Experiences of a Spitfire ace recounted on RAF Museum blog for Battle of Britain anniversary

By William Axtell | 14 July 2015

The experiences of Battle of Britain Pilot Officer John Bisdee are being recounted via a blog from the RAF Museum

A sketch of a fighter pilot
A Portrait of John Bisdee© Trustees of the Royal Air Force Museum
The dogfights and experiences of a young Battle of Britain Spitfire ace are being uploaded onto the RAF Museum blog for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

Running from July 10 to October 31, the official dates for the allocation of Battle of Britain honours to squadrons and medal clasps to airmen, the blog is posting the diary entries of Pilot Officer John Bisdee, according to the day they happened 75 years ago.

“The blog gives an opportunity to see the Battle of Britain unfold through the eyes of a young man who went on to become one of the RAF's more successful fighter pilots," says Peter Elliott, the Head of Archives at the museum.

"It provides us with an added insight into what it was really like to be one of ‘The Few’,”

First-hand, contemporary accounts of the battle are rare. Even Bisdee’s account has days missing, which the Museum is filling with extracts from the Air Staff Operational Summaries.

An old diary
The First Page of John Bisdee's Diary© Trustees of the Royal Air Force Museum
Bisdee was born in Weston-Super-Mare in 1915 and joined the Royal Air Force Reserve in 1937. He was called up for service in September 1939 and was posted to 609 (West Riding) Squadron in time to see action over Dunkirk.

At the start of the Battle of Britain, 609 Squadron moved to Middle Wallop, in Hampshire, and saw action defending ports along the south coast and the Vickers aircraft factories at Brooklands and Southampton.

“We tend to think of the battle as taking place over the South-East but Bisdee's squadron, based in Hampshire, saw action over an area stretching from the outskirts of London to Bristol,” says Elliot.

He fought with distinction in the Battle of Britain and, by the time he left 609 Squadron in July 1941, he had downed at least six aircraft and won the Distinguished Flying Cross.

By the end of the war he had risen to the rank of Group Captain and been awarded an OBE. When the war ended he resumed his pre-war career at Unilever and died in October 2000.

a film still showing a group of planes banking in formation
A still from camera-gun film taken from the Supermarine Spitfire Mark I of Pilot Officer J D Bisdee as he dives on a formation of Heinkel He 111s of KG 55 which have just bombed the Supermarine aircraft works at Woolston, Southampton. The rearmost aircraft of the leading 'staffel' receives a burst of machine gun fire from Bisdee, as shown by the streaks of light from the tracer bullets. Its port engine is also on fire.© IWM (CH 1827)



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More museums to see World War I history in:

, Manchester
Exhibition The Innovation Race: Manchester's Makers Join the First World War harks back to the establishment of the Ministry of Munitions, when David Lloyd George appealed to the city’s great scientific and engineering minds to help the war effort. Until April 1 2016.

, Sheffield
A new display of war memorials from the Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust, exhibited as part of the First World War centenary commemorations. Until December 31 2015.

, London
Forgotten Fighters: the First World War at Sea, a new gallery at the museum, foregrounds the personal stories of those who participated in the war through a wide range of objects including weaponry, photographs, medals and ship models.
Latest comment: >Make a comment
I worked under John Bisdee from 1969 to 1977 when he retired. John was Chairman of Gibbs, a company within Unilever. He was a wonderful Chairman and the company grew at a tremendous rate under him. He was great leader and not only cared for the company but also the people under him. It was a sad day when he retired.
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