These press clippings from the collection of F/Sgt. “Pat” Glover, mark a moment of celebration for No.615 Squadron, when two pilots, Lionel Manley Gaunce and Petrus “Dutch” Hugo were invested with the Distinguished Flying Cross at Buckingham Palace, for their service with the squadron during the Summer of 1940.* The third man in the photos is Douglas Hone, who didn’t receive an award.
However, there was another 615 Squadron pilot who should have been with them that day – Flying Officer Peter Collard.
The squadron had received the news that Gaunce, Hugo and Collard were to be awarded the DFC on 12th August, 1940. The pilots were feeling the strain of the Battle of Britain by this point and Sammy Samson, a member of 615’s ground crew, remembered that Collard was at readiness when he was told about his DFC, but was so exhausted that he hardly seemed to register the award. He was killed in action on 14th August, and never got to stand proudly beside his comrades at Buckingham Palace or see his baby son, who was born after his death.
“Dutch” Hugo went on to have a distinguished career in the RAF, becoming their youngest Group Captain.
Pilot Officer Douglas Hone, from Purley, survived WW2. He rejoined the RAF in 1950 and was granted a permanent commission in the Control Branch, retiring in 1975 as a Flight Lieutenant. He died in 2003.
Flight Lieutenant Lionel Manley Gaunce, from Alberta, Canada, joined the RAF in 1936, joining No.3 Squadron at Kenley later that year. The squadron Operations Record Book notes his marriage at Christ’s Church, Lancaster Gate, on 18th December, 1937. In October of that year, he got into a bit of bother over low flying:
“Court Martial Sequel – R.A.F. Officer to be Reprimanded”
It was announced on Friday that Pilot-Officer Lionel M. Gaunce, aged 22 of No.3 Flight R.A.F. Kenley Station, is to be reprimanded. He was charged at a Court Martial at Kenley, Surrey, with conduct prejudicial to good order and Air Force discipline at Birling Gap, Eastbourne, on July 21st, when, by flying unnecessarily low, he manoeuvred in a manner likely to cause annoyance. It was suggested at the trial that Gaunce was showing off by flying low, but this he denied.
(Ballymena Weekly Telegraph, Saturday 23rd October, 1937).
In February 1940, Gaunce joined No.615 Squadron in France and returned to Kenley with them when they were withdrawn on 20th May.
On 5th June he was appointed Acting Flight Lieutenant and became “A” Flight Commander. He claimed several victories in the early part of the Battle of Britain but was shot down and baled out with slight burns on 18th August.
On 26th August, he was shot down and baled out again. This time he was rescued from the sea at Herne Bay, suffering from shock, but re-joined his squadron on 14th September.
At the end of October, Gaunce was promoted to Acting Squadron Leader and given command of No.46 Squadron. Ill health forced him to leave in December 1940, and he didn’t return to operations until July 1941, when he was given command of No.41 Squadron. More victories followed, but his luck ran out on 19th November 1941, during a sortie to St.Lo, when he was hit by flak near Ivigny and crashed into the sea off Janville.
F/Lt. Gaunce DFC is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial, panel 28, and has a mountain named after him in Jasper National Park, Alberta. His wife, Paula, was living in Caterham at the time of his death.