Five notable volunteer pilots who helped win the Battle of Britain

Mike Bedigan, PA
·2-min read

Among the fleet of 3,000 Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots, among those referred to by Winston Churchill as “The Few”, were part-time volunteers who went on to become some of the most decorated heroes.

Members of the Auxiliary Air Force (AAF) were often part-time reservists, serving with local squadrons and working ordinary jobs before the outbreak of the war.

During the Battle of Britain, the AAF provided 14 of the 62 Squadrons in RAF Fighter Command and accounted for about 30% of the accredited enemy kills.

Five notable volunteer pilots were:

– Sergeant James “Ginger” Lacey from Yorkshire, who learned to fly in his spare-time while working as a trainee pharmacist.

Lacy served with the Gloucester county squadron in the AAF and shot down a total of 19 enemy aircraft, including a bomber plane which had just attacked Buckingham Palace.

– Flying Officer John Dundas, who joined a reservist unit in peacetime while working as a journalist for the Yorkshire Post.

Aged just 25, Dundas is believed to have shot down Germany’s highest-scoring pilot, Helmut Wick, before being downed himself in the same battle.

Portrait of Flying Officer John Dundas, drawn by Cuthbert Orde
Portrait of Flying Officer John Dundas, drawn by Cuthbert Orde (RAF)

– Flying Officer Carl Davis was a mining engineer who had joined Hendon-based Squadron in 1935.

At the end of August 1940 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, earning praise for his “great keenness and courage”, but was shot down and killed in early September.

– Flight Lieutenant Robert Findlay Boyd was an experienced flyer and shot down 12 enemy aircraft during the Battle of Britain.

Boyd was involved in the fastest RAF victory of the war, an attack on RAF Tangmere, during which he was airborne for less than a minute.

Auxiliary Air Force (AAF) Flight Lieutenant Robert Findlay Boyd
Auxiliary Air Force Flight Lieutenant Robert Findlay Boyd (RAF)

– Squadron Leader Archie McKellar joined the AAF while still working part time at his family’s building business.

McKellar shot down five enemy aircraft in 24 hours becoming an “ace in a day”, a very rare feat, with only four other RAF pilots managing this in the Battle of Britain.

Squadron Leader Archie McKellar
Squadron Leader Archie McKellar (RAF)

In recognition of the distinguished service given by AAF personnel during the Second World War, King George VI granted the force the “Royal” prefix in 1947.

The Royal Auxiliary Air Force (RAuxAF) still operates today, recruiting men and women who reinforce RAF numbers in their spare time.

Group Captain Gavin Hellard, current Inspector of the RAuxAF said: “These volunteer reservists represent the best of the ethos that the Royal Auxiliary Air Force still shows.

“They laid the foundation for today’s RAF reservists who serve with equal commitment and dedication all over the world.”