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The Battle of Barking Creek

It was on the third day of the war, 6th September 1939, that the "Battle of Barking Creek" took place. The first fighter pilot to be killed in WWII died here after taking off from North Weald. He is buried in the local parish churchyard.

56 Squadron group including Montague Hulton-Harrop and Frank Rose After an early morning air raid alert a squadron of Hurricanes took of from North Weald. These were followed by two reserve Hurricanes. But something went terribly wrong. The two reserves were identified as enemy aircraft and Spitfires from Hornchurch were ordered to attack them. Both were shot down. Montague Hulton-Harrop was killed, the other pilot, Frank Rose, survived. The pilot who fired the fatal shot was John Freeborn. The exact story of what happened in the "Battle of Barking Creek" may never be known. Even the origin of the name is obscure, as it did not take place above Barking Creek.  Hulton-Harrop is seated on left, Rose is extreme right standing.

 

 

Battle of Barking Creek memorialJohn Freeborn was a distinguished airman  in WWII. He flew more operational hours  in the Battle of Britain than any other pilot, was credited with 131/2 enemy aircraft  shot down, awarded the DFC and bar and completed his RAF career as a Wing Commander. Although he was never at North Weald he has a prominent place in  its history and on 20th September 2003 visited North Weald for the first time.  Roy Smith, John Freeborn's one time neighbour and long time friend, brought John to visit.  It was a memorable and historic occasion. First they visited the North Weald Airfield Memorial and collected a copy of the Debt of Honour.  Then followed a visit to the Museum.  Since the first visit John has honoured the Museum by agreeing to become an Honorary Member and has visited a number of times.

William Aitken, John Freeborn & Roy Smith at North Weald Airfield MuseumThere are differences in detail of what happened in the Battle of Barking Creek.  This is perhaps not surprising. There were a number of areas involved. Among these were a searchlight battery at Mersea Island as well as the RAF stations at North Weald and Hornchurch. Communications at the time were quite primitive and each was not fully aware what was happening in other areas. Afterwards different parties would give their version of events. Sometimes these would be tailored to save reputations.
A detail not often known is that the Hurricane shot down in the Battle of Barking Creek was the first plane shot down by a Spitfire.  John Freeborn has lived with this memory for over 60 years. He did not make his thoughts public, or give his version of events until very recently. This is in his biography; " A Tiger's Tale" by Bob Cossey - published last year (2002).
 

John Freeborn at St Andrews churchyard North Weald After the Museum a visit was made to St Andrews churchyard, North Weald, where the Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintain a part.  Here are the graves where many of the servicemen who died in service at North Weald are buried.  The first of the WWII graves is that of P/O Montague Leslie Hulton-Harrop.  This was a historic and emotional moment.  It was a dignified conclusion to a tragic event.

Sadly the death of John was announced on 28th August 2010. Read the obituary in the Yorkshire Post 

 

 

 

 

 

©  W H Aitken    Colour Photographs  E M Aitken

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In the madness and chaos

In the madness and chaos there is war, there have been many, many times when soldiers have shot at their own comrades, mistaking them for the enemy. With his head down in a foxhole at night, it’s hard to know for sure if the guy approaching is on the same side. Maybe a fellow Marine is out of position and his buddies open fire. A fighter pilot may accidentally drop his bombs a little short of the target, spraying death among his own. A tank may look, from a distance, like one belonging to the enemy.

We call these “friendly fire” incidents, and they drive commanders, politicians, and the general population crazy.
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John Freeborn would be

John Freeborn would be definitely missing his friends. I like spending time with soldiers like him.
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They will have a lot of interesting and inspiring stories about their wars to share. These soldiers deserve great respect. Thanks for the share.

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Friendly Fire happens

I learn more from the screw ups that the successes. ADM Sir Jellico was renown for his heroics at Jutland 1916 and not the Battle of May Island 1918. The loss of CV HMS courageous occurred because they were on the wrong frequencies when the German Battle Cruisers jumped them. The greatest loss of equipment in Desert Storm 1991 occurred as the result of the Americans scoring their own goal, ie some idiot SP4 was chilly and ran a heater that was DX'd. Since the ammo carriers were stored combat operational, the heater set off the ammo of all the vehicles in Storeage. Oo oops!!! Don't get me started on CPL Tillman's FF death. My dad and James Garner almost were killed by P51s strafing and ms palming them in Korea. KEMPSHI happens, as we yanks say!!!

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