80 years since the death of local RAF hero, Roy ‘Ferdie’ Ferdinand
by Alison Bailey
Pilot Officer Roy Ferdinand was just 21 when he was killed in a tragic flying accident 12 June 1941. The Squadron Operational Record Book noted that he was one of the Squadrons real characters and his death was deeply regretted by all who knew him. He is buried in Chesham Bois Burial Ground and is commemorated with a Commonwealth War Grave and on the Chesham Bois War Memorial.
Whirlwind P7045 was approaching the runway at RAF Filton, five miles north of Bristol on the evening of 12th June when it began a series of steep turns above the airfield. Suddenly the aircraft stalled and crashed, bursting into flames on impact, killing the pilot instantly. An investigation concluded that the rudder bar was not locked into position and had probably slipped when the pilot, Pilot Officer Ferdinand needed it most. The aerobatics would have been due to him trying to reach the bar.
Battle of Britain Pilot
Ferdie was always interested in flying and joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve as an Airman when he was 18, in 1938, and working for Marylebone Council. In May 1939 he caused great excitement when he crashed and wrecked a RAF plane on the course of the Hampshire Hunt point-to-point race meeting in an unexpected snowstorm! Luckily, he only suffered minor injuries.
This accident didn’t discourage the RAF as he was called to full-time service on 1st September 1939 and awarded his ‘Wings’ the following April. He was commissioned 9 June 1940 and then posted to 263 Squadron at RAF Drem near Edinburgh to fly Hurricanes. 263 Squadron protected the Firth of Forth during the Battle of Britain, and although they did not take part in any fighting, Ferdie and his colleagues are officially credited as being part of ‘The Few’. Had he lived he would have been entitled to wear the Battle of Britain Clasp on his 1939-45 War Medal.
Although he flew many hours on scrambles and convoy patrols, he only ever saw one German aircraft in Scotland over the Firth of Forth October 1940, when he glimpsed it briefly before it disappeared into cloud.
The Squadron then became operational on the Westland Whirlwinds and moved south to RAF Exeter to join the fighting. The Whirlwind was a twin-engined heavy fighter but performed best at low altitude and was used for convoy escort and against small targets in the English Channel and northern France. Only 114 were produced (compared with over 20,000 Spitfires). Ferdie flew his first operational sortie in a Whirlwind on 11th February 1941. He flew 57 operational sorties in Whirlwinds, some 103 hours in total with training flights.
Born June 1920 in West Ham, Ferdie was the only child of Horace, and Winifred Helena (Cobley) Ferdinand. The family moved to 31 Woodside Avenue, Chesham Bois in 1926, when the house was newly built. Horace died there in 1977 and Winifred left in 1989 to move into a care home in Stubbs Wood where she died in 1993.
Ferdie went to Dr Challoner’s Grammar School and was twice awarded the Art Prize. He was a member of the 2nd Amersham-on-the-Hill Scout Group. His father was an accountant and worked in the Chief Accountants office of the Great Western Railway. Both parents were musical and community minded. Winifred was a member of the Townswomen’s Guild and Horace was a Chesham Bois Parish councillor for more than 30 years and was chairman of the council at the time of his son’s death. During WWII Horace was an air raid warden and Winifred volunteered for the Central Hospital Supply Service as the Mid Bucks Hon. Secretary.
Reverend Lawrence, whose own son, Christopher was killed in El Alamein in 1942, led the service which was attended by everyone in the village, Squadron Leader Donaldson and Ferdinand’s colleagues from the RAF and St Marylebone Borough Council. His friend Pilot Officer David Stein, who was at the funeral was reported missing in action four months later.
“The coffin, draped with the Union Jack and surmounted by three beautiful wreaths from the parents and near relations, had previously been placed in front of the alter. At the close of the service the bearer party, composed of NCO`s and men of the Royal Air Force bore it from the church to the beautiful plaintive notes of Chopin’s Funeral March (played by the organist Mr Stanley Chappell), and placed it on a service tender upon which was also massed a large number of beautiful wreaths. The cortege proceeded to Chesham Bois cemetery, where the committal was read by the vicar”.
IN HONOUR AND LOVE
ROY F FERDINAND
KILLED FLYING ON ACTIVE SERVICE
12th JUNE 1941
AGED 21 YEARS
WHO SO TAKES THE WORLDS
LIFE ON HIM
AND HIS OWN
HE DYING SO LIVES
The epitaph on his grave reads:
Who so takes
The worlds life
on him and his
own lays down
He dying so
in honour and Law
Roy Frederick Ferdinand (ferdinando.org.uk)
Roger Cook’s research on the Chesham Bois War Memorial
British Newspaper Archive
263 and 137 Squadrons The Whirlwind Years by Robert Bowater