Pilot Officer Robert Gordon Riddell
On 5th October 1942, Pilot Officer Robert Gordon Riddell died in a training accident after only two days with 401 squadron RCAF.
Captain H. M. Harris of the Bromley Observer Corps described what happened at the Court of Inquiry, held at Kenley two days after the crash…
“On October 5th, 1942, at 15.57 hours, four Spitfires were observed at about 6000ft N.E. of the post. The aircraft were in line astern and commenced a mock battle descending to about 4000ft. Three aircraft continued to mock battle while the fourth aircraft continued to dive at a very steep angle. At approximately one thousand feet this aircraft began to twist as though out of control, fuselage perpendicular. The aircraft appeared to hit the ground nose first. A big sheet of flame, followed by a column of black smoke was all that was seen.”
Riddell’s Spitfire IX, (BS307, coded YO-T) exploded upon impact two and a half miles north of Detling, near Rainham, Kent.
PILOT OFFICER ROBERT GORDON RIDDELL was born 4th March 1918, in Chatham, Ontario. His parents, Andrew and Margaret Riddell, were both born in Canada. Robert had five sisters and one brother: Warrant Officer I James Alexander Riddell, 239 Wing RAF, who was also killed in a training accident a couple of months before Robert. The two brothers were very close, and in a strange quirk of fate, Robert lost his life on 5th October, which would have been James’s birthday.
Prior to enlisting, Robert had done an associate course in banking and had worked at Royal Bank and the Bank of Nova Scotia, before becoming a salesman at Bayley and Ellis Wholesale Leather Goods in 1940.
In November of that year, he joined the Essex Scottish regiment of the Non-Permanent Active Militia of Canada and completed his training on 21st December, 1940. Until April 1941, Robert served with the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps and then he joined the RCAF.
From the beginning, Riddell showed promise. He came top of his class in his Initial Training and was praised for his hard work at No.7 Elementary Flying Training School. By the time he reached No.14 Service Flying Training School on 27th October 1941, he was a ‘capable pilot’, inclined to be over-confident, but keen and bright. He was presented with his ‘wings’ on 16th January, 1942 and was sent overseas to the UK.
On arrival, he was posted to No.3 Personnel Reception Unit and then No.9 Advanced Flying Unit. On 2nd June 1942, he was posted to No.52 Operational Training Unit and from there joined his first squadron, No.402, at Kenley on 25th August, 1942. Over the next month, Robert flew operationally on 6th September for a ‘circus’ and did a couple of patrols on the 23rd, but most of his flights were for training purposes.
Riddell was posted to 401 squadron on the 3rd October and lost his life during formation practice on 5th October, 1942, when he failed to pull out of a dive. ‘Blue section’ were being led by F/Lt. Murray and Riddell was flying as Blue 4 in a line astern formation. During the proceedings of the Court of Inquiry, F/Lt. Foss Henry Boulton suggested that Riddell had ‘blacked out’ during the dive and this would seem to be borne out by P/O Westhaver (flying Blue 3), who said he had blacked out for two seconds during the same manoeuvre. However, Group Captain Atcherley, Kenley’s Sector Commander, wasn’t altogether convinced by this theory, pointing out that there had been three similar accidents in Spitfire IX’s on the unit, and that they may have had a common cause.
Pilot Officer Robert Riddell was laid to rest at Brookwood Military Cemetery on the 9th October 1942.
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.