This tribute was written in 2012.
I was paying homage to another No. 403 Squadron pilot. George Aitken was with 403 during the Dieppe Raid in 1942. I had gotten his obituary from Dean Black.
AITKEN, George Dennis
With heavy hearts, the family of George D. Aitken, AFC, announce his passing on January 11, 2012 at the age of 91.
Survived by his best friend and loving wife of 62 years, Daphne; his three daughters: Deborah Sprenger (Wolfgang), Heather Rawsthorne (Mike) and Dorothy Lowrie; his sister-in-law, Marjorie Aitken and many nieces and nephews.
George was predeceased by his parents, a brother and a number of life-long friends and family members. A Spitfire pilot during WWII and an Air Force Cross recipient, George spent his retirement years working as an historian, documenting facts pertaining to his experiences during the war. It was his belief that if we do not learn from history, we will be forced to relive it one day.
More on George Aitken…
Pilot Dedicates Golden Years to History of RCAF
BY EDMONTON JOURNAL NOVEMBER 1, 2005
The bullet from the Nazi fighter tore through the canopy of George Aitken’s Spitfire, missing him by inches. “My engine and wing were riddled with fire,” he says. “Pieces of my aircraft broke off and I began to lose height.”
The bullet from the Nazi fighter tore through the canopy of George Aitken’s Spitfire, missing him by inches.”My engine and wing were riddled with fire,” he says. “Pieces of my aircraft broke off and I began to lose height.” Aitken was flying over Nazi-occupied France with his Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) squadron on June 2, 1942, when it was attacked by a much superior number of German fighters. “I had gone to the aid of a pal who was being attacked when I suddenly found myself being fired on by two enemy fighters,” says Aitken. “My friend went down and the Nazis backed off their attack on me, probably because they were low on fuel.”I could see the white cliffs of Dover and safety ahead. But I fell to about 1,000 feet in altitude from 6,000 feet and I realized I wasn’t going to make it.”The attack on Aitken’s squadron set a record for losses by a single RCAF offensive patrol. One pilot was killed and five became prisoners of war after ditching their damaged Spitfires.”I dived out and my parachute opened immediately,” says Aitken. “I landed feet-first in the Channel, climbed into my dinghy and a motor torpedo boat picked me about 20 minutes later.”
Aitken, 85, who flies an RCAF flag at his home, has turned historian and is now collecting details about the RCAF during the Second World War. “My friend Wayne Ralph, who has written a book on wartime experiences of Canadian pilots, says our war is as distant to the present generation as the Battle of Agincourt,” says Aitken. “But even if we are forgotten, we will be discovered again. I want historical writers to have reliable facts.”
Edmonton-born Aitken tried to get a job in a bank on graduating from school. But he was told he would be wanted by the Forces. He applied to become a pilot and joined the RCAF in December 1940. He trained in Canada and southern England before joining the 416 Spitfire squadron at a new airfield at Peterhead in northeast Scotland in August 1941.
“The threat of a Nazi invasion was still very much on the minds of authorities,” says Aitken, 19 at the time. “Airmen were trained in the intricacies of bayonet fighting while officers practised with Tommy guns.” Despite constant patrolling, few contacts with the enemy were reported. Just as well, perhaps. “Our Spitfires had been flown during the Battle of Britain by the likes of Polish, French, South African and Australian pilots,” says Aitken. “The planes were a bit greasy. The Spitfire was one of the fastest and most effective single-seat fighters of its day.”
On August 19, 1942, Aitken, flying out of southern England, did two missions over the ill-fated raid on Dieppe. The Dieppe attack was planned as “a reconnaissance in force” to test the defences of Hitler’s continental fortress and the capability of the Allies to launch large-scale amphibious assaults. “The raid was a disaster,” says Aitken. “It lasted only nine hours, but among nearly 5,000 Canadian soldiers involved, more than 900 were killed and 1,874 taken prisoner.” The Allies lost 106 aircraft and 81 airmen, the RCAF losing 13 machines and 10 men. “Two of our 403 squadron pilots collided on the way out and are buried at Dieppe,” says Aitken. “Another of our pilots was also lost that day. “We flew back over ships lost there and the equipment caught on the rocky shorelines. The Nazis had picked it off easily.”
Aitken’s squadron later accompanied American Flying Fortress bombers on raids over France and Germany. “An extra tank was put on our Spitfires to give us an extra 20 minutes in the air,” says the former pilot. “We’d return to base, refuel and then go back to meet the bombers as they returned.” Aitken was one of many pilots who stayed with the bombers too long. It made him a rare member of both the Goldfish Club (for landing in “the drink”) and the Caterpillar Club for “hitting the silk” (ground).
“When I knew my gas was going to run out, I made for Littlestone aerodrome, near Dover,” says Aitken. “But not only wasn’t it operational, it had steel barriers on the runway to prevent landings. “Dikes had also been built on the edge of the runway for the same reason.” But he had to land. After switching off all fuel tanks and jettisoning his spare, he flew over one dike, used his wing elevators to clear another and hopped over a third. “The fourth dike was zooming towards me, I had lost numerous pieces from under the fuselage and the prop was no longer in one piece,” says Aitken. “I came to a stop with the engine teetering over the last dike.” A sergeant appeared and Aitken asked him if other Spitfires had landed there. “Not the way you did,” the officer replied with a wry smile.”
Aitken says philosophically that war should be forgotten. But pilots he flew with gave their lives to overthrow a tyranny that could have swept the world. “We should not forget them,” he says.