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DFC, DFC (Dutch) RAF.

“Stapme” Stapleton is the epitome of a Battle of Britain Pilot. He is now one of the only survivors left to us from the Battle of Britain.

Born in Durban, South Africa he was christened Basil Gerald Stapleton but prefers to be called Gerald. He took his epithet “Stapme” from the exclamation habitually uttered by his newspaper carton strip hero Just Jake who used to feature in the Daily Mirror.

Stapleton was commissioned into the RAF in January 1939 and by 1940 had been posted with 603 “City of Edinburgh Auxiliary Squadron” based in Scotland.

At the height of the Battle of Britain, 603 squadron was moved south to RAF Hornchurch and immediately found itself in the thick of the battle. Stapleton himself racked up almost twenty German aircraft shot down in this period, including Oberleutnant Franz von Wera who is famous for being the only German Prisoner of War to have escaped from captivity and back to Germany during World War II. Stapleton was, however, himself shot down on September 7th 1940, luckily without injury. Many of 603’s pilots were not so lucky with thirteen being killed and many more badly injured between the end of August and November 1940. These included a number of Stapleton’s friends, including Richard Hillary who was badly burnt and Fred “Rusty” Rushmer who was killed.

Stapleton was posted away from 603 Squadron in April 1941 and after a brief stint flying catapult launched Hurricanes from merchant ships on Atlantic Convoy runs went on to command a flight with 257 Squadron. Stapleton also did a stint instructing at the Central Gunnery School before moving on to command 247 Squadron just before the D-Day landings of 1944..

As Squadron Leader with 247 Squadron, Stapleton flew the powerful Hawker Typhoon fighter/bomber on breathtaking hedge height ground attack operations in support of the allied armies in Europe. Stapleton’s 247 Squadron saw action at such famous battles as Falaise and Operation Market Garden, the failed attack on Arnhem.

Stapleton’s war came to an end on December 23rd 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, th elast great German Offensive in the west . Flying his Typhoon on an offensive patrol Stapleton attacked a train with his rockets. Unfortunately Stapleton’s Typhoon was hit by fragments from the exploding train and he was forced to crash land behind German lines. Captured he spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner of war.

In April 1946, Stapleton left the RAF to fly for BOAC. Stapleton finally returned to his native South Africa and has also lived in Botswana before returning to the UK in 1994 where he has lived since.

Gerald Stapleton has recounted some of his exploits on the Battle of Britain Memorial flight website ( In addition, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Spitfire P7350 (the only Spitfire surviving from the Battle of Britain and which flew during the battle with 603 Squadron) is presently painted as Gerald “Stapme” Stapleton’s personal aircraft during the battle.

Ross, D. 2002. Stapme: The Biography of Squadron Leader Basil Greald Stapleton DFC, DFC (Dutch).


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