Group Captain Hugh Wolfe Corner AFC MB ChB MD FRCP
On the afternoon of 25th April, 1942, Squadron Leader “Hawkeye” Wells led the Kenley Wing on Circus 137. Together with the Biggin Hill and Hornchurch Wings, they were tasked with providing an escort to 36 Boston bombers targeting the railway marshalling yards at Abbeville, Morlaix airfield, Cherbourg, Le Havre and Dunkirk. Ominously, the controller warned of large numbers of enemy aircraft approaching from the St. Omer area.
As the Kenley Wing approached Namport, three squadrons of FW190’s were spotted above 30,000ft – possibly JG26. Several came down to attack and in the ensuing combat, F/Lt. “Ginger” Lacey, of 602 squadron, damaged two FW190’s and S/L Wells damaged one. JG2 joined the battle over the Channel. In fourteen minutes, ten Spitfires, from six squadrons, were brought down between the Somme estuary and Boulogne. Group Captain Corner was shot down and baled out too low over the Channel. His parachute failed to open and he plummeted into the sea. S/Ldr. ‘Paddy’ Finucane reported circling G/Capt. Corner – he saw him in the water on his back with the waves breaking over him. His body was never found. Sgt. Paul Frederick Green also lost his life. He was last seen going down in a spin near Frevert.
Group Captain Hugh Wolfe Corner AFC MB ChB MD FRCP served as an officer in the British Army from 1917 to 1919 and saw action in France. After WW1, he entered the medical profession and worked as a general practitioner. In 1925, he applied for a short service commission in the RAF, and served in the UK and Middle East in a number of medical posts. He qualified as a pilot at RAFC Cranwell and continued to serve as a medical officer until the outbreak of WWII, when he was appointed senior medical officer to No.51 (Training) Group. There, his work on maintaining the morale and efficiency of trainees was rewarded with the Air Force Cross. His next posting was to Fighter Command Headquarters, where his medical expertise was applied to helping airmen handle combat stress and improve their effectiveness. In order to understand what pilots were experiencing, Corner felt that it was imperative that he fly alongside them on operations. He visited the Kenley Wing on 16th April, 1942, to fly on a sweep and on 25th April when he volunteered for Circus 137.
Group Captain Corner flew an unarmed Spitfire Vb (BM187), as No.4 in 602 Squadron’s Red section – wingman to F/Sgt. Len Thorne (flying as Red 3). They were attacked by two FW190’s and Corner failed to respond to repeated calls to “break”.
Hugh was the son of William and Hedwig Dorothea Corner and was married to Emily Vera Corner, a former PMRAFNS nursing sister, of Gerrard’s Cross, Buckinghamshire.
Air Marshal Sir Harold Whittingham, director of medical services in the RAF, paid tribute to Group Captain Corner in the British Medical Journal:
The last year of his service was his happiest, for a unique opportunity was available for the exercise of a keen and critical mind in an environment which he loved. He was the friend of all, but particularly of the men who fly. The rare combination of high professional attainments, wholehearted devotion to flying, and a charming and ever-youthful personality, has set a standard for his brother medical officers in the RAF which is not likely to be surpassed.
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.