Desmond arrived at Hornchurch on the 28th of August 1941. This was a famous Battle of Britain base which guarded London, the coastal ports, airfields and power stations and the pilots of 54 squadron had earned a reputation for living and flying as they fought, with verve, skill and bravery. Desmond’s first flight in a Spitfire Mk VB impressed him instantly: “Spit 5s amazingly light to handle after Spit 1s especially at high speed (over 300 mph)” he wrote.
His first operational sortie was on the 2nd September escorting Blenheim bombers
on “Roadsteads” firstly to attack shipping anchored near Dunkirk followed by a raid
on the northern French Coast. Desmond was wingman to Pit. Off. Evans when, over Mazingarbe,
they were attacked by up to twenty ME109s diving in from 28,000 ft resulting in a
huge dogfight. As they ran low on fuel and ammunition, the Spitfires broke away and
streamed out of France at 0ft taking anti-
On Friday the 27th September 54 Sqn. escorted twelve Blenheims returning to Mazingarbe in Circus 103. At approximately eight miles inland from Mardyck, about twenty 109Es attacked the Spitfires. Desmond damaged a 109F by shooting pieces of its tail.
On the 10th of October, Desmond was flying one of just four Spitfires sent out over occupied Belgium. One pair was Sqn. Ldr Scott Malden, with his no.2 Sgt. Guthrie. The second pair was Canadian Flt. Lt. Edward “Jack” Charles DFC with Desmond as his no.2. It was Desmond’s first “Rhubarb”; a raid which meant flying aggressively at high speed and often very low level to strafe targets of opportunity such as vehicle convoys, troop trains, and staff cars. All returned safely.
The squadron moved north to Castletown in Scotland on the 17th November. Castletown was bleaker than Hornchurch, the Spitfires were old Mk IIB types and the flying just routine convoy patrols or training. From early December Desmond was attached to No.4 Delivery Flight at Grangemouth and flew all over Scotland and occasionally to the Isle of Man, Cheshire and Northern Ireland on ferry flights. From the 12th of December some pilots left for the Middle East before the whole squadron left for service in the Far East. When Desmond received his posting to the Middle East it would be the last time he would see England or his family again.