Flying Officer William Davies Eccleton
William Davies Eccleton enlisted in the Australian Reserves on 8 August, 1940, and was called up on 22 July.
He then followed the training process through No.2 Initial Training School at Bradfield Park and then on to No.5 Elementary Flying Training School at Narrowmine. It was whilst he was at 5 EFTS that he married Margaret Isabel Dance.
On the completion of No.3 (P) Course, Eccleton left Sydney on 31 October bound for Canada. On arrival he joined No.1 Service Flying Training School at RCAF Camp Borden. On completion of No.14 (P) Course, Eccleton was posted to Rockcliffe Air Station, pending being sent to Britain, and commissioned as a Pilot Officer on 12 February 1941. His training had seen him fly the Tiger Moth, Yale and Harvard where he accumulated 124 flying hours across these three types.
After embarking at Halifax, Nova Scotia on 23 February, he reached Britain ten days later. Pilot Officer Eccleton was then posted to No.57 Operational Training Unit (OTU) at RAF Hawarden to convert to flying the Spitfire. After eight weeks with the OTU, he was posted to newly-formed, 452 Squadron at RAF Kirton-in-Lindsey. He was joined in his posting by nine other pilots from 57 OTU.
Having been formed only on 8 April, 452 Squadron was very much in the training phase. By the end of April there were fourteen pilots on strength, the arrivals on 5 May brought them to full complement. Flying rates gradually rose in May as the number of Spitfires increased. However, William Eccleton was admitted to RAF Hospital Rauceby on 25 May, to receive treatment for injuries sustained while training in Canada. He remained there until 30 June, during this time he effectively left the squadron and was posted to the Station Headquarters RAF Kirton-in-Lindsey as non-effective.
During July, the Squadron began operational sorties, mainly patrols but also included participation in a sweep over France. Having missed a month of training, Eccleton took no part in these operations. 452 Squadron moved, at short notice, to RAF Kenley on 21 July. Having moved to 11 Group, 452 Squadron began operations immediately, Eccleton had however remained at Kirton-in-Lindsey and spent some more time at the RAF Hospital at Rauceby.
3 August 1941 was Pilot Officer Eccleton’s first recorded operational sortie was a Kenley Wing evening sweep to St Omer. He flew as “Red 2” to Flight Lieutenant “Paddy” Finucane, when their section was engaged by five Me.109s near Ambleteuse. In the ensuing combat both Finucane and Eccleton shot down a Me.109. In his combat report, Eccleton recorded:
I was flying as Red 2 when E/A attacked from starboard quarter diving down from approx 14000ft. I took a long deflection at the second E/A which turned over on its back and went down in flames. Red 1 confirms seeing E/A hit and go down in flames.
Eccleton is recorded as having fired 159 rounds from his machine guns. His next two sorties, on 7 August, were less eventful when he formed part of the close escort cover on Circus 67 to St Omer and then part of the high cover for bombers that afternoon. His sortie on 10 August also proved uneventful when the Kenley Wing performed a Fighter Sweep, again over St Omer. He flew one of the first five Spitfire Mk.Vs used operationally that day by the squadron.
Whilst flying as part of the escort for Circus 69 on 12 August, Eccleton was forced to return to Kenley early with an undisclosed problem – this was serious enough for him to remain at Kenley when the squadron took off on Circus 71 early that evening. The next activity for newly promoted, Flying Officer Eccleton, took place on the morning on 16 August when he joined the squadron as they flew in company with 602 on Circus 73 to Boulogne. During this sortie, Flight Lieutenant Finucane claimed another victory when the squadron engaged around twenty Me.109s. Eccleton is not recorded as having engaged the enemy fighters. After returning to Kenley, re-arming and refuelling, the squadron took off again at 12.10 on Circus 73 for St Omer. Although some enemy fighters were seen, no contact was made and the squadron returned to base at lunchtime.
Flying Officer Eccleton took no part in the squadron operations on 18 August, but joined them on Circus 81 on the following morning. This was a Kenley mission to Tournay. The squadrons encountered a large formation of Me.109s, thought to be around 100, between Gravelines and Gosnay. 452 Squadron was the top-most squadron of the Wing. As the formation headed for home, they were engaged by enemy fighters. In the ensuing dog-fights, the squadron claimed two and one as a probable, however, both Flying Officer Eccleton and Sergeant Richard Gazzard were missing. The summary of the Squadron Combat Report recorded:
F/Lt. Finucane saw Spitfire behind him (identity unknown) but presumed to be P/O Eccleton or Sgt. Gazzard lose a wing during the melee.
The body of Flying Officer William Eccleton was later recovered by the Germans.
Born on 22 February 1916, William Davies Eccleton was the son of William Christopher and Frances Mary Eccleton of Levin, Wellington, New Zealand. He had an elder sister and brother, Joan Margaret and Joseph Henry Eccleton. Joseph was commissioned and served with an anti-aircraft regiment in the New Zealand army during the war.
Pilot Officer William Davies Eccleton is buried in Dunkirk Town Cemetery, Plot 2 Row 2 Grave 14. The inscription reads:
“For his country and his loved ones”
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.