Battle of Britain London Monument – S/Ldr. G L Denholm

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Privacy Statement The Airmen’s Stories – S/Ldr. G L Denholm

 

George Lovell Denholm was born on 20th December 1908 at Bo’ness, West Lothian, the son of an importer of props for coal mines. After Fettes and St John’s College, Cambridge, where he read Economics, he served briefly in the Territorial Army before switching in 1933 to 603 (City of Glasgow) Squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force.

603 was then equipped with DH9A biplanes. By the time he took command of 603 in June 1940 it was equipped with Spitfires and stationed at Drem in Scotland. At 32, Denholm was considered to be rather old by his youthful pilots and they christened him ‘Uncle George’. However it was Denholm who had shared in bringing down a He111 on 16th October 1939, the first German aircraft to be brought down on UK soil in WW2.

 

Above portrait by Thomas Cantrell Dugdale RA (courtesy IWM)

On 12th March 1940 he damaged a Do17 off Aberdeen. On 26th June he claimed a probable He111, on 3rd July a shared Ju88 plus a Me109 destroyed and another probable on 28th August. In combat with Me110’s over Deal on 30th August Denholm was shot down and bailed out, his Spitfire L1067 crashing at Hope Farm, Snargate.

On 1st September Denholm claimed a Me109 damaged, on the 15th a Me109 and two Do17’s damaged, the last engagement resulting in him being shot down, his Spitfire R7019 crashed at Warren Farm, Fairlight while he came down at Guestling Lodge.

On 18th September he claimed a Me109 damaged, on the 27th a shared Me109 destroyed, a probable Me109 and a shared probable Me109, on 20th October a Me109 damaged, on 11th November a Me109 destroyed and on 29th November a Me110 destroyed.

Denholm was awarded the DFC (gazetted 22nd October 1940). He relinquished command of 603 in April 1941 and was posted as Fighter Controller to the Operations Room at Turnhouse. He was on duty the night that Rudolf Hess landed in Scotland. On 15th December 1941 he took command of 1460 Flight, then forming at Acklington with Turbinlite-Havocs. He moved from there in March 1942 to take over 605 Squadron at Ford.

One of Denholm’s pilots in 603 had been Richard Hillary, whose memoir ‘The Last Enemy’ (1942) reflected the esteem in which ‘Uncle George’ was held. On 18th January 1943, Hillary was killed with his navigator when their Blenheim spun into the ground at night. He was cremated at Golders Green and Denholm scattered his ashes from a Havoc over the English Channel.

On 11th March 1943 he shot down an unidentified enemy aircraft over Gilze-Rijen in Holland on a night intruder sortie. He was awarded a Mention in Despatches in 1945 and released from the RAF in 1947 as a Group Captain. Afterwards he resumed the family business.

He married Betty Tooms in 1939. They had two sons and two daughters. He died on 15th June 1997.

 

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This email was received in 2006:

This weekend past (2/3rd September 2006) I visited my birthplace London with my wife Linda to take in a West End show, to see my sporting heroes in the ‘Tour of Britain’ cycle race and to visit the Battle of Britain London Monument for the first time. Whilst admiring the work and looking for names of pilots that I had met over the years I noticed a couple walking past and then hesitating. Some sixth sense (or in my case second sense !) told me that they had some connection to the monument. Coincidentally, whilst pointing out the name of David Denchfield (who used to live near us in Cambridgeshire) to Linda, the lady of the couple asked me a question about the monument. She then backed off and I could see she was getting very emotional and then she said that the next name, George Denholm, was her Father ! Well, we were “gobsmacked”. Her name was Hilary White from Melbourne, Australia, visiting the UK with her husband Ken. Mrs White had heard briefly about the memorial and was convinced that her Mother had visited it but freely admitted that she would have walked past it without my prompting. I am now happy to submit a photo of Mr and Mrs White (with their permission of course) for possible publication. A somewhat bizzare but terrific coincidental meeting.

Regards, Dave Stanbridge

 

 

 

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‘Winged Words’

It has been possible to attribute the following to S/Ldr. Denholm, it has been taken from a book ‘Winged Words’ published by Heinemann in 1941 and composed of transcripts of BBC radio broadcasts made by RAF airmen between December 1939 and February 1941. The airmen were not identified by name but their rank and background was given and with hindsight it is quite easy to make an identification.

The broadcasts seem by today’s standards quite ‘gung-ho’ but this is in keeping with the spirit of the time.

December, 1940
A SQUADRON LEADER DESCRIBES HIS SQUADRON’S BATTLE WITH THE ITALIANS

The commanding officer of 603 (City of Edinburgh) Auxiliary Fighter Squadron, who gives the following account of his most successful day, has fought with the squadron right from the beginning of the war. When the first raiders appeared over British soil in 1939, his squadron was the first to go into action and he himself was one of the first to open fire on enemy aircraft over this country. He was a Pilot officer then. Now he has been in command for several months – months during which the squadron has added over 100 victims to their previous score.

In this particular battle I was largely in the position of a spectator, so I can tell you all about it. I was leading the squadron when my engine began to misfire and splutter. So I called up one of my flight-commanders and told him to lead while I broke away and tried to clear my engine. By diving and roaring the engine, I managed to make it run smoothly again and then took up position at the rear of the squadron. We had taken off at about eleven-forty that morning. It was a sunny day with a slight ground haze which developed into mist from 18,000 feet up to about 26,000 feet. We were on a routine patrol with another squadron and after patrolling for forty or fifty minutes we were ordered to go here and there to investigate various raids which were reported over land and near the coast.

While we were climbing through some cloud we lost touch with the other squadron. We carried on alone and were on a southerly course approaching Dover, when we were warned to look out for a formation of Italian aircraft. Every man was immediately on the alert. By this time I was at the back of the squadron and I heard the formation leader suddenly report aircraft dead ahead of us. At
the same time someone else reported unidentified aircraft to the east, but the leader wisely held our course to fly towards the aircraft he had already seen. After a couple of minutes we saw the enemy aircraft flying south-west down the Channel. They were still some distance away and were 1,000 feet below us. They were Italian fighters – CR42’s – and were well over the sea flying at about 20,000 feet.

When I first had a good look at them they gave me the impression of a party out on a quiet little jaunt. There were about twenty of them, flying along quite happily in good formation. When the leader gave the order to attack and told us to sweep round and down on their tails, we were in a very advantageous position. Our machines must be about 100 mph faster than the Italian fighters and it was dead easy to overtake them and blaze away. They were flying in a sort of wide fan-like formation and when we went to attack each of our pilots selected his particular target. You can imagine how effective the first few dives were when I tell you that one of our pilots at one time saw six Italian fighters either on fire or spinning down towards the sea. The Italians looked quite toy-like in their brightly-coloured camouflage and I remember thinking that it seemed almost a shame to shoot down such pretty machines. I must have been wrong, for the pilot who saw six going down at the same time said afterwards that it was a glorious sight. But I must say this about the Eyeties: they showed fight in a way the Germans have never done with our squadron. It is true, though that they seemed amateurish in their reactions. By that I mean they were slow to realise that we were anywhere near them until it was too late. Another thing, they kept their formation very well, but it didn’t save them.
After a short while the Italians were dodging this way and that to escape our aircraft as best they could. One of them broke formation and turned towards France. I chased him and fired at him several times. I believe I hit him, too, and would have finished him off if my engine hadn’t begun to splutter again when I was half-way across the Channel. So I left him to limp home while I turned towards the English coast to find the rest of the battle. It had vanished by this time, so I came home. The whole fight lasted only ten or fifteen minutes.

END

 

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