Pilot Officer Thomas Tristram Fox
On Saturday 4 April, 1942, New Zealander Pilot Officer Fox, known as ‘Dene’, was 21 years old with 259 flying hours to his credit. He had been posted to 485 Squadron RNZAF the previous month and was still a novice at operational flying.
That Saturday, flying a Mk.Vb Spitfire P8724, Dene took off from Kenley at 0945 as part of Circus 119*. It was his fifth sortie and he was flying as No.2 to a fellow New Zealander, P/O Fred Chandler.
485 Squadron, along with 457 Squadron RAF, escorted 12 Boston bombers to bomb the rail yards at St. Omer, in the Pas de Calais. Flak was reported over the French coast and again over the target area, although there the flak was less intense. After dropping their bombs the Circus group turned for home over Aire Sur La Lays, to the south of St. Omer, when the bombers were attacked by about 30 German fighters from above and below. Two Bostons were seen to be flying on one engine but the ORB reported that “all were escorted safely until over England”. (1)
However, Dene Fox and Fred Chandler were not so lucky. The entry for the day in the Squadron’s Operation Record Book (ORB) reads:
… P/O Fox and P/O Chandler of 485 (NZ) Squadron failed to return and were last seen in the target area going down smoking in a gradual dive. Nothing further has been heard of them…..
Later in 1942, Squadron Leader Reg Grant, CO of 485 Squadron from May 1942 and who had flown in the sortie, wrote to Fred’s cousin, Sub-Lieutenant Selewyn Littlejohn:
We …. had just turned away from the target area when we were attacked by about 30 Fw 190s. … Freddie’s No 2 [Dene Fox] got into a bit of trouble and was shot down and in assisting him we all think his own aircraft had been hit and that he had to bale out. ….. I have since had word from the Red Cross that the other chap P/O Fox was killed and his grave was found, but no word has been heard of Fred. …(2)
As the two New Zealanders discovered, the Fw 190 was proving itself to be superior in all but turn radius to the Spitfire Mk.V, particularly at low and medium altitudes, which tended to be where 485 Squadron was operating on its Circus and Ramrod* sorties, escorting bombers.
Dene Fox’s aircraft crashed at Louches, midway between St. Omer and the coast, and he was buried in the Longuenesse (St.Omer) Souvenir Cemetery. After the war, his body could not be found in the cemetery and an inscription on his headstone reads ‘Buried near this spot’ (3).
Dene Fox was the son of Thomas and Marion Fox from Auckland and the husband of Doreen Fox (neé Holden) whom he had met while on flying training in Canada. He and Doreen were married on 29 September 1941, in Minnedosa, Manitoba (4)
Educated at Sacred Heart College in Auckland, Dene attended Otago University and Auckland University College for two years taking science subjects and he was still studying when he enlisted for aircrew on 19 August 1940. A keen sportsman, he played rugby for both Sacred Heart and Otago University and also took part in athletics, swimming, rowing, tennis and golf.
On 2 March, 1941, he started his initial training at RNZAF Levin in the lower North Island, after which he was posted to the RCAF’s No. 10 Service Flying Training School at Dauphin, Manitoba where he joined Course 33 on 18 June 1941, flying Harvards. Receiving his wings on 25 September 1941, he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer. On 18 November 1941, he joined No. 53 Operational Training Unit at Llandow in Wales to convert to Spitfires.
Doreen Fox travelled to New Zealand in 1947 to meet Dene’s parents (5). In 1948 Doreen, who was living with Dene’s parents in Auckland, and her mother-in-law were each presented with a New Zealand Memorial Cross. Instituted after the war, the cross was awarded to family members of service personnel who had died on active service during the Second World War – the award is still made today. Doreen was presented with her husband’s medals in May 1950 (6).
Okioki ki te rangimarie – May he rest in peace.