A SPITFIRE flypast will honour a Ringwood pilot thought to be the youngest person who took off from RAF Ibsley during the Second World War, before being shot down and killed.
Sgt Raymond Frederick Charles Dean was just 19 years old when he went missing in November 1941 while flying a Spitfire on a mission over France as part of Operation Rhubarb.
A member of the 501 (County Gloucester) Squadron of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, Sgt Dean lived in Ringwood and is buried at Brevands Churchyard in Manche, France.
But his story is largely unknown, and as more details of his life emerged, his nephew Ray and his wife Hilary have organised a special flypast. It will take place on Friday 30th August – the same day the Bournemouth Air Show takes off.
To stage the event, Ray has put in more than £1,500 of his own money. Two local councils – Ringwood and Ibsley – have both agreed to contribute, and any proceeds raised will be donated to the Royal British Legion.
“I’m so proud of my uncle for being prepared to give his life for his country,” Ray told the A&T. “This is purely about honouring his name.”
The day is set to be a treat for aviation enthusiasts, featuring a host of special events including the screening of the film Secret Spitfires and talks by its director, Ethem Centitas, and a former engineer, Norman Parker, who is now in his 90s.
A full-size replica Spitfire will also be on display, and there will be talks by a Spitfire engineer and Ibsley airfield historians, a model exhibition, military vehicles display, performances by 1940s-style band Scarlet Swing, and a barbecue.
One of five children to Alfred and Beatrice Dean, Sgt Dean lived at Lower Kingston Post Office. He attended Ringwood School and Brockenhurst College, and worked for the Baker family who ran a cycling shop in Ringwood.
Ray believes Mr Baker, who was a pilot himself, got Sgt Dean into flying by giving him private lessons.
He does not know how many missions his uncle flew prior to his final one on 17th November 1941, when he was recorded as missing in action.
Those who flew on that operation were tasked with scouting the enemy, often when it was on the move or had just arrived at a new spot, and bombing them. The nature of the flights meant the pilots often had to fly beneath low-hanging clouds.
Through his research, Ray has uncovered an apparent witness statement submitted by a French national who claimed to have seen Sgt Dean’s shot down plane.
Seen by the A&T, it describes how Ray’s Spitfire aircraft suddenly roared out of low cloud through apple trees close to a French chateau in Manche, where a battery of Germans had recently arrived to camp.
“I thought of mischief at once,” it reads. “The batteries opened fire and I could see a rocket getting through the plane’s fuselage. The aircraft forked then slightly slanted on the right, losing height, and I expected it to earth two or three hundred metres but then it flew on above the manor, swept past the chimney then cut a tree and dived and crashed.”
It added the plane dug a 20-metre trench in the ground and hit a tree before it exploded. Following that, a group of German soldiers “showed their pleasure by dancing and shouting like wild beasts around the smoking plane,” the statement adds.
But it goes on to say a German commandant showed up, berated the troops and ordered a coffin be made before Sgt Dean was given a proper burial.
Ray is still in the throes of researching his uncle’s life – which has been helped by Vera Smith from the Ibsley Historical Group – and said his fascination with the subject was sparked only a year ago when the family received a letter out of the blue.
It was from a retired RAF policeman who had discovered his uncle’s grave and advised him of a plaque put there which detailed Ray’s service.
“Members of the family have not spoken a lot about Uncle Ray,” he said. “I knew he was a Spitfire pilot but not much else, and when I got this information out of the blue my interest was piqued.”
It is said the pilots often drank together in the London Tavern and at St Leonard’s Hotel, which still features a slab on its wall containing pilots’ signatures. One reads ‘Deany’.
“We have heard he was a bit of a cheeky one,” Ray said, with Hilary adding: “More than one person said he was a bit of a naughty boy!”
Ray adds: “You can kind of understand it, can’t you? He was 19 and they gave him a Spitfire! That’s like, today, giving a 19-year-old a Ferrari to play with. Apparently, he used to like coming in low and mucked about quite a bit.”
Myths abound about the pilots. One claims a house close to the airfield had to be knocked down and rebuilt as a bungalow because the pilots used to compete to fly as close to the roof as possible as they landed. The chimney was eventually knocked off.
Ibsley was also used as a location for a then-popular feature film which boosted the war effort, The First of the Few, starring David Niven and Leslie Howard.
Tickets for the Sgt Ray Dean and Pilots of Ibsley event, which cost £17.50 for the film, exhibit and food, are available from the London Tavern pub at Poulner, Hockeys Farm shop at Ibsley or Bransgore Country Market or by contacting Hilary on 07905 994 644.
The price includes entry to the Secret Spitfires film screening and the talks, as well as a meal. There are also cheaper tickets available for £10.50 for parts of the day.
Anyone with information on Sgt Dean or Ibsley airfield can get in touch with Ray through the Facebook page Sgt Raymond Dean & the Pilots of Ibsley.