A fine Battle of France and Battle of Britain Fighter Ace’s 1940 D.F.C. and 1945 Second Award Bar, ‘Test Pilot’s’ A.F.C. group of eight awarded to Hurricane and Spitfire pilot, Wing Commander P. L. Parrott, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, who nearly achieved ‘Ace’ in a day status during his first aerial combats, 10 May 1940.
Aged just 19, Parrott went on to fly with 607 (County of Durham) Squadron during the Battle of France, and with 145 Squadron over the beaches of Dunkirk. He was shot up whilst in combat with a He. III over Dunkirk, 26 May 1940, managing to limp home across the Channel and crash land in a field on the south coast.
Parrott went on to distinguish himself during the Battle of Britain whilst operating out of the Tangmere Sector, the high point of which being when he shot down 2 enemy aircraft, 8 August 1940, ‘our first view of the convoy near St. Catherine’s Point was of Ju 87’s in their bombing dives. Above the Ju. 87’s were the escorting Bf 109’s and farther to the south-east were two more large formations of enemy aircraft approaching the convoy - a formidable sight. I had already taken part in the Battle for France, and patrolled over Dunkirk during the evacuation, but I had never before seen so many aircraft in the sky at once.’
A remarkable year continued when Parrott’s photograph, taken during the Battle of France, was used for a recruiting poster - thus providing one of the iconic Royal Air Force images of the Second World War, and literally making him the poster boy of the R.A.F. This only being ‘topped’ by Parrott being shot down, whilst serving as a ‘Weaver’ with 605 (County of Warwick) Squadron, 1 December 1940:
‘Looking down, the ground seemed to be coming up remarkably quickly. I was swinging from side to side but had no time to try pulling the shrouds to stop the swing before I slammed into the ground, on about the third downward swing, falling on my right leg and shoulder. I felt half stunned.... I opened my eyes and found I was lying on the grass.... I was at this time not sure whether I was still in this world or had already passed on to the next. I did not really care much either way....’
Parrott flew Spitfires over Sicily and Italy, and commanded 43 and 72 (Basutoland) Squadrons. After the war he was employed as a test pilot, and flew early Vampire and Meteor jets, and in retirement he even managed to have brushes with Colonel Gaddafi and Idi Amin
Distinguished Flying Cross, G.VI.R., reverse officially dated ‘1940’, and additionally engraved ‘F/O. P. L. Parrott. September’; with Second Award Bar, reverse officially dated ‘1945’; Air Force Cross, G.VI.R., reverse officially dated ‘1952’; 1939-45 Star, 1 clasp, Battle of Britain; Air Crew Europe Star; Italy Star; War Medal 1939-45; General Service 1918-62, 1 clasp, Cyprus (Wg. Cdr. P. L. Parrott. R.A.F.); Mauritania, Order of Merit, Officer’s breast badge, silver-gilt and enamel, in A. Bertrand, Paris case of issue, British awards mounted as originally worn, light contact marks overall, therefore generally nearly very fine or better (lot) £80,000-£120,000
D.F.C. London Gazette 22 October 1940:
‘This officer has been continuously engaged in operational flights against the enemy since January, 1940. He has displayed great determination and keenness and has destroyed or severely damaged at least six hostile aircraft.’
D.F.C. Second Award Bar London Gazette 20 March 1945:
‘Squadron Leader Parrott is now engaged on his second tour in the Mediterranean Area. He has also completed a previous tour from England. Since the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross he has completed numerous sorties and has destroyed at least one enemy aircraft. He has led his squadron with skill and determination. During the landing at Anzio, his squadron engaged and drove off a large number of enemy fighter-bomber attacks, contributing materially to the successes achieved by his squadron. In all Squadron Leader Parrott has destroyed at least 6 enemy aircraft.’
A.F.C. London Gazette 1 January 1952.
Peter Lawrence Parrott was born in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire in June 1920, and educated at Lord Williams’s Grammar School. After school, ‘I was an office boy in the Bucks County Council offices at the County Hall in Aylesbury. Although officially graded as a ‘junior clerk’ I was still an office boy, and I did not enjoy the work: licking stamps, filling inkwells, addressing envelopes and changing the blotting paper every Monday morning before the senior staff arrived.
My elder brother, Tim [see following lot], had already taken a pilot’s short service commission in the Royal Air Force. His life was full of interest, travel, learning new skills and seeing new things. He was also being paid significantly more than my salary of £50 per annum. After eighteen months of the Buckinghamshire County Council at the age of 17 1/2, I was old enough to apply to the Air Ministry for a four-year short service commission and, after exercising considerable persuasiveness on my mother to obtain her consent, I sent in the application.’ (The Pilot In The Poster Peter Parrott, by R. Parrott refers)
A Life Less Ordinary - 607 (County of Durham) Squadron and the ‘Weekend Fliers’
Parrott made it through the selection process, and armed with a short service commission carried out his initial flying training at No. 1 E&R F.T.S., Hatfield from June 1938. He was posted to No. 11 F.T.S, Shawbury in September 1938, and after completing his training went to No. 1 Armament Training School at Catfoss, 30 March 1939, towing targets. Parrott was posted as a staff pilot to No. 1 Air Armament School Manby in September 1939. He was then posted to No. 11 Group Fighter Pool at St. Athan on 28 December, converted to Hurricanes and then:
‘With a total of 300 hours flying I was the most experienced pilot of my course and, presumably for this reason, I was selected [January 1940] to fill the one posting for a squadron in France which was part of 11 Group Fighter Pool. I was the envy of my fellow students. Having flown a number of hours in the Henley I would have no problem flying Hurricanes.....
We set off at dusk in the pouring rain and reached France in the late evening. Rather surprisingly we were allowed ashore but had to return to the ship by midnight. This must also have been a surprise to the ship’s company as there was no provision for dinner or supper that evening or for breakfast the following morning. However, this was no great loss as I joined forces with a few other people and we made the rounds of the Cherbourg bars that evening and were soon past caring whether we had supper or not. The next morning for related reasons we were not interested in breakfast!
I reported to the Railway Transport Officer and told him that I was to report to the No. 607 (County of Durham) Squadron, please where was it and how did I get there. I was pleasantly surprised to find that he had my name on a list and I was told that the squadron was at Vitry-en-Artois. For all that it meant to me it might have been in Timbuktu....
In late afternoon I arrived at Vitry-en-Artois. There was thick snow on the ground and two feeble oil lamps lighted the station. Apart from an elderly stationmaster the place seemed to be deserted. In broken French I enquired the whereabouts of “le RAF” and was directed to a small hotel facing on to the station yard. This had been requisitioned for the Officers’ Mess for the wing head quarters and the two squadrons, No. 607 (County of Durham) Squadron and No. 615 (County of Surrey) Squadron, both of the Auxiliary Air Force.
My first billet was in a barn loft with cattle and other pungent smelling animals below me....’ (Ibid)
A few days later, during the harshest winter in France for a century, Parrott was moved to more hospitable digs by his commanding officer Squadron Leader L. E. Smith. The Squadron was one of two Gladiator equipped squadrons attached to the B.E.F. for service in France:
‘The Auxiliaries, of course, were the pre-war weekend fliers. Of the twenty or so pilots in No. 607 Squadron just four, including myself, were regular members of the RAF. The others, and a large number of NCOs and men, were Auxiliaries from the Newcastle and Sunderland area as the home base of the squadron in peacetime had been Usworth, now Sunderland airport. Many of them had been in the shipping industry in peacetime and the honorary air commodore of the squadron was Sir Walter Leslie Runciman [later 2nd Viscount Runciman, and also the first Director General of the British Overseas Aircraft Corporation].
At 19 1/2 years old I was the youngest pilot in the squadron and found myself being treated very much like the younger brother, with a mixture of protective care and sharp discipline.... The pilots were absolutely marvellous, supportive and welcoming. They knew I was living off my pay. Besides Peter Dixon there were two other regular officers: John Hutchison.... who was a very nice chap and Chatty Bowen, who was on a short service commission. My first flight commander Jo Kayll. He achieved fame later in the war when he was shot down over St. Omer in France and threatened the soldiers who had come to arrest him with a revolver! He was captured and made a Prisoner of War.
Francis Blackadder, my second flight commander on ‘A’ Flight, was also a delightful and generous man. He had played rugby for Scotland in the Home Nations Championship, beating England at Twickenham in March 1937. One day four or five of us flew down to Rouen and went to that famous restaurant Coq d’Or with a sky-high bill at the end of a 3-hour lunch. I was worried that I would not have enough to pay. When the bill arrived I asked what my share was and I was shushed because it was all taken care of. This was the kind of generosity you got from them.’ (Ibid)
The Battle of France - Nearly an ‘Ace’ in a Day
Despite his youth, Parrott had more flying hours than most of the Squadron, and was in fact the only one amongst them that had flown a Hurricane. He formed a close friendship with the next youngest pilot in the squadron - Peter Dixon, and the two of them disappeared off to Paris for a jolly. Not only did the youthful pair manage to rebuff what appeared to be a spy tapping them up for information, but they also had the dubious pleasure of successfully seeking out the only bar in Paris to serve Bass on draught!
In early March 1940:
‘We were visited by a group of war correspondents with a photographer. The Commanding Officer had picked me as No. 3 in a section of three Gladiators to give a small flying display to them. As I was walking out to my aircraft the RAF photographer stopped me and asked me to look back at the roof of the Nissen hut I had just left. I did so but could see nothing of interest there but as I did so he dropped on one knee and tool a photograph of me and said, “Thank you.” Soon afterwards my photograph appeared with three other 607 Squadron pilots [William Gore, Maurice Irving and John Sample - two which were killed in action during the Battle of Britain, and one was killed in a flying accident in 1941] in The Daily Sketch. The photograph of Parrott was later used to more famous and far reaching effect, when the designer Jonathan Foss used it to form his first major R.A.F. recruitment poster in 1940.
The Squadron re-equipped with Hurricanes, and Parrott ferried the first aircraft to Vitry, 6 April 1940. Little activity took place until 10 May 1940, when the German putsch began. For eleven hectic days the Squadron battled in impossible conditions, losing many aircraft on the ground due to bombing.
On that first day, ‘early in the morning.... the Germans started their offensive in Holland, Belgium and through the Ardennes.... In fact for a day or two before 10 May we had been ordered to have three aircraft at readiness each morning half an hour before sunrise, which was about 04.45. On 10th May I had been selected for this duty. At about 04.00 Pilot Officer Tony Dini and our flight commander, Flying Officer Francis Blackadder, were sitting in the mess, which was a private house in the middle of the village, having coffee and biscuits before going up to the airfield about three quarters of a mile away. The 15 cwt lorry was waiting outside for us. Suddenly the driver came running into the mess... his boots clattering on the stone floor, calling out that German bombers were flying overhead and at the same time we heard the drone of their engines. We made a rush for the lorry and drove up to the airfield. We saw several He III’s above us. As we tumbled out there were still more enemy aircraft, straggling in ones and twos flying northeast. We grabbed our flying kit... we got airborne individually.
It happened that I was first away and I saw two Heinkel III’s at a height of 5-7,000 feet in a north-easterly direction. There was no sign of any fighter escort. I climbed after them at full throttle. It was a long stern chase and I was still out of range when I saw the coalfields of Northern France below me. These were on the Belgian border and we had repeatedly been warned against violating Belgian neutrality.... I was now at the extreme firing range of the nearest of the two Heinkels and decided to open fire. As soon as I did so I was rewarded by the sight of tracer bullets coming towards me from the dorsal air gunner. I did see a few flashes on the fuselage and wing of the Heinkel that I took to be strikes from my guns. He missed me completely and stopped firing, whether because it was a hit by me or he was reloading his gun I shall never know. Having used all my ammunition in continuous firing, all eight guns fired their total of 2,200 rounds in 15 seconds, I decided I was now over Belgium and turned to beat a hasty retreat... As I did so I saw that there were several more Heinkels following the ones I had been firing at. It taught me to look all round before selecting a target. If I had done a 180 degree turn I could have got the lot of them. On landing I found the rest of the squadron pilots had returned. All I could claim was a “possibly damaged.”
The Heinkels we had chased had been on their way back to base after a heavy raid on Arras, severely damaging the Headquarters and communication lines of the British Expeditionary Force. This had been my first combat and indeed the first enemy aircraft I had seen. I flew another four patrols on that day and claimed a further two Heinkel III’s shot down plus one damaged. We had no radar or fighter control in France so the times and places of patrols were ordered by HQ in the light of whatever intelligence they had, or perhaps at random! This meant that there were no “scrambles” as there were later during the Battle of Britain, so that any interceptions of enemy aircraft were purely by chance.
On the third sortie I started with Red section but lost the section leader so I joined B flight and then ended up alongside French fighters when at 15,000 feet I sighted several enemy aircraft below me being attacked by Morane fighters. I hit one of the Heinkels and the enemy went into a slow dive with smoke pouring from both engines. I followed the enemy aircraft down to 2,000 feet then lost it. Again I was rewarded by return fire from the rear gunner....
On my fifth and final sortie of the day I claimed one Heinkel shot down and another damaged. Our final claims for the day totalled 18 ‘confirmed’, six probables and a dozen damaged He III’s. 607 lost just two aircraft....’ (Ibid)
Personal Tragedy in the Midst of Chaos
Parrott flew a further ten patrols over the following five days. On 11 May he shared another He III destroyed, closing in to 50 yards to gain his share. The following day:
‘Three of us were in the mess waiting for the transport to take us to the airfield for the dawn patrol when a messenger came in and handed me a signal slip. It was to inform me that my elder brother, Flying Officer Thomas ‘Tim’ Parrott, who was a captain on Whitley bombers, was reported missing. Three months later we were informed that he had been killed in action and he had been awarded a Mention in Despatches. I was stood down but, anxious to keep my mind occupied, I volunteered to carry out a test flight on one of Hurricanes a couple of hours later...’ (Ibid)
On 13 May, perhaps with his mind still elsewhere, Parrott was jumped by Me 109’s near Louvain. His radio was shot to pieces, and his aircraft suffered some damage to the fuselage, ‘aircraft were becoming more and more precious. We received no extra ground crew so our own people were hard pressed to service.... and to repair battle damage where it occurred. They worked magnificently but some battle damage could not be repaired. Two or three times I flew one Hurricane on which the air speed indicator was not working because the rear gunner of a German bomber had put a bullet through the pipe in the wing which ran from the pitot head under the wing tip to the instrument in the cockpit.... Another aircraft had unserviceable flaps.....’ (Ibid)
On 15 May the squadron lost its’ CO, when Launce Smith was shot down near Dinant. There ‘was little news about what was going on but we saw for ourselves the crowds of refugees fleeing from the advancing Germans as they passed along the road on the eastern boundary of the airfield from Lille and Douai. There were cars, farm carts, wheelbarrows and bicycles passing with what seemed to be an endless stream of frightened and desperate old men, old women, children and babies and pets. Many asked for help and our ground crew gave away much of their own rations and, when they could, helped with repairs to some of their vehicles. Petrol we could not spare.’ (Ibid)
The following day Parrott shared a Do. 17 as ‘Possibly Destroyed’ over the Arras area. Having returned to base on the 16th, Parrott was informed that the Germans were within 30 miles of Vitry. The Squadron now had more pilots than serviceable aircraft, and as such Parrott was afforded a rest on 17 May - having carried out 14 patrols over the previous six days.
“Don’t be daft, we’re in the middle of a war, we can’t be going on leave.”
Much to his bewilderment, Parrott awoke on the morning of 17 May to the news that he was going on ten days leave with immediate effect. Parrott, and his friend Peter Dixon, had not had any leave since joining the squadron in France. Bizarrely the leave roster was adhered to, and the pair found themselves dashing to board an Avro Ensign for the trip back to the UK.
As it turned out the Squadron was not far behind them. Records for this period were lost but it is known that on 19 May the ground personnel left for the UK, eventually sailing from Boulogne on the following day, and the remnants of the squadron re-assembling at Croydon on the 22nd. The squadron claimed 72 enemy aircraft destroyed during that eleven day battle.
Parrott’s ten days leave turned into two - he was staying with his aunt when he received a telegram informing him of his immediate posting to 145 Squadron, part of 11 Group, operating in Hurricanes from Tangmere. Both he and Dixon had been posted there together, arriving at Tangmere on 20 May 1940. Parrott joined ‘B’ Flight, under the command of Adrian ‘Ginger’ Boyd (soon to be a prolific ‘Ace’, and D.S.O., D.F.C. and Bar). Parrott had left most of his kit in France, however, thanks to ‘Ali Burberry and the forty Gieves’, he was re-equipped and up in the air almost immediately.
Over the Beaches of Dunkirk - Nearly in the ‘Drink’
Most of the pilots of 145 Squadron had all seen extensive action in France. Parrott added a Me. 110 damaged to his tally on his first patrol with the squadron during a sweep over the Lille-Arras-Bethune area, 22 May 1940. On 26 May, ‘we did our first patrol over Dunkirk where the evacuation was in full swing. The town was hidden under a pall of black smoke but, on the beaches, we could see clusters of troops with Navy vessels offshore. The following days showed much the same picture with the smoke from the burning oil tanks and other fires rising higher and higher.
On the second patrol in the evening Flt Lt Roy Dutton [soon to be one of the top-scoring pilots of the Battle of Britain, and D.S.O., D.F.C. and Bar] commanding ‘A’ Flight, leading the squadron, spotted an unidentified enemy aircraft off the coast.... I was flying No. 2 in the rearmost Vic of 3 and as we dived down I noticed another aircraft, a He. III, flying east, to the north of Dunkirk on the starboard side. I pulled ahead of my section leader, calling on the radio and rocking my wings as I peeled away to the north, expecting him to follow with the third member of the section. As it happened they didn’t, so I had another Henikel III to myself....
I quickly caught up my He. III, which had turned east and was crossing the French coast, and opened fire from astern loosing off several bursts. I could see tracer bullets from the rear gunner’s return fire uncomfortably close but continued to close the range. The enemy’s starboard engine blackened and started to emit white trails and the port main wheel appeared to drop out of its nacelle under the engine. The smoke had thickened and turned black when a cloud of hot steam suddenly blinded me in my own cockpit. The rear gunner had hit my coolant system, most likely the radiator, which was located under the cockpit. I could only see one instrument, the oil temperature gauge in the top right corner of the instrument panel. Not wanting to make a forced landing in France or Belgium I broke off the attack and turned 180 degrees to head for the English coast... praying that the engine would keep going long enough for me to make a landing on home ground. About halfway across the Channel I was still only able to see the instruments intermittently through the cloud of vapour, and what I saw was not reassuring. The coolant temperature was up to 120 degrees (usually 85-90) and the oil temperature gauge needle was up against its stop. I was now at about 4,000 feet and at this stage, about half way across the Channel, the rest of the squadron caught up... having spotted the white plumes I was leaving in my slipstream.’ (Ibid)
Roy Dutton made radio contact with Parrott and, ‘I went through the little I knew of the ditching drill and asked Roy Dutton to lead me to the nearest bit of the English coast as I could still not see through the front windscreen, for vapour and condensation, and said that I was expecting the engine to seize up at any moment. Roy kept me on course and, in the event, the propeller stopped when the engine seized and the cloud of vapour cleared as I glided over the sandy beach at Deal. I was now down to about 1,500 feet. Straight ahead I spotted three grass fields on top of some higher ground......
With no engine power the undercarriage and flaps could only be lowered by means of a hand pump, a slow and laborious process which, with only 1500 feet of height before I contacted the ground, I did not have time to use, so it was going to be a wheels up, flapless landing..... Gritting my teeth I pushed the control column forward and the aircraft touched the ground and stopped sliding remarkably quickly. The great fear of all who flew Hurricanes was fire in any accident, or in the air from enemy action, particularly as the 25-gallon reserve fuel tank was immediately ahead of the instrument panel. So I was out of the cockpit in less time than it has taken to write the last sentence. The rest of the squadron swept low over me as I waved my arms to show that I was all right.’ (Ibid)
Parrott was to lose his close friend Peter Dixon, when he was shot down over Dunkirk, 31 May 1940. He died of his wounds three days later. By this stage 145 Squadron had lost 4 pilots and 9 aircraft on patrols over Dunkirk. The Squadron continued with patrols for the next couple of weeks before being withdrawn. June and July were busy months for 145 Squadron, as it was one of the units bearing the brunt of the fighting over the Channel. From late June to the end of July Parrott’s section flew up to 4 sorties a day.
Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire - The Battle of Britain
Parrott shared a He. III Damaged over the Channel, 3 July 1940. He was appointed Deputy Flight Commander in time for the beginning of the Battle of Britain, and he shared a Do. 17 Damaged South of Selsey Bill, 15 July 1940. Parrott shared a He. III Destroyed South of Bognor Regis, 18 July 1940, and moved with the Squadron to West Hampnett (satellite to Tangmere) at the end of the month.
The Squadron were regularly flying 4 sorties a day at this point, and they achieved their biggest haul, 8 August 1940. Parrott Destroyed 2 enemy aircraft:
‘The first big raid in the Tangmere sector came on 8th August when the Luftwaffe launched their attack on Convoy CW9... ‘Peewit’ was the RAF codename for the convoy comprising 24 small coastal vessels loaded with coal, foodstuffs and raw materials heading for the West Country from Southend escorted by 2 destroyers and 10 smaller vessels of the Royal Navy... Torpedoes from E-Boats had attacked the convoy during the early hours of the morning, off Beachy Head and Newhaven, in a battle that lasted for over two hours until daybreak at about 04.20. Two ships had been sunk and a Navy escort was laying a smokescreen.
At first light ‘B’ flight was scrambled to cover the convoy, which was a few miles west of Beachy Head. The expected air attack at first light did not take place but the squadron was scrambled again at 0832 hours. I was ordered to patrol a convoy south of Selsey flying as No. 2 Yellow section. At 0850 hours I saw about 70 enemy aircraft approaching the Needles from the south. Yellow 1 led the section into the sun and I delivered an astern attack in company with Yellow 1 on two Ju. 87’s, which were bombing the ships. After two short bursts I broke away as I knew there were enemy fighters in the vicinity. I climbed up. As I was climbing a Me. 109 passed in front of me about 100 yards away. I followed him round and gave him a full deflection burst of about 2 seconds. He then pulled up in a steep climb and fell away into a spin with a little smoke coming out of his engine. I did not see what happened next because my windscreen was suddenly liberally coated with oil thrown out of my propeller shaft. I saw three Me. 109’s coming down on my tail. I broke away and dived into cloud, forced to beat a hasty retreat, as I could not see anything through my windscreen and my gun sight was useless. I landed at 09.45. On return two of our pilots were missing... No trace of them was ever found. Boydy [A. H. ‘Ginger’ Boyd, later D.S.O., D.F.C. and Bar] had a near miss when a bullet came through his hood, passed through the back of his helmet and tore through the back of his goggles....
A German force of over 50 Ju. 87’s and their fighter escort of Messerschmitt 109’s, some 100 aircraft in total, again attacked the convoy soon after midday.... Other squadrons.... were alerted to deal with this attack..... 145 had been ordered to scramble for a threatened attack by 36 Messerschmitt 110’s further east over Brighton and Beachy Head. We were ordered to return to the defence of Convoy Peewit when the might of the invasion was realised. Our first view of the convoy near St. Catherine’s Point was of Ju 87’s in their bombing dives. Above the Ju. 87’s were the escorting Bf 109’s and farther to the south-east were two more large formations of enemy aircraft approaching the convoy - a formidable sight. I had already taken part in the Battle for France, and patrolled over Dunkirk during the evacuation, but I had never before seen so many aircraft in the sky at once.
We were scrambled again at about 4.30pm and intercepted the third raid of the day. Ordered to patrol Swanage at 15,000 feet at 1600 hours I was flying as No. 2 Yellow section when over the Needles a large number of Ju. 87’s were seen diving-bombing the convoy. Yellow 1 led the section to attack two 109’s. I broke away and found a Ju. 87 pulling out of its dive after bombing. I attacked him from beam and he immediately turned tail and headed north.... I continued to attack from astern. I followed it as it flew on towards the Isle of Wight. We were only 100 feet or so above the sea so all it could do to evade me was a to make a series of gentle turns each way. I managed to give it a short burst of fire, which killed the rear gunner and severed the aircraft’s fuel line. It pitched down in a field on the edge of the sea about 2 miles west of St. Catherine’s Point. I found out later that, of all the aircraft shot down on 8th August, my Stuka was the only one to fall on land and that it was the first relatively intact captured Ju. 87....
This time three of our pilots failed to return, Johnnie Wakeham, Lord Richard “Dickie” Kay-Shuttleworth and Sub-Lieutenant Francis Smith (RN).... At the end of the day the squadron claimed 21 enemy aircraft destroyed and several other probables and damaged.... We had been outnumbered by four to one.... On our return from the last sortie that day, the Duke of Gloucester visited the squadron at West Hampnett... We had lost 5 pilots that day. The loss of five good friends hit us all.’ (Ibid)
The Squadron suffered more causalities over the next two days, and Parrott Destroyed a Ju. 88 South of the Isle of Wight, 12 August 1940. The Squadron had lost half it’s number in five days, and by 13 August only had ten Hurricanes and ten pilots available - one of whom was sporting a white bandage around his head to cover a wound. They were withdrawn to Drem in Scotland to rest and recuperate.
Parrott was promoted to Flying Officer, and made Section Leader, in September 1940. The need for experienced pilots in the south meant that Parrott was posted to 605 (County of Warwick) Squadron, operating from Croydon, 27 September 1940. He joined ‘B’ Flight commanded by Jock Muirhead, and was immediately back in the thick of it - two pilots being forced to bale out during his first sortie with the Squadron. The Germans had changed tactics, and were carrying out high flying raids, which were to the detriment of the Hurricanes which struggled to climb quick enough to engage. 605 Squadron lost four pilots in October, including Muirhead. Their C/O Archie McKellar was shot down and killed on 1 November 1940, in the same action as Parrott claimed a Me. 109 Destroyed over Faversham, Kent.
Parrott had flown 122 sorties in 124 days between 10 July - 31 October 1940, and was awarded the D.F.C. on 22 October of the same year.
Curse of the ‘Weaver’ - Shot Down, 1 December 1940
Like many pilots during this period Parrott did not regularly document his claims:
‘I was engaged in daily sorties... We were winning the battle at that time. You didn’t hang around to see what damage you ammunition had done and I did not claim any victories during that period... On 26th November I completed my 200th patrol or sortie of the war and had flown for over 600 hours.’ (Ibid)
Parrott was shot down, 1 December 1940:
‘We were scrambled soon after sunrise. It was cold with a clear blue sky... I was still the ‘weaver’, whose task was to fly from side to side in a series of S turns about a hundred feet above the rear of the squardon, and give warning of attack from the rear.... The weaver was of course the first chap likely to be picked off and he also risked running out of petrol sooner than the rest of the squadron..... We had climbed to about 20,000 feet and were north-east of Brighton when the controller ordered a turn to the east and told us that the nearest bandits were 20 miles to the east of our position. I was caught on the outside of my turn to the right as they turned to the left and fell behind. As the bandits were 20 miles away I did not think to work out how many seconds it would take for them to catch up as I straightened up momentarily to regain my place with the squadron again....
The next thing I knew I saw little red sparks of tracer bullets whistling past my ears and overtaking me on the starboard side, followed by several bangs on the armour plate behind me. I once again took violent evasive action and pulled over into a steep spiral dive. I knew I had collected quite a lot of bullets as the engine was running rough. I checked the ailerons ahead of me and they were OK but the rudder, I don’t know whether it had been shot away or the cables were cut. There was oil swilling about in the bottom of the cockpit. I tried to make a radio call to the squadron commander, unsuccessfully. I presumed the radio had been shot out again because he didn’t get it. The radio was on the armour plating on the port side just below the fuselage. As I went straight down I looked up above but the chap wasn’t following me, whoever he was. It was time to go home!
The engine was vibrating badly and not responding to the throttle and the rudder bar was no longer connected to the rudder. I was down to 2,000 feet when I saw a flash of flame from the exhaust stubs or through the gaps in the joints of the cowlings.
A few weeks previously three of us had visited John (’Killer’) Milne in East Grinstead Hospital. He had been shot down and injured and although not himself burned, was in a ward with half a dozen chaps who had been. Many of the Hurricane pilots who were burned had suffered from flames from the 25-gallon reserve petrol tank... this was only three feet or less in front of the pilot. They were swathed in bandages with only small holes for the mouth and nose and their arms from the elbows were upright and also swathed. The most noticeable feature was that they lay in their beds unmoving. There was also a very strong smell of ether in the ward. After a few minutes, I heard a voice saying, “Look out, he’s going.” The next thing I knew was that I was sitting on a chair with someone pushing my head down between my knees.
It was then not surprising, perhaps, that when I saw the flames I panicked. My one aim was to get out of the cockpit as quickly as possible. I did not even pull the nose up to decrease speed, and the last time I had looked at the airspeed indicator, it was reading nearly 200 mph. Having pushed the hood back, I tried to release the small exit panel on the port side. It was jammed, so I tried the emergency panel on the starboard side, with the same result. I then stood in the cockpit and was immediately blown flat on my back on the hood where I stuck. I then remembered that I had failed to disconnect my oxygen tube and radio lead.
I managed to reach forward and pull them free. Still stuck, I wriggled around and suddenly slid down the top of the fuselage and hit the tail fin a heft bang with my right shoulder before spinning off spread-eagled into space. I was dazed by the impact with the fin and my right arm refused an order to move that hand upwards to pull the ripcord, but I still had the wit to hook my left thumb through the ‘D’ ring and pushed it out of its pocket to deploy the parachute. Even then, the fractional delay between pulling the cord and the jerk when the parachute opened fully was long enough for me to have the thought “Oh my God, it’s not going to open” go through my mind.... Looking down, the ground seemed to be coming up remarkably quickly. I was swinging from side to side but had no time to try pulling the shrouds to stop the swing before I slammed into the ground, on about the third downward swing, falling on my right leg and shoulder. I felt half stunned.... I opened my eyes and found I was lying on the grass.... I was at this time not sure whether I was still in this world or had already passed on to the next. I did not really care much either way....’ (Ibid)
Parrott’s Hurricane had crashed into a wood a 100 yards from where he had landed, and was engulfed in flames. He suffered a broken collarbone, damaged knee, and severed a nerve in his arm as a result of the crash.
Time For a Rest
Parrott was taken off flying until February, and was posted to complete an instructor’s course at the Central Flying School, Upavon in April 1941. Having completed this he was posted as an instructor to No. 9 F.T.S., Hullavington the following month. Parrott instructed Czechoslovakian and Polish pilots in summer of 1941, being awarded honorary Czech ‘wings’ in the process. He subsequently transferred to No. 9 Advanced Flying Unit, and then on to No. 5 Pilot Advanced Flying Unit at Tern Hill in May 1942. A chance meeting with his brother Tim’s old Whitley captain - Brian Tomlin - led to a posting for Parrott to the RAF Handling Squadron at Boscombe Down. The squadron evaluated new aircraft and were responsible for much of the information in the Pilots Notes. After 8 months in this posting, during which time Parrott flew Spitfires, Mustangs and Mosquitoes, he requested a return to Fighter Command.
Spitfires - Malta, Sicily and Italy
After carrying out a refresher course at Eshott, Parrott was posted as a supernumerary to 501 Squadron (Spitfires) at the end of May 1943. He flew intercepts and shipping recces from Hawkinge. After five weeks, Parrott was posted for service abroad with 1435 Squadron operating Spitfires off Malta. After a week in Malta he volunteered to go to Sicily, where now most of the action in the area was occurring. Upon arrival he was posted for service with 72 Squadron under the command of Squadron Leader ‘Danny’ Daniel - who had been Parrott’s pupil some 18 months previously!
Parrott’s experience was picked up on, and he was posted as a flight commander to 111 Squadron at Pachino after only 4 sorties with 72 Squadron. He added a MC 200 Shared Destroyed to his score whilst patrolling the Strait of Messina, 4 September 1943, and took part in the air cover for landings at Naples a few days later. Parrott moved with the squadron to Monte Corvino on the mainland at the end of September. He carried out sweeps of the beaches, bomber escorts and sweeps, before being appointed to command 43 Squadron at Capodichino in October 1943.
Parrott contracted malaria, ‘we were quite a sick bunch for a while as infective hepatitis (jaundice) was doing the rounds, with pilots and support crew hospitalised. Consequently the squadron’s tally for October was somewhat low but we made up for it in November with a hard month, at the end of which our score stood at 14 enemy aircraft destroyed, three probables and three damaged. I shared a Ju. 88 on 26 November off Capua. The other 13 aircraft were single-seater German fighters. It came at the loss of two of our pilots.... Operations in the Naples area consisted mainly of patrols over the Volturno River north of Naples close to the enemy lines. Later we covered the Anzio landings and soon after that we started patrolling bomb lines over Rome and acting as bomber escorts.’ (Ibid)
Parrott claimed a Bf 109 Damaged, 17 February 1944, over the Anzio area. He completed his second tour of operations in February 1944, and was posted for a rest - during which time he suffered another bout of malaria. After several postings in Egypt, Parrott was posted as a supernumerary to 92 Squadron in Florence, Italy in October 1944. Almost immediately he was posted to the command of 72 (Basutoland) Squadron at Rimini. The Squadron were tasked with close support operations for the Army - attacking gun emplacements, tanks and trains. Parrott was promoted Wing Commander, and posted to the Desert Air Force Headquarters in February 1945. Having been awarded a Bar to his D.F.C., and received a permanent commission as a Squadron Leader, Parrott was posted back to the UK in July 1946.
The Politics of Peacetime Flying - More Dangerous than ‘Ops’ - Gaddafi and Idi Amin
Parrott began training as a test pilot, and ‘after qualifying in 1948 at Farnborough, for the next two years he test-flew early versions of Vampire and Meteor, as they were accepted into R.A.F. service at Boscombe Down. The casualty rate among test pilots of the early jet fighters was high, but Parrott survived to earn his A.F.C. in 1952.
There followed tours of duty at the Air Ministry, R.A.F. Staff College, R.A.F. Nicosia and R.A.F. Geilenkirchen, and he completed his service in the R.A.F. in 1965 in the rank of Wing Commander. Thereafter Parrott worked for Autair and, after it was taken over, for Court Line, initially flying commercial domestic routes in Britain and subsequently flying members of the Libyan royal family and government on tours of the Middle East.
During the Arab-Israeli war in 1967, Parrott arrived at the airport in Damascus by taxi to see his plane in the process of being destroyed by Israeli bombers. After seeking sanctuary at the British Embassy, he was co-opted into leading an overland convoy of British civilians fleeing the conflict to Turkey.
During the 1972 Arab-Israeli war, Parrott flew (at Gaddafi’s behest) to Uganda to collect Idi Amin, whom he was to take to Khartoum, where Amin was supposedly going to act as the mediator in the conflict. On landing the Learjet at Entebbe, Parrott and his co-pilot found themselves arrested and interrogated as suspected mercenaries, before Amin realised who they were.
In 1973 Parrott returned to Britain to work as a training adviser until his retirement in 1983. After the Falklands conflict, he organised the sending of a telegram “From the Few to the Few”, congratulating the Sea Harrier pilots on their part in the campaign. He was also instrumental in getting the statue of Lord Dowding erected outside St. Clement Danes in the Strand. Whenever he signed a photograph, a donation went to the R.A.F. Benevolent Fund.’ (The Daily Telegraph Obituary refers)
Wing Commander Parrott died in August 2003. He was one of the fighter pilots who had his portrait drawn by Cuthbert Orde during the Second World War (now held by the R.A.F. Museum, Hendon), and a number of interviews with him in later life were carried out by the Imperial War Museum as part of the Oral Histories series. The latter can be heard via the following link:
To be sold with the following substantial archive of original related items and documents:
i) 5 Royal Air Force Pilot’s Flying Log Books (27 June 1938 - 24 March 1974) all housed in quarter leather bound protective case, spine embossed in gold letters ‘P. L. Parrott Flying Log Books, 1938-1974’
ii) Original R.A.F. Recruiting Poster, featuring portrait of recipient in uniform, rare, framed and glazed
iii) British Expeditionary Force Officer’s Identity Card, dated 29 February 1940
iv) Czechoslovakia Pilot’s Badge, in box of issue
v) Silver presentation trophy in the shape of a Hawk, mounted on a plinth, the latter with plaque, engraved ‘Presented to Wing Commander P. L. Parrott, D.F.C., A.F.C., Directing Staff, Royal Air Force College 1955 - 1958’
vi) Pewter Tankard, engraved ‘Presented to Wing Commander P. L. Parrott, D.F.C., A.F.C. By the Officers of Administrative Wing, R.A.F. Geilenkirchen May 1965’
vii) D.F.C. Royal Mint, case of issue
viii) A.F.C. Royal Mint case of issue, together with correspondence regarding the award of his A.F.C. and the investiture
ix) Various cloth and bullion R.A.F. insignia, and a 145 Squadron Tie
x) Graduation Diploma for Air Command and Staff School, dated 4 June 1947
xi) Graduation Certificate for The Empire Test Pilots School, dated 6 December 1948
xii) The 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain Commemorative Folio - ... So Few, recipient’s personalised copy, with letter of thanks to him from the artist and compiler Michael Pierce, and in the main body of work the following items (included with the lot) are pictured and described: Parachute Drogue from war service, Ministry of Aviation Commercial Pilot’s Licence, Air Ministry Certificate of Competency and Licence to Fly Private Flying Machines, Ministry of Aviation Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence Aeroplanes
xiii) Silhouette Miniature of recipient in later life, signed by Michael Pierce, framed and glazed, and housed in Rolls Royce presentation box
xiv) The Battle of Britain Fighter Association Life Membership Card
xv) Various passports, drivers licences and Libyan Arab Airlines Identity Cards
xvi) A number of invitations to official receptions from various stages of recipient’s military career
xvii) Various newspaper cuttings, photographs and photographic images, and other ephemera.