Group Captain Francis Victor Beamish DSO and Bar, DFC, AFC
Francis Victor Beamish was born in Dunmanway, County Cork, on 27th September, 1903 – three of his brothers served in the RAF and also attained high-ranking positions. They were all exceptional sportsmen. Victor was a star cadet at Cranwell and showed great talent as a pilot.
In 1925, he went to Canada to form and lead the Royal Canadian Air Force aerobatic display team flying Siskins, which took the press and the public by storm. However, his health deteriorated and he was invalided out of the RAF in the early 30’s, suffering from tuberculosis. Thanks to his determination and tough constitution, he managed to fight his way back to full fitness, and re-entered the RAF a couple of years before war broke out.
Beamish was 37 years old in 1940 when he was station commander at North Weald – nearly twice the age of some of the younger pilots – yet he flew 126 sorties during the Battle of Britain and was decorated three times for his courage in combat.
He joined Air Vice-Marshal Leigh-Mallory’s staff after the Battle of Britain, but insisted on returning to command another operational fighter station in 1942, and was posted to Kenley, where he continued to insist on flying operationally, saying: “I cannot send these boys to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.”
Ultimately, this insistence on leading from the front led to Beamish’s death on 28th March, 1942 – a fate he could have legitimately avoided by staying behind his desk at Kenley.
On that fateful day, Beamish led 485 (New Zealand) Squadron and the Kenley Wing for a ‘Rodeo’ fighter sweep. They rendezvoused at 17.05 and set a course for Cap Griz-Nez, St. Inglevert and Ambleteuse. The Luftwaffe reacted in force, sending up between 50 and 60 FW190’s and Me109’s. Beamish spotted them at 19,000ft, turned the Wing in towards them and a huge dogfight broke out. Warrant Officer Rudolf Ptacek of 602 Squadron and Group Captain Beamish both lost their lives in this battle, though none of their comrades witnessed what happened to them. The Spitfires of the Kenley wing returned triumphant at 18.20hrs, with several pilots claiming victories, but it soon became clear that Beamish and Ptacek were missing and the search for them began.
Neither Beamish’s body or any evidence of his aircraft was ever found. He is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial and at Kenley in the naming of the road which leads to the airfield, ‘Victor Beamish Avenue.’
Trafford Leigh-Mallory paid tribute to Beamish’s indomitable spirit:
Victor Beamish was an outstanding personality of Fighter Command. It was impossible to keep him on the ground even when employed on the staff. He established his claim to rank with the greatest fighter pilots of all time. An idealist without any thought of self he was an inspiring station commander. He will be best remembered for his magnificent and infectious courage as a brilliant and fearless leader of the fighter pilots whose interests were so dear to him and who loved him so well.
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.