|Charles Brian Fabris Kingcome|
|Allegiance||Royal Air Force|
||Royal Air Force|
|Years of service||1936-1954 (19 years)|
|Commands held||92 Squadron, 61 Squadron 145 Squadron RAF, 601 Squadron, 205 Squadron, No. 417 Squadron RCAF; No. 1 Squadron SAAF|
Second World War
Group Captain Charles Brian Fabris Kingcome DSO DFC & Bar (31 May 1917 – 1994) was a British flying ace of the Second World War, most notable for serving with No. 92 Squadron Royal Air Force in 1940 during the Battle of Britain. He frequently led the squadron on a temporary basis before receiving full command early in 1941.
He later served in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and over Yugoslavia with RAF, Royal Canadian Air Force and South African Air Force Supermarine Spitfire and heavy bomber units. His total personal score stood at eight enemy aircraft destroyed, three shared, five probable and 13 damaged.
Kingcome was born on 31 May 1917 in Calcutta, India, where his father was stationed. Having lived the first two years in the care of an ayah—a nanny—he moved to England, and was educated at numerous schools, moving between them, according to historian Philip Kaplan, "often after his mother happened to hear something substandard at his current school." While being educated at a school in Huntingdonshire, a civilian pilot, Philip Gordon-Marshall, flew low over the grounds of the school and landed. "Is there a Brian Kingcome here?" he asked. "Have I come to the right place?" Gordon-Marshall, a friend of Kingcome's sister, Pat, had applied to join to the RAF but was turned away after failing a medical examination. The civilian pilot, four years older than Kingcome, asked the headmaster for permission to take the boy for a flight in the aeroplane. Kingcome later recalled in his memoirs,
Basking in the gaze of many envious eyes, I climbed aboard and a moment later found myself for the first time in a world I had never dreamed could exist—a world free from the drag of Earth's umbillical cord, free to climb, swoop and dive, free of boundaries, free of gravity, free of ties, free to do anything but stand still.
It was several years later when Kingcome found an advertisement in The Times for applications to serve in the General Duties branch of the RAF—the executive branch of the air force which was, Kaplan wrote, "the pathway for ultimate promotion to the highest command positions; a prerequisite being the successful completion of pilot training." Those who applied would have to pass a written examination, medical examination and an interview. As he neared his eighteenth birthday, he was increasingly fascinated by the idea of a life in the RAF. "As he saw it," Kaplan wrote, "the air force provided an exciting, rewarding career with the chance actually to be paid to fly the best aeroplanes in the world; the coming war was clearly inevitable and his age group would be the first to be called up so why wait for that to happen and end up as a cook or an infantry soldier when he could act immediately and get in on the ground floor?" He had, however, told his mother he would not join the RAF—he realised the only way to convince her was to pass the exam, which promised a place at RAF College Cranwell. With only eight weeks to revise for the examination, he studied "as hard as he had ever done"—and sat the exam, passed his medical examination and "cruised through" the interview. Months later he learned he had passed the exam too; he explained to his mother and father who told him that if he was passionate enough, they would support him.
Education at Cranwell
During his education at Cranwell, Kingcome was trained to fly several aircraft; he enjoyed flying above all else. Cadets at the college began training in an Avro Tutor, a biplane training aircraft which Kingcome described as "a completely vice-free biplane that stood up to the cruellest abuse with a happy smile." The cadets then flew in the Hawker Hart, a bomber used by RAF squadrons serving in India and the Middle East known for flight characteristics "superior to any fighter aircraft then in existence", before being trained in the Hawker Fury, a single-seat fighter. He was also trained to fly the Bristol Bulldog, which could reach high speeds to intercept enemy aircraft. Kingcome noted the Bulldog was unforgiving—when in a spin it was difficult to control. One of the aeroplane's "least endearing habits," he said, "was every so often to decline to recover from a spin."
Cranwell also offered a chance for Kingcome to smoke, drink, and become accustomed to the demands of a life in the air force. Cadets would parade in the morning, and in the evening—on weekdays—they would dine formally in the mess hall. "Refining my technique, I found I could leave the squash court eight minutes before dinner, shower, change, and still arrive in mess on time," he later said. But one day in 1936, he and a friend were involved in a car accident. In thick fog, his Clyno automobile—which had cost him almost one month's wages—barrelled over. As Kaplan later wrote,
They had been running in and out of heavy fog patches along one of the straight Roman roads of Lincolnshire when they encountered an unexpected turn and a telegraph pole. Spinning the steering wheel he managed to clear the pole by inches, but as the car drifted out of a slide the rear wheels clipped a grass verge and, still moving at considerable speed, its momentum flipped the car over and through three complete rolls before coming to rest on its back in a field.
His friend was thrown from the vehicle, and landed in ditch filled with muddy water; Kingcome climbed from the automobile and rescued him. They walked through the night towards Cranwell until a passing motorist offered to drive them to the sick quarters at the college. When they arrived, Kingcome found he was unable to move his jaw; doctors examined him and found bones in his cheek, jaw and nose had been crushed or broken, and warned him they would need to perform extensive surgery. After the operation, he was ordered to remain in the quarters for six weeks, unable to eat solids—he lived on soup and liquids from a tube passed through his lips.
He soon realised, though, eating was "the least of my worries"—as Kingcome later said, surgeons at Cranwell "had more or less put my face together back to front". His sinuses were damaged, his nose flattened, and his left eye "had floated half-way down my face," causing him double vision. "Unless this fault could be corrected," he later said, "it was enough on its own to mean the end of my flying days, and hence of my RAF career, quite apart from any frightening effect I was liable to have on small children and dogs." His mother took him to visit Harold Gillies, who had become reputed for facial reconstruction during World War I. Gillies, together with his assistant, Archibald McIndoe, worked what one historian described as a "minor miracle". Though his left cheek remained wired together, his nose was skewed and his left eye lower than his right, Kingcome was overjoyed to learn his double vision had gone. "However unhappy I may have been privately over a loss of looks," he said, "publicly I had to appear indifferent." Six months after the crash, he was declared medically fit and was cleared to continue his education at Cranwell.
Towards the end of their education at Cranwell, cadets were asked for their preferences in service postings. Places were few and demand high, and it was well known among cadets that the chance of being placed in their preferred service posting was low. Kingcome initially decided flying bombers was not an attractive idea—he saw them as "sitting ducks", vulnerable and large aircraft. RAF Army Cooperation Command was also not appealing to him—he disliked the idea of flying unarmed, heavy, slow aircraft behind enemy lines during the night. He was attracted to RAF Coastal Command, however. They flew what he later described as "self-contained airborne hotels" which "roamed the vast island and coastal possessions of the British Empire, landing in crystal-clear lagoons that flanked untouched, story-book islands, where the white man was still a curiosity."
But Kingcome was most attracted to flying fighter aircraft—"if shooting there was to be, then I was determined that I would be among the shooter, not [only] one of the shot at." Choosing fighters as his first choice was a decision he made for two reasons. Firstly, he was fascinated by the aerial duels fought during World War I—comparing them with jousting in the Middle Ages; secondly, many fighter squadrons were based around London, which he saw as a vibrant hub of culture and politics, and somewhere he wanted to live. Kingcome—much to his excitement—was posted with No. 65 Squadron, based at RAF Hornchurch. His flight time over the first few months serving with the squadron was made up largely of fighter tactics, formation flying, air-gunnery and aerobatics. He and the other pilots of No. 65 Squadron were free to fly wherever they liked, being allowed to leave the base in their aircraft for lunch with friends without having to ask permission from superiors of file a flight plan. Kingcome later said he enjoyed a "marvellous life" with the squadron,
If I wanted to take off and fly up to a friend of mine who had an airfield or station somewhere a hundred miles away for lunch, I would just go. It went down as flying training. I didn't have to get permission or flight paths. I just went. If you wanted to go up and do aerobatics, you just went.
The practice was actively encouraged, because, as Kaplan notes, "it added to the sum total of a pilot's flying experience and was thus looked upon as beneficial to the service by improving his skills, knowledge and self-confidence and exposing him to new situations and unfamiliar conditions." There were, however, risks—largely the weather. There were no advanced radar systems to locate aircraft, and so pilots regularly became lost. "Danger often lay," Kaplan wrote, where a pilot "had to rely on his altimeter which had been set to the height of the aircraft where he took off. Letting down through cloud cover in preparation to land could be tricky." If lost, Kingcome would try to find a railway, "and grope your way along it until you came to a station, when you could read its name."
Nine months before the start of World War II, No. 65 Squadron retired its fleet of Gloster Gladiators for new Supermarine Spitfires. The new aircraft were single-seat fighters with eight machine guns which allowed the squadron, Kaplan said, a "considerable advantage". At the time, there was a friendly rivalry between Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane pilots. Although he conceded the latter had advantages over the aircraft he flew—"it was more robust and could take more punishment" and "was also marginally more manoeuvrable, and was far more stable on the ground"—he thought the Spitfire "personified symmetry and grace." He said of the Spitfire, "She was a thing apart, defying comparison. She was as relaxed, as elegant, as obviously and effortless at home in her natural environment as a shallow; and equally poetic in motion."
World War II
- "F/Lt. C B F Kingcome". Battle of Britain Monument in London. Retrieved 2010-09-19.
- Price, Alfred (1997). Spitfire Mark V Aces 1941-45. London: Osprey. p. 9. ISBN 978-1855326354.
- "The Airmen's Stories - F/Lt. C B F Kingcome". Battle of Britain London Monument. Retrieved 19 February 2011.
- Kaplan 2007, p. 166.
- Kaplan 2007, p. 167.
- Bishop 2004, p. 51.
- Kingcome 1999, p. 8.
- Kaplan 2007, p. 168.
- Kaplan 2007, p. 169.
- Kaplan 2007, p. 171.
- "Avro Tutor". Shuttleworth Collection. Retrieved 19 February 2011.
- "Hawker Hart". Royal Air Force Museum London. Retrieved 19 February 2011.
- "Hawker Fury". The Aviation History Online Museum. Retrieved 19 February 2011.
- "Bristol Bulldog". History Of War. Retrieved 19 February 2011.
- Kaplan 2007, p. 170.
- Kaplan 2007, p. 172.
- Kaplan 2007, p. 173.
- Kaplan 2007, p. 175.
- Bishop 2004, pp. 61—62.
- Kaplan 2007, p. 176.
- Bishop, Patrick (2004). Fighter Boys. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-653204-7.
- Kaplan, Philip (2007). Fighter Aces of the RAF in the Battle of Britain. Pen and Sword Books. ISBN 978-1-84415-5873.
- Kingcome, Brian (1999). A Willingness to Die: Memories from Fighter Command. Tempus Publishing. ISBN 0752440241.