Flight Lieutenant Herbert John Southwood
On Sunday 24th October, 1943, the 403 squadron, RCAF, Operations Record Book records the loss of F/L Herbert John Southwood, who went missing in the vicinity of Doullens, France, though I haven’t been able to ascertain the circumstances of his death….
Today was sunny with a few scattered clouds. Four non-operational sorties were flown on local flying and aircraft tests. There were also two sweeps. On the first sweep, our Squadron became engaged and F/O J.D. Browne destroyed one ME 109 and damaged another. F/L H.J. Southwood is posted as missing today.
FLIGHT LIEUTENANT HERBERT JOHN SOUTHWOOD was born in Plumstead, Kent on the 19th April, 1918, a couple of years after his parents, John and Emmie Southwood had been married in St. Margaret’s, the local parish church.
Sometime in the early to mid 1920’s the family emigrated to Canada, where John was crippled in an mining accident in the Drumheller valley, in 1928. The couple had two other sons and twin daughters, one of whom died in infancy.
Herbert’s family settled in Calgary and after completing High School, he worked for a dying and cleaning company assisting with a chemical still, but his hobby was drafting and in 1938 he was living at home and in his final year of training to become a Technical Surveyor, at the Institute of Technology and Art. He was also a keen sportsman and athlete, playing Rugby and Hockey for the city teams.
He enlisted with the RCAF in September 1938, and was passed fit for full flying duties in July 1939.
Southwood worked hard during his training and received his Pilot’s Flying Badge on 11th April, 1940. A few months later he qualified as an Instructor and was retained in Canada to train other pilots, before spending some time at RCAF Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, with 129 squadron, possibly flying Hawker Hurricanes for Eastern Air Command.
By all accounts Herbert was a very quiet man. His service file says that he didn’t drink or smoke and attests to his reliability and efficiency. He was very capable with lots of drive and initiative, but tended to be brusque in command of other men.
Herbert was finally posted overseas and disembarked in the U.K. in February, 1943. After a spell at 52 O.T.U., he arrived at RAF Digby, to take up a posting with 416 squadron on the 8th June. The first couple of weeks seem to have been taken up with cine gun practice and formation flying. He went into action on the 22nd June and from then on he flew with the squadron regularly and without incident, apart from a couple of ‘prangs’ caused by undercarriage failures.
On the 20th July, Southwood came to Kenley to join 403 squadron, and saw his first action with them on the 29th.
The following day, Southwood seems to have turned a potentially disastrous situation to his advantage, on Ramrod 23:
F/L Southwood, flying as Yellow 2, had the windscreen fluid tank discharge nearly all of its contents over both the cockpit and himself and, as a result, lost sight of the Wing. After he had cleaned off the windscreen, he found himself flying North of Amsterdam at 10,000 feet and he recognized a ME 109 coming towards him slightly below and 500 yards ahead. The e/a turned in on his starboard and F/L Southwood dove after him firing a short burst but noticing no results. F/L Southwood now got astern of the e/a, which began diving. He gave two long bursts, closing to within 50 yards. After the first long burst, the e/as wheels fell down and black smoke poured over the tailplane. F/L Southwood did not notice any strikes though as he was flying into the sun. He last saw this e/a spiraling down to starboard with his wheels down and black smoke trailing behind it. F/L Southwood had used up all of his ammunition and he was now at 4,000 feet so he broke off his attack. This ME 109 is claimed as damaged.
On the 15th October, Herbert Southwood was given command of his own Flight and just over a week later was posted as missing…
W/C Godefroy promoted George Beurling to take over from Southwood, on the 28th October, without consulting the Canadian ace, and thereby lost his cooperation, which ultimately led to Beurling’s departure from the Kenley Wing.
F/Lt. Herbert John Southwood was laid to rest in ABBEVILLE COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION ,Somme, France. He was 25 years old when he died.
Rest in peace Sir, and thank you for your service.