FLIGHT SERGEANT JOHN C BEVAN joined 611 Squadron at Biggin Hill, Kent, in June 1943 flying operationally until his untimely death on 9 November 1943, when he was flying Spitfire Vc EE732 FY:X and was shot down by flak near Bethune.
His cousin, Dennis Wellings has traced Flt Sgt Bevan's history and it is attached with two photos taken from contemporary newspapers.
"Bad weather and enemy action often made flying training in UK extremely difficult. In winter we would be often grounded for weeks. Consequently a training scheme named Empire Air Training was formed whereby many aircrew would be trained in USA, Canada, South Africa etc. One such was our dear cousin Bev, who trained in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.
Having completed his elementary training, he boarded the British Orient Line liner SS Oronsay (20,000 tons) at Durban. All the large peace time liners had been converted to troopships at the outbreak of WW2. Some of the time they sailed in escorted convoy, but often were considered fast enough to sail alone. Due to enemy action ships could not use the Mediterranean and Suez canal, which meant a long tedious journey round the Cape of Good Hope.
SS Oronsay sailed from Port Said, Egypt for Liverpool end September 1942. Having called at Durban, she rounded the Cape and proceeded north. 100 miles off the coast of West Africa, on Oct.8.1942, was intercepted and sunk by the Italian U boat Archimede (Capt Saccardo). The survivors took to the lifeboats, Bev joining 52 others in a large lifeboat. For 12 days they drifted in the blistering sun with hardly food or water, until rescued by a British destroyer and landed at Freetown on Oct.20.1942.
The Archimede was later sunk off Brazil by US Catalinas in April 1943. Of the 19 survivors, all died except coxwain Lococo washed ashore in a dinghy. Bev then sailed from Freetown to Liverpool to enjoy one week's survivors leave.
In Nov 1942 Bev to No 7 PAFU Peterborough for Advanced Training,
Feb 1943 To Aston Down No.52 Spitfire OTU.
June 1943 To 611 Sdn. Biggin Hill.
July 1943 To 611 Sqdn, Matlaske, Norfolk.
Aug 1943 To Ludham, Norfolk,
Aug 1943 To Coltishall, Norfolk.
After completing many hazardous missions, he was shot down and killed near St. Omer, France on Nov.9.1943. Buried St. Omer cemetery Plot 4. Row A. Grave 17.
He became just one more statistic of the horrific losses of thousands of aircrew. Often during heavy raids on Germany, 250 aircrew would be killed in one night. To put it in perspective of the 12 aircrew from our small village who flew during WWII, only a Typhoon pilot and myself returned."