Pilot Officer Frederick William Ratford
Frederick William Ratford joined No.253 Squadron, at RAF Manston, in November 1939, shortly after it had been established.
Initially slated to be a Blenheim fighter unit, the squadron was temporarily equipped with the Fairey Battle from mid-November. Ratford was commissioned as an Acting Pilot Officer (probationary) on 15 April 1939 before becoming a probationary Pilot Officer on 2 November.
By early-December, 253 Squadron had officially become a Battle unit. During January 1940, the squadron performed “unofficial co-operation in fighter tactics” with 79 Squadron, even painting dummy sights on the windscreens of their aircraft. The squadron were notified of another change however on 15 January, when they were informed they were to become a Hurricane unit. The severe winter weather of 1940 rendered Manston unserviceable for the second half of January and as a result, “Fighter Command attacks were rehearsed with model aircraft.” The squadron re-equipment proceeded slowly but by 24 February they had sixteen Hurricanes on strength.
By this date, 253 Squadron had moved to RAF Northolt, despite adverse weather delaying the move of their aircraft. While at Northolt, 253 began using their remaining Battles as adversary aircraft on interception training, the unit still had four on strength at the end of March. Training on their new mounts had continued at Northolt during March and by the end of the month, the squadron had completed 751 hours of flying.
The training paid dividends and the squadron became operational on 3 April, training continued with air-to-ground firing at Dengie Flats. This continued training allowed the squadron to become day and night operational on 27 April. Their Hurricanes were also improved by the fitting of variable pitch propellers and reflector gun-sights.
May brought another move for 253 Squadron, between 6th and 9th they made the relatively short hop to RAF Kenley. With the German invasion of the West, things entered a state of flux with some pilots becoming involved in ferrying operations to France. On 12 May, Pilot Officer Ratford flew an unsuccessful interception sortie from Kenley. As the situation deteriorated on the Continent, “B” Flight was detached to France on 16 May. “A” Flight remained at Kenley, but would fly to Poix each morning, operate from there during the day and return home at dusk.
On 17 May, Ratford and the other members of his flight flew an uneventful early morning patrol along the line Lille-Brussels-Cambrai. The following morning, Ratford and his colleagues were flying between Lille and Cambrai when they encountered eight Hs.126 reconnaissance aircraft; in the engagement two were confirmed as shot down with another a probable. Ratford was one of the victors in the engagement. Things were busy again that afternoon when Ratford and his colleagues when they attacked a formation of German bombers. In the engagement, the flight again downed two confirmed He.111s and one probable; Ratford was again one of the victors. One of their number, Pilot Officer J. D. Ford was missing, Ratford and Flight Lieutenant Harris returned to Kenley, the other three members of their flight made it back to Northolt via Merville.
As a result of the previous days’ activities, “A” Flight was only able to launch four aircraft from Kenley on 19 May. On patrol that afternoon, between Cambrai and Le Cateau, “A” Flight met a formation of thirty enemy aircraft, in the combat that followed Flight Lieutenant Harris and Pilot Officer Ratford, were shot down. Harris was later able to reach the English Base Hospital, but Ratford was killed.
Frederick William Ratford was born on 14 October 1916, in Essex, to Frederick George and Alice Maud Ratford (nee Glover). During January 1940, he had married Doreen K Lees in London. His younger sister, Betty, later married Sir Arthur Bryan, the chairman of Wedgewood Pottery and became Lady Betty Bryan.
Pilot Officer Frederick William Ratford is buried in Riencourt-les-Cagnicourt Communal Cemetery.
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.
Although there is no doubt that L1660 was in France with 253 Squadron, there is some doubt that it was lost on 19th May, as appears in 111 Squadron’s Operations Record Book during June.
(Many thanks to Colin Lee and Iain Arnold for their assistance with research).