Photo: Imperial War Museum

cane only carried the ammunition for 14 seconds

of fire. He said they were ordered to avoid combat with German fighters and focus their attention on the bombers. While entering the cockpit

he always carefully made sure that the sliding

canopy worked smoothly. In case he needed to

bail out the stuck canopy would cause him to

be burn alive in the cockpit. His prudence paid

off-during the Battle of Britain as he had to leave the cockpit twice against his will. First time

it happened on August 18, 1940. While chasing

Junkers Ju 88, the German gunners‘ defensive

fire hit him. It was over the mouth of Thames

and John ended up in the sea. He was plucked

out by a rescue boat after two hours. However,

his friend Dickie Lee perished in the same fight.

Last time he was seen he was pursuing German

bombers 39 miles east off the English coast. He

has never returned. He was 23 years old, and his

score stood at nine kills.

85 Squadron ground personnel playing ball at Lille/Seclin airbase in France in November 1939. Hurricane in the

background is the older version with fabric covered wings and two-bladed propeller.

With their new units they both took part in the fighting over Dunquerke. On May 27 Lee was shot

down there and spent an hour in the sea until he

was fished out. The friends were reunited at No.

85 Squadron again. Hemingway re-joined the

unit on June 15, 1940. After the Battle of Britain

commenced, he had four months of almost daily combat flying ahead of him. After that many

years that time became one blurred mass, but

some intense experiences still remain clear in

Paddy’s memory.

This was thanks to an extreme stress, grief from

the loss of the friends but also a drill necessary

for one‘s survival. He always flew wearing only

a shirt with rolled up sleeves to have his hands

free in the cockpit as much as possible. During

the high-g maneuvers during the dogfights he

sometimes became unconscious. And up until

today he remembers that he had to shoot very

short bursts and aim accurately because Hurri-

Photo: Imperial War Museum

on November 21, 1939 (very first victory of the

No. 85 Squadron in the WWII), he became an ace.

However, Lee too was hit by the AA fire on May

11, 1940, when he was pursuing another bomber

at the very low altitude. He was held captive for

a while but managed to escape, sourced the civilian clothing, and sneaked behind the Allied


After eleven days of the intense combat, No. 85

Squadron claimed 89 kills of the Geman aircraft.

At the same time the unit suffered high losses.

Two pilots were killed, nine were missing in action and six were wounded. Only three Hurricanes remained airworthy. Decision was made

then to retreat back to Debden. That decision

actually affected all other AC fighter units which

between May 20 and May 22 returned from

France to Britain. After Hemingway’s return, he

was transferred to 253 Squadron for a short

time while Lee ended up with No. 56 Squadron.

Empty seats

Memories of his dead friend deeply touched Hemingway until today. However, he remembers

other empty chairs at the mess hall table. “The

fate was not democratic. New pilots who logged

only couple of hours in Hurricane lacked the instincts of the old hands a were very vulnerable

in combat. Therefore, many of them did not last”,

remembers Hemingway after many years. Barely two weeks from first bail out passed, and Paddy had to do it again. It happened on August 26

in the afternoon when Luftwaffe dispatched two

groups of fighters on a free hunt to clear the path

for three groups of bombers headed towards

RAF airports. RAF launched ten squadrons of

fighters including No. 310 Czechoslovak Squadron for which it was the very first encounter with

the enemy. Let’s go back to No. 85 Squadron. The

unit took off at 14.50 and was patrolling at the

altitude of 15,000 feet. Pilots were vectored to

Maidstone area, where they made contact with a

group of bombers. In the combat report the unit

stated there were 15 Dorniers Do 215, actually

they were Do 17 from KG 2. Some 5,000 to 10,000

feet higher they were covered by 30 Messerschmitts Bf 109. Hurricanes of No. 85 Squadron

attacked the bombers head on and managed to

separate three of them out of the formation. Bri-

Hurricane P2923 VY-R in July 1940, landing at Castle Camps, a satellite airport for Debden base.

INFO Eduard - October 2021