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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. J H Spires

 

John Henry Spires was born on 27th September 1920 in Luton, Bedfordshire. The 1911 census shows his father as a traveller in the straw hat trade. Spires joined the RAFVR about May 1939 as an Airman u/t Observer.

Called up on 1st September 1939, he went in October 1939 to No. 6 Air Observers Navigation School at Cheltenham, going on to complete his training at 4 B&GS West Freugh on No. 4 Air Observers Course. This ran from 1st January to 9th March 1940 and he was posted to 235 Squadron, operating Blenheims at North Coates, the same day.

On 18th May 1940 he was flying with P/O EH McHardy (of 248 Squadron) as pilot and LAC Heavisides as gunner when they shot down a Me110 three miles off Blankenberge, Belgium though it was subsequently claimed that this may have been a French Potez 631.

He served with 235 Squadron in the Battle of Britain and is last mentioned in the squadron ORB on 20th October 1940.

In October 1940 Spires was posted to 431 Flight at Luqa in Malta. Formed in the previous August, 431 Flight was equipped with the US Glenn Martin Maryland, operating in the general reconnaissance role. The unit provided the reconnaissance photos used to plan the Royal Navy attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto on 10th November 1940.

Two more Marylands arrived in January 1941 and the Flight was reformed as 69 Squadron. Spires often flew with F/Lt. Adrian Warburton, later DSO and Bar, DFC and two Bars, DFC (USA), and they often engaged enemy aircraft in the Maryland. Spires was awarded the DFM (gazetted 17th June 1941).

His tour ended in January 1942 and he was returned to the UK as an instructor, firstly at No.1 Elementary Air Navigation School at Eastbourne then the Central Navigation School at Cranage. Spires was commissioned in May 1942.

In mid-1943 Spires returned to operations, after converting to the Mosquito he was posted to the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit at RAF Benson in October 1943.

From here he operated in Mosquitos over France and Germany, notably over marshalling yards. He was awarded the DFC (gazetted 7th November 1944) as a Flight Lieutenant.

Spires remained at Benson after his tour ended in August 1945.

On 20th October 1945 he was navigator to W/Cdr. JRH Merrifield DSO DFC* in Mosquito PR34 RG241 'K' of 540 Squadron which took off from St. Mawgan, Cornwall and landed at Gander, Newfoundland 7 hours and 2 minutes later, an east-west record.

The return flight, on 23rd October, was accomplished in 5 hours 10 minutes, a record which still stands for a twin piston-engined aircraft crossing the Atlantic.

Spires was released from the RAF in 1946 and commissioned in the RAFVR. He was released from the RAFVR in 1947.

Spires lived in Luton for much of his life and died there on 5th January 1984 aged 63. His wartime papers are held by the Imperial War Museum.

 

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