poured out of the 109 and it dived down vertically. Patrick dived after it for several thousand feet and broke off when it was apparently out of control. The 109 was believed to have crashed near Dungeness and this was confirmed by Maidstone Observe Corps who reported seeing a Messerschmitt 109 in the sea off Dymchurch at 1640 hours.
The Squadron claimed six Bf 109s destroyed and one Bf 110 damaged, with no losses in return. This action was also witnessed by none other than Winston Churchill himself, during his visit to the south-east coast defences.
No.85 continued to fly and fight during continuous and exhausting patrols against the relentless Luftwaffe.
On 30 August Patrick destroyed a Messerschmitt 110 after firing several bursts into the enemy machine. The 110’s e starboard engine was put out of action and its port engine burst into flames. Patrick watched the enemy dive steeply into cloud until it was lost to sight, but shortly afterwards columns of smoke was seen on the ground near Dover.
Minutes after Patrick had shot down this 110, Tony was airborne with No. 43 Squadron, leading Red Section into attack near Tangmere. He dived after a Bf 109 for several thousand feet using full boost and then opened fire at 250 yards range. The 109 emitted smoke, turned on to its back and dived vertically towards the sea. Tony was convinced that the pilot would not have been able to pull out of the dive, so he broke away in search of another target.
Minutes after Patrick had shot down this 110, Tony was airborne with No. 43 Squadron, leading Red Section into attack near Tangmere. He dived after a Bf 109 for several thousand feet using full boost and then opened fire at 250 yards range. The 109 emitted smoke, turned on to its back and dived vertically towards the sea. Tony was convinced that the pilot would not have been able to pull out of the dive, so he broke away in search of another target.
Saturday 31 August opened with fair weather and haze over the Thames Estuary and Dover Straits. All appeared calm until reports of enemy formations crossing the Channel began to fly in before 0800 hours. The day would flare into ferocious fighting.
During the afternoon the Luftwaffe raided Croydon, where No.85 Squadron was stationed. Bombs began to fall on the east side of the airfield just as twelve Hurricanes were taking off. Leading the Squadron, Peter Townsend, felt a surge of anger at the attackers, when he turned around to see his Squadron emerging from a vast eruption of smoke and debris. His own aircraft was also affected by the blast when his engine suddenly faltered, faded, and then picked up again. Townsend remembered: “Then I looked up; thousands of feet above, Me 110s were wheeling in the blue, with Me 109s swarming above. I thought the Me 110s had bombed. Yet some say a dozen Dorniers had attacked from lower down. If so, I never saw them. I was mad with rage at the Me 110s. ‘After them, but look out for the 109s,’ I called and the furious chase began.” Townsend, with all his might, climbed towards the 110s. He continued: “The squadron were somewhere behind; that was enough. I did not give them a further thought. Only ‘get those ill-mannered bastards’ who had disturbed our lunch, smashed our airfield, invaded our sky.”
Townsend eventually caught up with the enemy over Tunbridge Wells. He shot down two Bf 109s but while attacking a third from very close range his aircraft was shot up by a 110. Townsend felt a sudden shock as his left foot was knocked off the rudder-bar and he momentarily lost control of his Hurricane and went into a dive with petrol gushing into the cockpit. At first Townsend toyed with the notion of making a forced-landing but he was over a densely wooded area, so baled out at 1,400 feet and landed near Hawkhurst. Wounded, Townsend was taken to hospital to be treated. Later, the nose cap of a cannon shell was extracted from his left foot and his big toe was amputated.
Between 1340 and 1400 hours ten of the twelve Hurricanes that had taken off from Croydon returned to base. Pilot Officer Pyers Worrall had been shot down by cannon shells and baled out of his aircraft with a wounded thigh. He was admitted to Croydon hospital, where Townsend was also treated.
With Townsend out of action the task of temporally leading the Squadron fell to Patrick and Sammy Allard.
The Squadron flew four more sorties before the day’s end. Patrick led B Flight into battle and Allard fronted A Flight.
Just before 1745 hours the Squadron sighted enemy aircraft south of the Thames Estuary. Patrick estimated that there were about thirty bombers and one hundred fighters, a mixed bag of Messerschmitt 109s and 110s. The Squadron attacked the bombers from its most favourable position, out of the sun. Patrick led Blue Section into the dangerous ‘head-on attack’, firing a short burst and quickly breaking away to avoid colliding with his foe. Tearing away from the bombers Patrick fastened his sights onto a Bf 109 and thumbed his gun button. A five second burst from his Brownings sent the fighter spinning away out of control. Patrick moved on to another 109 and carried out a quarter attack. The enemy fighter half-rolled and attempted to climb, but Patrick waited for it and gave it a long burst from astern. The 109 turned then dived out of sight pouring black smoke. Patrick reported that ‘a Spitfire also gave me an inaccurate burst which was luckily too low.’ At such high speeds in a sky full of erratic aircraft flying in all directions, misidentification was practically common place.
One of Patrick’s comrades, a New Zealander, called William Hodgson, also fired a burst at the bombers head-on and then broke off to attack a Bf 109 with two bursts. The 109 rolled over and went down in flames. Hodgson did not have time to revel in his success. His Hurricane was struck by a cannon shell which blew up his oil lines and glycol tank and set fire to his engine. With fears of being mutilated by fire or burnt to death, Hodgson began to prepare to bale out but when he was half-way out the cockpit he realised that he was over a densely populated area, near the Thames Haven oil storage tanks. Fully appreciating the danger his Hurricane could cause to the local population down below, Hodgson got back into his aircraft and decided to attempt a force-landing. For some very threatening moments, Hodgson skilfully kept the flames under control by side-slipping his aircraft. Despite low wires and other obstacles in his path, Hodgson finally made a wheels-up landing in a field at Fanton Chase, Shotgate. Unbelievably, Pilot Officer Hodgson was unharmed and his Hurricane ‘VY-G’ was said to be repairable. The selfless spirit demonstrated by Hodgson* was later awarded by a DFC.
* On 13 March 1941, William Hodgson, Sammy Allard and Francis Walker-Smith were tragically killed in a flying accident when the top nose panel of a Havoc aircraft they were travelling in detached and jammed the rudder. The aircraft went into a spin and crashed into the ground, killing all three of No.85 Squadron’s aces.
It had been an exhausting day for Patrick and his peers but the action was not yet over. They had barely been back on the ground when they were once again scrambled off at 1917 hours to patrol Hawkinge.
An indication of the enemy’s position was given by anti-aircraft fire thumping into the sky over Dover. The Squadron then saw nine Bf 109s flying at 15,000 feet, so they circled out to sea and when the fighters passed by to port the Squadron attacked, apparently catching the 109s by surprise. Patrick carried out a beam attack which forced a 109 to dive steeply. He then pursued it and fired another burst from astern. The enemy aircraft went down on fire with a wing-tank burning. Pilot Officer ‘Zulu’ Lewis had watched Patrick’s attack from his own cockpit and later confirmed his ‘kill’ as destroyed. The Squadron landed back at Croydon between 2005 and 2022 hours.
On Sunday 1 September 1940, eleven Hurricanes of No.85 Squadron took off from Croydon to intercept a raid heading in the direction of Tunbridge Wells and Kenley. Just before 1400 hours a large number of enemy aircraft were spotted near Biggin Hill, flying at about 15,000 feet. At this point the Squadron was positioned about 5,000 feet below the enemy. The Squadron climbed as fast as it was able, but despite its best efforts, it was at a miserable disadvantage and the enemy fighters knew it and dived to engage.
Sammy Allard was able to avoid the fighters and went after a stray Dornier which he attacked as it made for Dungeness. He carried out three attacks before sending the bomber down belching smoke and oil from its engines. The rear-gunner baled out and the Dornier force-landed near a railway line at Lydd. Allard noticed that his oil pressure had dropped rapidly, so he landed at Lympne with a dead engine. Not long after, when his Hurricane was being repaired, the aerodrome was bombed and a mechanic working on Allard’s aircraft at the time was killed and another mechanic was seriously injured.
The enemy fighters caught up with Flying Officer Arthur Gowers over Oxted and shot up his aircraft with cannon shells. Gowers baled out with severe burns to his hands and slight wounds to a hand and foot but he landed safely and was soon admitted to Caterham hospital. Gowers’ Hurricane crashed near Merstham Tunnel.
Twenty year old Sergeant Glendon Booth was also shot down, a year to the day he was called up for service. Booth’s aircraft was badly hit in combat with Bf 109s over the Tunbridge Wells area. He baled out with burns and his parachute alight. Booth was further injured due to a heavy landing and was soon taken to Purley hospital to be treated. Sadly, Booth did not recover from his injuries and he later died on 7 February 1941.
Other pilots in the Squadron clawed back some retribution when Pilot Officer Charles English downed a Dornier, as did Sergeant Harold Howes, who also damaged a Bf 109 that he interrupted from shooting at a Hurricane, and Sergeant Walter Evans claimed a Bf 109 and Bf 110 destroyed.
Out of the eleven Hurricanes that had originally set out on this patrol, only six returned to Croydon between 1427 and 1500 hours. Pilot Officer Lewis returned with battle damage after combat with Bf 109s over Kenley and landed with his undercarriage retracted due to it being jammed.
It had been a gloomy day for the Squadron to say the least, and when darkness finally covered the aerodrome that night; two pilots were still unaccounted for. One was Sergeant Hugh Mortimer Ellis. The other was Flying Officer Patrick Woods-Scawen.
The next day Patrick’s aircraft, Hurricane P3150, was found partly buried in the recreation ground at Kenley. The cockpit was empty, so Patrick for the time being was still listed as missing.
The news soon reached the Woods-Scawen family and of course Bunny, but Tony was unaware that his older brother had failed to return.
On Monday 2 September, the day Patrick’s Hurricane was discovered; Tony was continuing the fight against the Luftwaffe with eleven other Hurricanes of No.43 Squadron, led by Caesar Hull.
Tony was leading Yellow Section towards a formation of bombers headed for Maidstone, when a dogfight broke out between 18,000 and 20,000 feet. During the skirmish, at least two enemy fighters were shot down by the Squadron, but in return, Hurricane V7420, was set alight in combat with Bf 109s over east Kent. This Hurricane belonged to Pilot Officer Tony Woods-Scawen, who attempted to crash-land at Fryland near Ivychurch at approximately 1330 hours. Two boys cycling near Ivychurch on Romney Marsh at the time had witnessed Tony’s plight. “‘I didn’t actually see Woods-Scawen’s Hurricane attacked,’ remembered one of them, Len Green, many years later,‘but when I looked he had just come out of the plane and they seemed to fall together for a few seconds. The plane seemed to be alight and the pilot’s parachute didn’t seem to open fully and was flapping at about 2,000 feet or less. It all happened so quickly – it was over in a few seconds.’”
Close to the scene, an Anglican parson saw Tony bale out, dangerously low and not anything like 2,000 feet estimated later by Green. Whatever the height, it was far too low for Tony to evacuate his aircraft. By the time the parson reached him, Tony was dead. His body was carried into the nearby church and on 5 September, those most dear to Tony attended his funeral at Folkestone. The sadness only worsened the next day when Patrick’s body was discovered in the unkempt, overgrown grounds of The Ivies, Kenley Lane. Like his younger brother, Patrick had baled out of his Hurricane, but his parachute had failed to open and he was killed on impact. Patrick’s body was buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s Parish Church, Caterham on the Hill.
In later years Peter Townsend referred to the eldest Woods-Scawen brother as ‘little Patrick, who smiled with his eyes’ and Tony, ‘as brave as a lion.’ For all those who had the pleasure of knowing the Woods-Scawen boys it seemed impossible that such charming, gentle, good humoured and brave young men such as they could really be gone. Both Patrick and Tony had been enormously popular in their respective squadrons; they were fabulous morale boosters and proficient fighter pilots and leaders in the air and on the ground. Both Patrick and Tony had also left a lasting impression that would never fade, on Bunny Lawrence’s heart.
In June 1941, the boys widowed father, Bunny Lawrence, and their first cousin, Gerald Woods-Scawen, went to Buckingham Palace to collect Patrick and Tony’s DFC medals from the King. Their Auntie Nellie was still too devastated by their deaths to go.
Gerald Woods-Scawen was a nineteen year old sergeant serving with No.92 Squadron. Tragically for the Woods-Scawen family, he too was killed in action, when on 3 October 1941, his Spitfire was shot down.
Bunny later married when she was twenty-three years of age and had six children. She would never forget her cherished boys, Patrick and Tony Woods-Scawen, the two brothers, with one dream.
|Patrick with 85 Squadron|
|Tony with 46 Squadron|
For more photos click HERE
Copyright Christopher Yeoman 2011
 Barker, Ralph, That Eternal Summer, Collins, 1990, page 111
 Barker, Ralph, That Eternal Summer, Collins, 1990, page 115
 Barker, Ralph, That Eternal Summer, Collins, 1990, page 118
 Bolitho, Hector, Finest of The Few, Amberley, 2010, page 90
 Barker, Ralph, That Eternal Summer, Collins, 1990, page 126-127
 Beedle, J, 43 Squadron, Beaumont Aviation Literature, 1966, page 174
 Townsend, Peter, Duel of Eagles, Cassell Publishers Limited, 1970, pages 372-373
 Barker, Ralph, That Eternal Summer, Collins, 1990, page 134-135