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The lucky Kiwi

Air Commodore Alan Christopher 'Al' Deere was a New Zealand Spitfire pilot and one of the RAF’s leading aces during World War Two.

After applying to the Royal Air Force in 1937, Deere began his training at the de Havilland School of Flying in West London.

Air Commodore Alan Christopher 'Al' Deere

The following October Deere was commissioned as a Flying Officer and after a short period with 74 Squadron was posted to 54 Squadron at RAF Hornchurch, where he flew Gloster Gladiator biplanes.

During the Battle of Britain the Squadron was based at RAF Hornchurch, in Essex. A Sector Airfield of RAF Fighter Command's 11 Group which covered London and the south east of England, it played a key role in the country’s defence.

54 Squadron converted to Spitfires in early 1940 and it was whilst flying Spitfire's that Deere achieved his fame.

Soon after converting to Spitfires, Deere had his first brush with death when his oxygen supply failed mid-flight.

He passed out but luckily managed to recover consciousness just in time to pull out from his nosedive.

On 23 May 1940 Deere shot down three Messerschmitt Bf 109s whilst fighting over Dunkirk during the Battle of France.

The next day he shot down his first Bf110 and added two more to his tally on 26 May.

His luck faltered on 28 May when Deere's Spitfire was shot down by a Dornier Do17.

After landing on a Belgian beach, Deere met up with the British soldiers and travelled on to Dunkirk. With his head injury tended to, he boarded a boat and was back in London just 19 hours after he initially left Hornchurch. It was following this that Deere was awarded the DFC.

Already an ace, with more than five downed enemy aircraft, Deere continued to increase his score during the Battle of Britain.

By the time his Squadron was withdrawn from the battle on 3 September 1940, Deere had also survived a mid air collision with a Messerschmitt 109, been shot down by another Spitfire, had to bail out at low altitude on a separate occasion, and was blown up by a bomb during a take off during a bombing raid at RAF Hornchurch.

His brilliant service and knack for surviving close shaves continued through to the end of the war. In one instance, Deere's aircraft collided with a trainee pilot’s propeller.

Deere's parachute was damaged as he attempted to bail out and did not open fully.  He survived the impact of landing only because he came down in a field of open sewage.

In another, his engine failed and he landed on the coast, narrowly missing a crash into the North Sea.

As Deere rose in rank and responsibility as the war progressed, he flew less.

However, he commanded the Free French fighters during the D-Day invasion and in 1965 led the Battle of Britain fighters in Churchill's funeral procession.

Deere remained in the RAF until his retirement in 1967 and died in 1995, aged 77. His ashes were scattered from a Spitfire over the Thames estuary.

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