During 1937, Sgt Geoffrey Brunner was flying the Gloster Gauntlet biplane fighter with 66 Sqn at RAF Duxford. He was introduced to Sir Philip Sassoon, who invited him to Lympne to become the regular pilot of his dH 90 Dragonfly. During 1938, Brunner was posted to Martlesham Heath as a test pilot.
Brunner collected G-AFFD from the Percival factory at Luton, flying to Trent Park to pick up fresh fruit, on to Hawkinge to pick up a passenger and then to Lympne. During 1938, Brunner spent his leave and long weekends at FD’s pilot, including flying the aeroplane for the superb air-to-air pictures taken by Charles E Brown, copies of which are in our gallery.
Plt Off Brunner joined 43 Sqn at RAF Tangmere on 10 June 1940. On 7 July, he was involved in the low-level chase of a Dornier 17. On 26 August, he claimed a Heinkel 111 as a ‘probable’ but was himself wounded in the ankle during the combat; in addition, his engine was damaged and inoperative. Brunner glided his Hurricane back to Tangmere, where he performed a ‘wheels up’ landing.
The Westland Welkin that caught fire
Mention of Brunner's award in the Supplement to the London Gazette, 27th July, 1943
Once recovered from his injuries, Brunner was posted to the Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment, Boscombe Down, where he continued to have an eventful War. In December 1940, he suffered engine failure and a forced landing in a Curtiss Mohawk fighter, the same again in a Tomahawk in March 1941. In May 1942, Brunner escaped by parachute when his Miles Master broke up in the air; his passenger was not so fortunate and was killed. In May 1943, he was testing the experimental Westland Welkin high-altitude fighter, when one of its engines caught fire, an issue complicated by the fact that its propellor could not be feathered; the skill displayed in the subsequent forced landing earned Brunner his second Air Force Cross.
Gp Capt Geoffrey Brunner AFC died in 1989.
Innes Bentall Westmacott’s initial flying training was carried out on the Blackburn B2 at No 4 E & RFS at Brough. He continued his training with 4 FTS in Egypt on the Hawker Hart and Audax, joining 80 Sqn in October 1938 to fly the Gladiator biplane fighter. Very shortly afterwards, he trained as a flying instructor and joined 610 Sqn R Aux AF, flying the Avro Tutor and Hawker Hind. In September 1939, he was posted to 6 SFTS at Little Rissington to instruct on the Avro Anson and thence to 2 SFTS at RAF Brize Norton to fly the Airspeed Oxford. On 7 May 1940, he was posted to No 6 Anti-Aircraft Co-Operation Unit at Ringway (now Manchester Airport), where he flew a very wide variety of aeroplanes, including 3 Percival Q6s impressed into RAF service. He first flew G-AFFD on 17 April 1940, using it to co-operate with ‘Manchester Guns’ on 27 May, ‘Manchester Lights’ on 31 May and ‘Liverpool Co-op’ on 2 and 20 June.
July 1940 saw Westmacott training on the Hurricane with 6 OTU at RAF Sutton Bridge. He joined 56(F)Sqn at North Weald on 3 August, at the height of the Battle of Britain. His logbook shows a very busy month defending against larger formations of enemy bombers, claiming a total of 3 destroyed and 3 damaged. On 31 August, he intercepted a formation of Dornier 17s, escorted by Messerchmitt 109s and 110s. He was shot down by an Me110, burned and baled out over Essex.
On 3 April 1941, Westmacott was the pilot of one of 12 Hurricanes flown from the deck of HMS Ark Royal to reinforce Malta under Operation WINCH, the first such reinforcement. Westmacott was soon in the thick of the action with patrols and scrambles. On 14 April he attacked and shot down what he thought was a Junkers 88. His victim was actually a Martin Maryland, flown by Adrian Warburton, who survived the event to become a celebrated reconnaissance pilot. On 2 December 1941, the Malta Night Fighter Unit was renamed No 1435 Flt, with Westmacott as its Commanding Officer. On 22 January 1942, operations over Malta were given up and night intruder raids against Sicilian airfields started. Westmacott’s logbook for this period contains a number of noteworthy entries including a damaged train, a lorry claimed as a ‘probable’ and ‘dropping money to spy’. The Flt reverted to day fighting on 12 Feb, Westmacott claiming a Junkers 88 as a ‘probable’ on 8 March 1942.