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Air Commodore Alan Deere

Air Commodore Alan “Al” Deere


DSO, OBE, DFC and Bar, DFC (US) Croix de Guerre (12 December 1917 - 21 September 1995).

Al Deere was one of the RAF's leading aces during World War II and in pictures epitomises the image of a square jawed RAF hero with more tan a passing resemblance to Dan Dare. He was also extremely lucky, being shot down or crashing nine times in his career. He recorded his own escapades in his autobiography Nine Lives, which was published in 1959.

Al Deere was born on December 12th 1917 in Westport, New Zealand. Soon after this his family moved to Wanganui NZ and it was here that he was educated at the Marist Brother's School and then Wanganui Technical College. At school Deere first made a name for himself as a sportsman, excelling at Rugby, Cricket and Boxing. He would continue to be an acid sportsman throughout his life

After leaving school Deere briefly worked as a shepherd before spending two years working as a law clerk before setting out to begin a long cherished dream to become a pilot. This he achieved in 1937 by applying to the Royal Air Force, arriving in England to commence his flying training. In October 1938 Deere gained his commission as Flying Officer and after a short period with 74 Squadron he was posted to 54 Squadron at RAF Hornchurch., then flying Gloster Gladiators.

54 Squadron converted to Spitfires in early 1940 and it was whilst flying Spitfire's that Deere achieved fame. Soon after converting to Spitfire’s Deere had his first brush with death when his oxygen supply failed at altitude, Deere passed out but recovered consciousness in time to pull out from his plummet.

In May 1940, 54 Squadron and Deere found themselves embroiled in the intensive air fighting over Dunkirk and on May 23rd 1940 Deere scored his first aerial victories by shooting down two Messerscmitt Bf 109's whilst covering a daring rescue mission being undertaken by James Leatheart . This was also the first recorded incidence of a Spitfire shooting down a Messerschmitt Bf 109. Later on the same day Deere bagged himself a third 109.

By 26th May 1940 Deere had added two Messerscmitt Bf 110's to his tally but on May 28th expended the second of his nine lives when he was himself shot down while engaging a Dornier Do 17. Luckily Deere survived a forced landing in Belgium and after cycling to Dunkirk was evacuated on a destroyer and was back at Hornchurch within a day of first taking off.

Deere's actions led to him being awarded (along with Adolph Malan, James Leatheart, Jonny Allen and Robert Stanford Tuck) the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). The ceremony was conducted by King George VI on June 28th 1940 at RAF Hornchurch.

The Battle of Britain was very eventful for Deere. By the time that 54 Squadron was withdrawn from the battle on September 3rd 1940, Deere had significantly increased his score but had himself expended a further three of his nine lives, having survived a mid air collision with a Messerschmitt 109, being shot down once and being hit by a bomb while trying a hairy take off during a bombing raid.

Another of his nine lives was expended in early 1941 whilst he was training new pilots. This was caused by a collision with another Spitfire. Deere only just managed to struggle free from the plummeting wreck and then found that his parachute failed to open properly. Luckily he fell into the softer part of a sewage farm! Whilst recovering from this fall, Deere was appointed the Operations Controller at RAF Catterick.

In may 1941 Deere moved to take command of a flight of 602 Squadron at Ayr and had soon expended another of his nine lives when crash landed after suffering an engine failure. At the end of July 1941 Deere was promoted to Squadron Leader, in command of 602 Squadron. In early 1942, Deere made a visit to the United states to lecture on air fighting tactics and on his return was given command of 403 Canadian Squadron. In August 1942 Deere was sent to the RAF Staff College at Cranwell from where he was posted to the staff of 13 Group but managed to swing a more active posting with 611 Squadron at Biggin Hill. A brush with a Focke Wulf 190 whilst flying from Biggin Hill accounted for another of his nine lives to be lost.

Deere was then given command of the Biggin Hill Wing, leading over a hundred offensive sorties over occupied Europe before in September 1943 taking command of the Central Gunnery School at Sutton Bridge. After another brief stint vas a staff officer with 11 Group, Deere again returned to active flying duties in mid 1944 when he was invited by General Valin to command the Free French Fighter Wing for the Normandy campaign. Deere ended the war as the Station Commander at RAF Biggin Hill.

After World War II, Deere remained in the RAF going on to command a number of airfields including RAF Duxford and North Weald. In 1951, Deere was promoted to Wing Commander and in 1955 took up a senior post with the RAF Staff College at Cranwell. In 1958 Deere was promoted to Group Captain and became assistant commandant of the RAF Staff College in 1963. In July 1964 Deere was appointed Air Commodore and took command of the East Anglian Sector. Deere was also honoured by being made an Aide de Camp (ADC) to the Queen in 1962 and in 1965 by leading his fellow Battle of Britain pilots during the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill.

Deere retired from active service in 1967 but always a keen sportsman took up a post as the RAF’s civilian director of sport. In 1969, Deere, along with R S Tuck and Adolph Galland acted as a consultant during the making of the epic film The Battle of Britain. Deere retired in 1977 and died in 1995. As a fitting tribute, his ashes were scattered over the Thames estuary from a Spitfire of the Battle of Britain Memorial flight.

Bishop, E. 2002. The Daily Telegraph Book of Airmen's Obituaries.
Deere, A. 1959. Nine Lives
Smith, R.C. Al Deere: Wartime Fighter Pilot, Peacetime Commander, the Authorised Biography.



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