Sunday, 16 September 2012

Jean Demozay 91 'Nigeria' Sqn Hawkinge - a 'modest and exemplary hero..'




Above; S/Ldr Jean Demozay (second from the left) leaning against the prop of one of 91 Squadron's Spit Vbs, September 1941. (photo credit via Peter Hall of Ashford. Peter's history of 91 'Nigeria' Sqn in the Osprey Aviation 'Elite' series is still the best English-language reference on Demozay)

Just read the neat bio of Jean Demozay over on the Hawker Hurricane Facebook page. However the first paragraph contained a number of errors which I thought I'd comment on...a French friend of mine, Many Souffan, just happens to be working on a bio of Demozay and has already published an in-depth review of his career in 'Avions' magazine  issue 176.

".. Nice story ....but the real facts are even more improbable! Demozay never joined the l'Armee de l'Air and  never trained as a pilot pre-war - apparently he just 'pretended' he had in order to try and get into the Air Force. He stated that his birth year was 1912 ..in actual fact it was 1915 (..and not 1916) And he was turned down - he finally joined up with the 19e Train des Equipages (French army) on 9 September 1939. He was then posted to the RAF's 'Advanced Air Strike Force' as an interpreter - his English was fluent as he had spent a number of his teen years at boarding school in Southsea near Portsmouth where a family friend was a teacher. His first flights were in the liaison Magister used by No. 1 Squadron and it was the British pilots that taught him to fly circuits in their off-duty hours. He was indeed one of the first French 'pilots' to reach the UK arriving on 17 June 1940 having piloted a Bristol Bombay across the Channel, but at the time he didn't even possess a (car) drivers licence! He then managed to wangle his way into operational training unit 5 OTU which as luck would have it was commanded by his 'old' Squadron CO 'Bull' Halahan, proving the old adage 'its not what you know...'. He started his first 'real' flight training course on 20 June 1940 - but really there is no way he should have been there. His CO in 'E flight' 5 OTU was another former 1 Squadron Hurricane ace, Pilot Officer 'Boy' Mould, the first RAF pilot to shoot down a Luftwaffe aircraft over France on 30 October 1939. Demozay finished his training in October 1940 and joined 1 Sqn at Wittering and flew several sorties before 31 October 1940 - the 'official' Battle of Britain cut-off date. As such he was one of just thirteen French pilots that officially participated in the Battle of Britain and his name is inscribed on the memorial wall at Capel-Le-Ferne, between Folkestone and Dover. As for his achievements in combat - well it is a matter of record that he commanded 91 'Nigeria' Squadron at Hawkinge and there is a street named after him in the village..officially he returned some 19 victories although many of his claims were made when flying alone out over the Channel and over France..."





This well known image of Jean 'Moses Morlaix' Demozay was taken on 16 November 1941 at Hawkinge. At this time Demozay had around 11 victories and four probables. One month previously he had been awarded the DFC, presented to him by Leigh Mallory Trafford. A few months later he received a bar and a DSO. The Spitfire behind him is the Mk V of his S/L J N Watts Farmer W3175/ DL.W. Under his wings you can see (from L to R) the ribbons of Ordre de la liberation (Green & black) the 7 palms of his Croix de Guerre and his new DFC

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