Flight Lieutenant Clifford George Pennock
On 25th March 1944, 403 squadron RCAF, lost their fourth pilot of the month when F/Lt. Clifford George Pennock blacked out in a climbing turn after pulling out of a dive during a practice bombing run over Kenley airfield. Many of his fellow pilots and ground crew witnessed the horrific crash and the squadron’s morale was shaken.
The squadron diarist recorded the event:
“Another sad day today. One of the new members, Cliff Pennock, blacked out and rolled over on his back. He hit the ground going at about 500mph. There was not much left. This practice flying is getting too dangerous. We will soon have to go back on ops for safety. He has a delightful wife back in Canada, which makes it so much worse.”
Flight Lieutenant Clifford George Pennock was born in Toronto on the 12th January, 1922. At the time of his enlistment in the RCAF in September, 1940, his Father, Theodore Wilfred Pennock, was a salesman, and his Mother, Margaret Blake Clifford, was deceased, from post-operative complications. Cliff had one brother and a sister. He was in the cadet corps at Walkerville Collegiate and subsequently worked as a clerk doing general office duties.
Pennock commenced Initial Training, at Regina, Saskatchewan, in November 1940, where he was considered to be a, “good, sensible type.” He stayed at Regina for his Elementary flying training and joined Course 15, on 11th December. Again, his assessments showed him to be “excellent officer material”, a “good, steady pilot,” who was keen and alert. Clifford’s progress continued at Service Flying Training School, Dunville, in February 1941, although he had difficulty with aerobatics.
Pennock received his pilot’s flying badge on 22nd April, 1941 and joined No.118 fighter squadron at Rockcliffe, Ontario, a week later, engaged in the defence of Canada’s East coast. During his time there he had a lucky escape, on 29th July, 1941, when the engine of his Grumman Goblin failed near Lawrencetown (NS) and Pennock hit trees while attempting a forced landing. In July 1942, he was stationed at Dartmouth, Ontario, and he appears to have served at Gander Lake as well, flying with 127 and 126 fighter squadrons. During this period, he appears to have flown quite a variety of types: from Hurricanes and Lysanders to Kitty Hawks and the Fairchild 24.
On the 23rd January, 1943, Clifford married his girlfriend Anita Stewart, in Windsor, Ontario, prior to being sent overseas to Britain. He arrived on 17th March, where he was sent to No.41 Operational Training Unit at Howarden. Pennock appears to have spent nearly a year doing various courses, moving to No.59 OTU at RAF Milfield and from there to RAF Tealing.
He was finally posted to 403 squadron on the 1st February, 1944. He only flew twice on bomber escort operations with the squadron: Ramrod 623 on 4th March and Ramrod 655 on the 15th March. On both occasions no enemy aircraft were encountered.
At lunchtime, on the 25th March, Pennock was flying Spitfire IX B (MJ355, coded KH-H, and apparently christened “The Anita”), for high dive bombing practice at a minimum of 3000ft. A target had been set up near the centre of the airfield at Kenley and Pennock had already attempted one run, which hadn’t been completed due to “a hang up of the bombs.” On his second run, he followed “A” Flight Commander, F/Lt. John D. Browne in echelon, 100 yards to starboard. They climbed to 11,000ft and began to dive onto the target. Pennock released his bomb and pulled out of his dive into a steep, climbing turn. Rolling over to port at around 1200ft, it seemed to observers on the ground that while inverted, he must have pulled back hard on the stick, almost managing to recover but ultimately diving at full throttle into a ploughed field near the boundary of the airfield, 300 yards north of the bays of 421 squadron’s dispersal. The Spitfire disintegrated on impact with debris spreading over a large area. The engine bounced 300 yards back towards the airfield and hit the port wing of Spitfire IX (MJ820, coded AU-F). Campbell MacArthur, the squadron’s medical officer, was on the scene as soon as the dust had settled but Pennock had obviously been killed by the impact. He cut him free from his Sutton and parachute harnesses and had his body removed to the mortuary.
A Court of Inquiry, held at Kenley, found that the engine and airframe of Pennock’s aircraft had been checked prior to the flight and the most likely cause of the accident was that Pennock had blacked out during the steep climb out of his dive.
He was 22 years old when he died.
Amongst the inventory of his personal effects was a wallet containing photographs and a lock of hair…I wonder if it was Anita’s.
F/Lt. Clifford George Pennock was buried with full service honours at Brookwood Military Cemetery on 27th March, 1944. S/L Carlson officiated and members of 403 squadron bore Pennock’s coffin, draped in the Union Flag, to his final resting place alongside his Canadian comrades, where the Last Post was sounded.
Grave reference: 48.B.5.
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.
403 squadron Operations Record Book and Diary.
RCAF service files.