Cheshire's Battle of Britain Spitfire Squadron
by E. Raymond Ellis

The following is an account by Raymond Ellis who joined 610 Squadron in 1936 at Hooton Park and qualified as a Fitter (airframe). With the Squadron he joined Fighter command at RAF Wittering as part of the Servicing Flight and later in the war saw service in Scotland and Cornwall. As an
Engineer Officer of 485 (RNZAF) Squadron he thenled a convoy carrying squadron equipment to Ostend then to Holland and on into Germany.

It is an appropriate moment to recall Hooton Park's role as on Sunday November 13th the Duke of Westminster will unveil a memorial stone dedicated to 610 Squadron. The Bishop of Chester will conduct a memorial service and the ceremony will include (weather permitting) the flypast of a Spitfire from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

On December 16 members will give a presentation on 610 Squadron at War with special emphasis on the Battle of Britain. This will take place at the Grosvenor Museum, Chester commencing at 19.00hrs and will be followed by a light buffet and a chance to meet members of the Squadron, including Squadron Leader 'Bam' Bamberger DFC and bar AE. Bam was a Battle of Britain pilot and led the Squadron when it reformed at Hooton Park after the war.

610 (County of Chester) Squadron was formed at Hooton Park in February 1936. It was one of the twenty squadrons of the Auxiliary Air Force, which bore the same relationship to the regular Royal Air Force, as did the Territorial Army to the regular Army. Likewise, it recruited members from civilians living in its own region.

Initially, 610 Squadron was a day-bomber squadron equipped with Hawker Harts, and, in 1938, with Hawker Hinds. In addition, there was a Training Flight for the instruction of Auxiliary pilots in dual control aircraft - a Hind Trainer, two Avro Tutors and a Tiger Moth. At that time, all the Squadron’s aircraft were fabric-covered biplanes.

At first, the Squadron was manned entirely by regular RAF officers, NCOs and airmen. As the Auxiliaries were trained and became qualified in all flying and ground duties, they gradually replaced most of the regulars with the exception of the senior NCOs and instructors.

In those pre-war years, one approached Hooton Park from the A41 down a country lane, and entered the camp between a pair of sturdy gate pillars that suggested a dignified past. Through and to the left of the entrance were a few shabby buildings that emitted the sounds and smells of a variety of enterprises. The strongest smell came from one that claimed to produce cooked meats!

Beyond these survivors of the Park’s pioneering industrial estate, one came to the single story buildings of the RAF. Most of these were survivors of the ‘14-18 War and included several barracks, the equipment stores, workshops and classrooms for the training of all trades, the cookhouse and the various Messes.

Adjacent to the latter was the NAAFI, where the airmen supplemented their official rations and sought relaxation during off-duty hours.

Standing aloof to one side, the Administration contained the Orderly Room, and offices, including those for the Adjutant and the CO. The Adjutant, an RAF officer, was also one of the flying instructors.

He compiled Station Standing Orders that were typed out by the Orderly Room Clerk and signed by the CO, S/Ldr Parker, an Auxiliary.

These orders became the LAW that was enforced by ‘Fergie’ - the Flight Sergeant ‘Discip’, a stocky Scot with buttons as bright as the sun and the eyes of an eagle. Airmen avoided this area except when summoned or when collecting a pass — the treasured Form 295.

Close to the ‘Admin’ was the flagstaff wearing the Squadron Leader’s pennant at the peak, and the RAF light blue ensign from the gaff. From this commanding position the observer looked across a wide expanse of tar macadam, appropriately known as the ‘Tarmac’, that served as a parade ground on occasions. Beyond this, was a large grass field sloping down to a belt of trees about half a mile away.

Above the trees could be seen the wide estuary of the Mersey. On the far side was Liverpool Airport at Speke where there was another Auxiliary unit - 611 (West Lancashire) Squadron.

Supposing one had had the time to stand and stare from that vantage point and avoid the ever vigilant senior NCOs, then, beyond the trees, one might have seen the masts and funnel of a freighter on passage from Manchester to the ports of the world. Facing each other across the wide Tarmac were the giant sliding doors of two double-bay Belfast hangars The hangar on the left was occupied by 610 Squadron, whilst that on the right was used by the Aero Club.

At the weekend, the doors of these hangars would be opened, spilling out the Squadron’s shining and dignified bombers on the one side, and the cheerful but fragile looking Moths and other light aircraft of the Aero Club on the other side. At the edge of the field, beyond the Tarmac, was the bright yellow windsock, and nearby would be parked a blue grey petrol bowser.

On the far side of the Aero Club’s hangar was a third hangar that, I was told, had been used for building light aircraft. Farther still there was the grandstand of the pre-1914 racecourse. Somewhere in that area was the RAF rifle range.

As a young man, the sight, sound and smell of an aircraft starting-up fascinated me. I watched them taxiing out to the south-eastern edge of the field, taking-off into the wind, climbing, circling and disappearing off into the blue. In the deep rear cockpit of the Hart or Hind would be an LAC air gunner sitting on a tip-up seat facing the tail. His harness would be attached to the aircraft by a slack cable - the ‘monkey chain’; this allowed him to stand up to operate his Lewis gun. Occasionally, we humbler members of the ground crew would be invited by a pilot to experience the joy of flight.

Without doubt, pilots were all splendid fellows. Happy by nature and easy of manner, they were never pretentious nor ‘care-free’. At that time, they were all officers, but they had an easy rapport with their ground crews, upon whom they relied to provide them with aeroplanes that were fit to fly. Once in the cockpit, the pilot became an integral part that brought life to the machine.

The technical NCOs in the hangar, classrooms and workshops, were all professionals who seemed to enjoy passing on their knowledge and skills to the Auxiliaries. In order to master a trade, Auxiliaries needed to attend for two or more hours on Monday and Thursday evenings, and all the weekend, staying in camp over Saturday night. They were required also to attend Annual Camp for a fortnight each summer. For this the whole squadron moved by air, rail and road to another RAF Station. 610 went to Hawkinge, near Folkestone in 1937, and to Abbotsinch near Paisley in 1938 and in 1939.

The Munich Agreement of October 1938 gave Britain time to rearm to face the Nazi threat. One result was to reclassify 610 Squadron as a fighter squadron. A few Fairey Battles were acquired to accustom pilots and ground staff to the new features of this new generation of aircraft - the monoplane with metal skin construction, retractable undercarriages, variable pitch propellers etc.

Eleven days after returning from Abbotsinch, the Squadron was mobilised on the 24th August 1939. Ignorant of this order, the writer turned up as usual on that Thursday evening to be greeted by Fergie with, “Where’s your kit, lad? Go and get it quick. You’re embodied now.”

With the implied threat of ‘disembodiment’ ringing in my ears, I leapt onto my James motorcycle and pop-popped back home to Whitegate. My brother-in-law duly returned me to Camp in his more dignified vehicle - an SS Jaguar! Being Royal Naval Reserve, he was ‘called-up’ the next day, and it was many years before I saw him again. On the morning of the 3rd September, the whole Squadron paraded in the Belfast hangar. By this time all our aircraft had been painted in camouflage colours and had been dispersed around the airfield, together with our nine Hawker Hurricane fighters that had recently arrived.

Standing at ease, I noticed for the first time the words ‘BULL PUP SPARES’ printed on the wall of the hangar. Then, on the stroke of eleven, the voice of the Prime Minister could be heard coming from a radio in one of the offices. Hitler had ignored our ultimatum to stop invading Poland so that Britain and France were now at war with Germany. The officer in charge of the parade repeated the news. We were then dismissed to think about it.
Shortly after this, or perhaps a day or two later, three of us were doing our turn manning a Lewis gun post surrounded by sandbags a short distance north of our hangar. Suddenly we were alerted by distant bangs, and looking towards Liverpool we saw a flight of aircraft about five miles away and approaching.

They were surrounded by puffs of white smoke. Obviously, the Ack-Ack battery at The Dingle was firing on them. As they got nearer we relaxed; they were Handley Page Hampdens. Some of them landed at Speke and the others at Hooton Park.

Later I saw jagged holes in the fuselage of one of them, and I heard that some of the crew had been wounded. This was our first experience of so-called ‘friendly fire’. We could not find any report of the incident in the newspapers.

Before the month was out, the Squadron was re-equipped with Supermarine Spitfire fighters. Our air-gunners were sent away but rejoined us during 1940 as Sergeant Pilots.

On the 9/10th October 1939, Six-Ten took its appointed place in 12 Group of Fighter Command at RAF Wittering. In May 1940 we moved south to the Biggin Hill Sector in 11 Group. From then until the end of August 1940, the Squadron was almost continually in action - at first over the Dunkirk beaches, and then in the defence of shipping, the ports, the airfields and London itself. The last two months were the first half of what came to be known as the Battle of Britain.

Fighter Command had a total of 58 squadrons, of which 14 were Auxiliary squadrons. 11 Group covered the defence of SE England south of the Thames with 22 squadrons, of which 6 were Auxiliary squadrons at any one time. During those four months in 11 Group, eighteen of 610 Squadron’s pilots lost their lives (including eight Auxiliaries) and several had been wounded. Four ground personnel had been killed and others wounded in the bombing of Biggin Hill. Four pilots were awarded the DFC, and two the DFM.

To some, these may be interesting statistics — to us they were real men whom we shall never forget. After a year of war, promotions and casualties meant that soon there would be few of the original members remaining in the Squadron. However the traditions and skills would be handed on. In the four and a half years that followed, the Squadron would continue to serve with distinction in defensive and offensive roles.

The historian may be tempted to devote hours to delving into the records of friend and foe in an attempt to find out how many enemy aircraft were destroyed. The answer is “sufficient”. What really matters is that 610 (County of Chester) Squadron did its fair share in defending the United Kingdom against the airborne armadas of the enemy. Thereby it helped to prevent an invasion by an evil and ruthless political system that could have brought misery to our country for decades to come had it succeeded. But it was a ‘close run’ affair!

A share of the credit must go to the Squadron’s birthplace - Hooton Park. The latter’s contribution to the history of our nation, together with its other commendable features, make it worthy of preservation. As I was also born in 1917, the hangars have my sympathy and support!