Post No. 683

Why have I been writing so much about RCAF 403 squadron since 2011?

You may call it obsessive writing.

I prefer calling it the duty to remember. Yesterday was June the 6th. Many people were remembering June the 6th, 1944 for a reason.

June the 6th, 1944, that is exactly why I started writing a blog in 2009 in homage to my wife’s uncle who was a stoker on HMCS Athabaskan.

I got curious when he told us about it. We were talking about his brother Jean who had been wounded on Juno Beach… That’s the first time he talked about the sinking of HMCS Athabaskan.

This, in a sense, is what leads me today to write about Arthur “Art” Monserez who was a friend of Buzz Beurling.

Arthur Monserez color

Courtesy Kenneth Scott


Excerpt from the book

During the early afternoon of 16 January, No. 403 Squadron flew on uneventful convoy patrols, whilst on the following day disaster struck, when Beurling lost his room-mate ‘Art’ Monserez as a result of a tragic but avoidable accident. At 1200 hours, Flight Sergeant A.J. Monserez and Sergeant D.C. Campbell took off to do cinegun and formation flying. On his approach, Monserez discovered his landing-gear wouldn’t lock properly. Taking his Spitfire back up, Monserez started throwing it about, in the hope of freeing the mechanism. He was seen going into a spin, before over-compensating and immediately going into an opposite spin from which he did not recover. Monserez crashed into a wood opposite the officer’s mess. 

The sudden loss of a room-mate in an air accident must have had a devastating effect on Beurling. To lose a friend as a result of combat was one thing, but to witness an avoidable death over your home base was something completely different. But there could be no time to dwell on death in the Services, and the Squadron’s pilots were airborne within hours…

Buzz Beurling’s Friend

The book Sniper of the Skies is very informative even if I know the ending.

I got curious, as always, and I started looking for more information about Buzz Beurling’s friend when I read in the book that he had died.

The sergeant-pilots were billeted in a house close to the airfield, where Beurling shared a room with Flight Sergeant ‘Art’ Monserez. 


And I found some information…

Getting curious is what led me to write this post, which is post number 682.


Buzz with 403 Squadron

I have started reading Sniper of the Skies.


There is precious information about RCAF 403 Squadron when Buzz Beurling was attached first to that squadron.

The sergeant-pilots were billeted in a house close to the airfield, where Beurling shared a room with Flight Sergeant ‘Art’ Monserez. 

Three days after Beurling’s arrival, the Air Officer Commander 11 Group, Air ViceMarshal Leigh-Mallory, visited the Squadron, pausing to talk to the pilots and 
Reporting to Martlesham Heath, Beurling was escorted to the CO’s office by the Squadron Adjutant. Squadron Leader A.G. ‘Pinky’ Douglas, DFC, had led the unit since 30 September 1941, and was one of the few non-Canadian pilots on the Squadron. Beurling later recalled how at their first meeting, Douglas had flicked though his log book, pausing to read his assessments and to remind the young Canadian: ‘Here you’ve got to obey orders and fly how you’re told.’ 

Beurling was informed that he was to be assigned to ‘B’ Flight, which at the time included amongst its members: 

Flying Officer R.R. Gillespie (flight commander) 
Flight Sergeant Larry Somers 
Pilot Officer William Forsythe ‘Bill’ Munn 
Pilot Officer N.D.R. ‘Norm’ Dick 
Flight Sergeant Arthur Joseph ‘Art’ Monserez 
Sergeant D.C. ‘Don’ Campbell 
Sergeant Ken Collison 
​Sergeant Crawford Sergeant A.J. Schmitz 

‘A’ Flight, meanwhile, was composed of: 
Flight Lieutenant J.C.P. ‘Timber’ Wood (English) 
Pilot Officer H.H. ‘Mac’ McDonald 
Pilot Officer John N. Cawsey 
Pilot Officer C.M. Magwood 
Pilot Officer J. Parr 
Pilot Officer Johnny Baptiste Bernard Rainville 
Flight Sergeant George Albert ‘Rick’ Ryckman 
Sergeant Hugh Belcher 
Sergeant Eric Ambrose ‘Junior’ or ‘Crisy’ Crist 
Sergeant Hubbard 
Sergeant O’Neil 
Sergeant L.A. Walker 

One name was familiar.

So I Googled his name.

Lo and behold!

Click here.

George Frederick “Buzz” Beurling

​There is a misconception that Buzz Beurling was not a team player.

This author thinks otherwise.

Beurling had been accused of being a ‘loner’ while flying with No. 403 Squadron, and it was said that the air battle over Malta suited his mentality. From this the idea has grown that he was allowed to just go off and shoot down enemy aircraft at will. This is far from the truth. Over Malta No. 249 Squadron generally flew in pairs, something his flight commander Laddie Lucas drummed into Beurling on day two. The young Canadian took his leader’s words onboard and was never reprimanded for disobeying this rule, nor any other order. He was not guilty of waging a private war, as the island was limited in its 100 octane fuel supply and every sortie had to count. No-one, not even Beurling at the height of his prowess as a fighter-ace, had licence to roam freely and shoot down enemy aircraft. When Beurling’s Spitfire suffered radio failure (a valid excuse to act alone) he duly returned to base. If Beurling was scrambled, he followed the Controller’s orders and the same went for air tests, or any other authorised flight; if given a vector, he obeyed orders, otherwise he landed. Moreover, Beurling was a team player and constantly saved the lives of his fellow pilots in combat, on more than one occasion being shot down as a result…

Read the book. I bought it yesterday. It’s available on Google Books for $9.99 CAN.




About Erks

What Paul Richey thought about erks? 

Excerpt from his book written in 1941

fighters came across in big formations: sometimes three squadrons of 109s would do a sweep as far as Metz and Nancy. The 110s had made their first appearance at the end of March, in close squadron formation and very high, only engaging when pressed into it by our Hurricanes. It was obvious that the Germans were practising offensive tactics, and it looked as though the bust-up might come soon.

This thought caused us to pay even more attention to our aircraft. Every pilot takes a pride in his own aeroplane, but the knowledge that he may be in action at any moment is naturally an additional incentive. There was now a marked increase of interest in the individual Hurricanes, and long hours were spent by ground crews and pilots in flight testing, altering rigging, adjusting control wires to the preferred tautness, tuning the engine, harmonizing the sights, checking the guns and testing them in the air, and generally getting everything on the top line.

For the benefit of the layman I should mention that the crew of a lighter does not consist solely of the pilot, although he is the only member who flies: the other two members, who are aircraftsmen, are just as vital; they are the fitter and the rigger. The fitter looks after the engine, the rigger the airframe. The pilot depends on these two men for his life. Normally the fitter and rigger take a personal pride in their pilot and would do anything for him. They are inextricably involved in his victories and defeats. Consequently there is a wonderful spirit of teamwork and comradeship between the pilots, who are mostly officers, and the men not only the fitters and riggers, but all the men in the various technical sections right down to the aircraft hands. My own fitter and rigger were two fine chaps, and much later, back in England, I paid a visit to my old squadron specially to thank them for the invaluable work they had done for me during the French campaign.

More on Paul Richey

The pilots of 1 Squadron

The pilots of 1 Squadron

Most of 1 Squadron’s well trained and experienced pilots are seen here shortly before the outbreak of the blitzkrieg on 10 May 1940. The commanding officer, Squadron Leader PH ‘Bull’ Halahan, is in the centre, wearing a sheepskin flying jacket.

On the far left is Pilot Officer Billy Drake. Although one of the only two pilots in this photo not to receive a DFC in June 1940 (having been shot down and wounded on 13 May), he was to end the war as the most successful of all this group of outstanding fighter pilots. He had by then been promoted to Wing Commander, and had claimed some 28 aircraft shot down (three of which were shared and two unconfirmed), plus 15 more destroyed on the ground. He had also been awarded a DSO, DFC and Bar, and a US DFC. He remained in the RAF postwar, becoming a Group Captain.

Next to him is Flying Officer LR Clisby, an aggressive Australian pilot who was the squadron’s first top-scorer, having already claimed at least ten aircraft shot down, and possibly more, by the time he was brought down and killed on 14 May. Behind his left shoulder is his friend, Flying Officer LR Lorimer, who was shot down and killed during the same engagement.

Flight Lieutenant P Prosser Hanks was one of the unit’s two flight commanders. He had claimed seven victories when sent home to become an instructor later in May. He ended the war as a Wing Commander, credited with 13 enemy aircraft shot down. Between him and Halahan is Pilot Officer PWO ‘Boy’ Mould (see below).

Behind ‘Bull’ Halahan’s left shoulder is Jean-François Demozay. A civilian pilot before the war, he had been loaned to the squadron as French interpreter. He fled to England when France fell, and became a fighter pilot, joining 1 Squadron in this role late in 1940. He ended the war as a Wing Commander, credited with 18 victories, but was then killed in an aircraft accident on 19 December 1945.

The senior flight commander, Flight Lieutenant PR ‘Johnnie’ Walker, is next. He claimed eight successes in combat during spring 1940, and ended the war as a Group Captain. Standing in front of Walker and the next two pilots is Flight Lieutenant DM Brown, the squadron medical officer. Behind his left shoulder is Flying Officer JI Kilmartin (see below).

Almost hidden behind Brown and Kilmartin is Flying Officer PHM Richey, later author of Fighter Pilot, one of the classic books of the war. Before he was wounded on 19 May, Paul Richey had claimed ten victories. He later returned to operations in 1941, and also ended the war as a Wing Commander.

Another, almost hidden behind his colleagues, is New Zealander Flying Officer WH Stratton (see below), and the last in the line is Flying Officer CD ‘Pussy’ Palmer, born in the USA of British parentage. He later became a Squadron Leader, but was shot down and killed over the English Channel on 27 October 1942.

Missing from this group are three other notable officers and three leading NCO pilots. The third representative of the Commonwealth was Flying Officer MH ‘Hilly’ Brown from Canada, who was on leave when the photograph was taken. He had claimed some 17 victories when the squadron left France in June, having overtaken Clisby as the top-scorer for the unit in 1940. Becoming Commanding Officer soon after the return to England, he also flew during the Battle of Britain. He became a Wing Commander in 1941, but was shot down and killed over Sicily on 12 November 1941.

Flying Officer GPH Matthews joined the squadron in August 1939. He claimed five victories during May-June 1940, ending the war as a Squadron Leader, with 11 victories credited to him.

Pilot Officer PV Boot had arrived only in March 1940 as a reinforcement, having just retrained as a fighter pilot. The 1 Squadron ethos and example obviously enveloped him rapidly, for by 5 June he had claimed five aircraft shot down. He later took part in the Battle of Britain before becoming an instructor, and was awarded a DFC.

The squadron’s outstanding NCO pilot was Flight Sergeant FJ Soper, who claimed 13 victories over France during 1940. He was later commissioned and by 1941 had been given command of his own squadron. He failed to return from a sortie to intercept an intruding German bomber off the Suffolk coast on 5 October 1941.

Flight Sergeant AV ‘Darky’ Clowes had claimed seven successes by 18 June 1940. He too was commissioned later in the year, subsequently becoming a Squadron Commander. A third notable NCO was Flight Sergeant FG Berry, who shot down the bomber that had just bombed the troopshipLancastrian in St Nazaire harbour on 17 June 1940. He was killed shortly afterwards, on 1 September, during the Battle of Britain.

Paul Richey