George Aitken (1921-2012)

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



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.

© (c) CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc.

Collection Robert Brookes
George Aitken
Collection Robert Brookes
Model of George Aitken’s Spitfire Mk IXc built by Pat Murphy

The fog of war – 25 December 1944: “Sandy” Borland (416) Shot Down by T-Bolt

Editor’s  note

This was posted  in 2011. It  was  the first  time  that I  had heard  about  such a story  before.

I am sure you browsed though Greg’s first scanned pages of his grandfather’s logbook.

“Sandy” Borland (416) Shot Down by T-Bolt

If you did then you will not be surprised to read this obituary.

In memory of Flying Officer

who died on December 25, 1944

Military Service:

Service Number: J/25780

Age: 21

Force: Air Force

Unit: Royal Canadian Air Force

Division: 416 Sqdn.

Additional Information:

Son of John and Jessie Borland, of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

There were very few information about the death of this pilot…

Until Greg sent me this…


I was shocked when I read this entry in the logbook.

“Sandy” Borland (416) Shot Down by T-Bolt

This is a T-Bolt…

This is what I found on Google Books about the incident…

This is Flying Officer Alexander George Borland…

He was just 21..

Sandy” Borland (416) Shot Down by T-Bolt…on Christmay Day…!

Air Force Casualties

Ottawa, Jan. 9, 1945 – The Department of National Defense for Air today issued Casualty List No. 1086 of the Royal Canadian Air Force, showing next of kin of those named from Ontario include:
Missing After Air Operations (Believed Killed)

BORLAND, Alexander George, FO. J. L. Borland (father), Guelph


Air Force Casualties

Ottawa, Aug. 14, 1945 — The Department of National Defense for Air today issued casually lists Nos. 1,254 and 1,255 of the Royal Canadian Air Force, showing next-of-kin of those named from Ontario include:
Previously Missing Believed Killed, now Officially Presumed Dead

BORLAND, Alexander George, FO. J. L. Borland (father), Guelph

Click here

If you happen to stumble on this blog… Redux

Editor’s notes

Written in 2011 when I just started to write about a RCAF Squadron I knew nothing about before I met Greg Bell. This redux post is for you John. This is post number 530.


If you happen to stumble on this blog, then you are missing a lot…

A lot…

A lot about the history of RCAF No. 403  Squadron from December 1944 through May 1945.

This is my 44th article since September.

This mission all started with a few pictures of unknown pilots from a photo album of an little known Canadian Spitfire pilot with the RCAF.

Walter Neil Dove most probably never talked that much about the war.

His grandson had his photo allbum and his logbook.

Just one pilot was well known to me in this group picture taken in March 1945.

Johnnie Johnson.

I knew who he was.

He was the RAF top ace with 38 enemy aircraft destroyed. 

The caption from this picture scanned last week is most interesting.

Greg’s grandfather wrote it… in 1945!

That’s History!

Greg and I are on a special mission to share that part of History.

Greg is scanning and I am writing.

Greg is scanning like hell and I am writing likewise.

Nothing compare though to the hell some pilots went through during WW II…

Like Sandy Borland shot down by T-Bolt.

Sandy Borland

Sandy Borland incident

Here are some more pictures Greg scanned last week.

I said to him these would jump start our blog about his grandfather’s  photo album and logbook and increase its visibility…




I wish I could build this model kit for you John.


Gil Gillis Pense, Saskatchewan Redux


I wrote this in November 2013. I think the time is right to post it now since Cathy, Gil’s daughter, wrote me that her father’s logbook is nowhere to be found.

This is one of the first posts I wrote on this blog.

It was about Gil Gillis.

Gil Gillis
Walter Neil Dove collection

This is the caption with this picture found in Greg’s grandfather’s photo album…

Gil Gillis Pense, Sask

Now this is what I could find from the 403 ORBs about Gil Gillis.

Sunday, March 25, 1945

Another heavy day of flying, and not much slack time amongst the Squadron.  Five operational trips, all patrols completed.  Uneventful.  F/O F.B. Gillis force landed amongst the paratroopers and gliders across the Rhine, and was seen to land safely.  Word came through that he was safe, and would be returning to the unit.

Tuesday, March 27, 1945

A very dull and foggy day, no flying carried out in the Squadron.  The day was spent in dispersal checking maps and following the movements of the ground troops across the Rhine.  F/O F.B. Gillis returned to the Squadron, none the worse for his experience of the 25th.

Friday, May 11, 1945

No operational flying to-day, but a lot of practice formation flying was done in the area.  A beautiful warm summer day and the swimming pool is now in use.  A grand place to spend a hot sunny day.  F/L L. Foster, F/L J.C. McLeod, F/L R. Morris, F/L R.A. Morrison, F/L F.B. Gillis, F/L J.W. Gilmartin, F/O R.C. Shannon, F/O Leslie have all been slated for repatriation with the decrease of the Squadron which will soon come into effect.  P/O G.K. Lindsay has been recommended to be taken off the Squadron  for non-Operational flying.

Monday, May 28, 1945

The weather still unsettled, but warming up considerably.  Posting advice for F/L F.B. Gillis has been received for repatriation to Canada.  He will be leaving May 31st.  More practice flying, but not enough to keep the fellows fully occupied.  The Squadron is hoping for a move into more civilised parts soon, anywhere away from the desolation of the airfield.

All the above information comes from Website.


He did have a story about getting shot down and stealing a car from the Germans and driving it back to where he was stationed. He had most of the German uniform he stole from the chauffeur that was with the car. The ring, cigarette case, sword, etc. and at one time talked about a German Luger (?) gun.

 March 1945 casualties

March 1945 excerpt

403PetitBrogleMarch1945_0002 identification

Gil Gillis with captured Fw 190 – Redux

As a sequel to Hart Finley’story, something I wrote in 2011 when I knew little about 403 Squadron.

Original post

Gil Gillis was probably one of Greg’s grandfather’s best friend…

We see him in many pictures in the photo album.


Walter Neil Dove collection

Gil is from Pense, Saskatchewan in Canada.

One of these days, someone will google his name on the Internet and find this blog…

Come back for more pictures from Greg’s collection.

End of the original post

That was back then. Since 2011 I wrote more articles about Gil.

Click here.

Ballantyne, Finley, Buckham, Browne, Goldberg Redux

Post 405

Dean sent me this picture he had sent back in March 2012.

I always post what you share with me even if you share if twice.

Original post

More 403 pilots with this picture sent by Dean Black.


Collection Dean Black

James Hamilton “Jimmy” Ballantyne, Hart Finley, Robert Andrew “Bobby” Buckham, F/O J.D. Browne, Florham Park, New Jersey, F/L David Goldberg, Hamilton, Ont.

For more on Jimmy Ballantyne, click here.

For more on Hart Finley, click here.

For more on Bobby Buckham, click here.

For more on J. D. Browne, click here

For more on David Goldberg, click here

Hart Finley

Collection Dean Black