06.09.1940 No.234 Squadron R.A.F. Spitfire I X4035 P/O Gordon location: Howbourne Farm, Hadlow Down, Sussex, England.
Mission: Interception scramble.

Date: 6th September 1940

Time: 9.10 a.m.

Unit: No.234 Squadron R.A.F.

Type: Supermarine Spitfire I

Serial No: X4035

Code: AZ - G

Location: Howbourne Farm, Hadlow Down, Sussex, England.

Pilot: Pilot Officer William Hugh Gibson Gordon RAF 42120 Age. 20 – Killed.


This aircraft was shot down in combat with Messerschmitt Bf 109's, crashed and burned out at Hadlow Down. No.234 Squadron lost three aircraft on this day, sadly P/O Gordon being the only fatality. William Huw Gibson Gordon was posted to 234 squadron on 6th November 1939 ; which was re-armed in early 1940 with the introduction of the Mk.I Spitfire. On June 16th the squadron was transferred south to St. Eval , Cornwall. Here he continued to serve with 234 Sqn. throughout the Summer of 1940 and on 14th August the squadron moved again to Middle Wallop in Hampshire. It was from here where he began his last sortie at approx. 08:40 am. on the morning of 6th September 1940.

He was one of twelve Spitfires taking off from the base mobilised with the task of patrolling five miles south-east of Brooklands, Weybridge. The aerodrome there was the site of an aircraft factory and had been attacked by the Luftwaffe only two days earlier. At the initiative of the squadron’s C.O. (Sqn. Leader O’Brien) the formation climbed to 24,000 feet. Six Bf109 fighters were sighted off Beachy Head. However, on closing in it became clear the aircraft were part of a much larger force of Messerschmitt’s escorting Dornier bombers.

No. 234 Squadron attacked without hesitation and became embroiled in a melee ranging between Eastbourne and Dover. His spitfire was apparently downed during a dogfight with three Bf 109’s. Post war records indicate a strong possibility that he was shot-down (as claimed) by a future knights cross holder by the name of Gustav Sprick of Jagdgeschwader 26.

At twenty years old , P/O Gordon had been shot-down just two weeks after claiming his first kill during fierce battles over southern England. His remains were supposedly recovered at the time on farmland near Uckfield , Sussex and subsequently buried in the family grave near Moray, Scotland.

Some 63 years later a licensed excavation was permitted at the crash site, and to much surprise further remains were uncovered. In accordance with the family wishes, these were also buried in the family grave. A second burial for a RAF hero was organised by the MOD at Mortlach Church, Dufftown , Moray on 26th June 2003.

PO Gordon
Pilot Officer William Gordon killed in action. (via Saunders)

Excavation of MK.1 Spitfire (AZ-G) Saturday 31st May 2003.

The excavation of P/O Gordon's Spitfire (via C. Ellis)

The group of archaeologists undertaking the excavation had won full permission and were granted a license for the project to go-ahead. This usually follows a strict procedure by the MOD to check records in advance for possible war grave status (crew still missing).

Merely expecting to uncover artifacts from the wrecked Spitfire beneath the meadow beside the River Uck ; instead there was a macabre discovery of William Gordon still strapped into the armour plating around the back of the pilot’s seat. The unexpected remains also included his service tunic , lifejacket, harness straps and parachute. A further search yielded his RAF indentity disc which ultimately proved conclusive.

A very poignant and invaluable find P/O Gordon's ID disc confirming identity (via C. Ellis)

Supermarine rudder pedal found in exceptional condition (via C. Ellis)

Near the extreme reach of the excavator at around 22 feet, the largest of all items were found such as the smashed Merlin engine, a crumpled supercharger and a manual cranking handle. Various other components were exposed including: the pilot’s oxygen bottle; some flattened cockpit instruments and a broken rudder pedal. By means of several Supermarine labels also found it was now possible to this Spitfire’s true identify as X4035 (date of manufacture confirmed as - July 1940) and not as previously thought production X4036. Coupled with the fact that the aircraft was only in service some eight weeks , and the inert nature of the soil, the recovered parts were in remarkably un-corroded condition.

In Dufftown P/O Gordon is celebrated as a hero. Mortlake Junior School erected a commemorative plaque in his honour earlier the same month.

Burial detail: Mortlach Parish Churchyard, Banffshire. Grave 1032 Son of Maj William Gordon D.S.O., M.C, and Maggie Ann Gordon, of Dufftown.

Researched and compiled by Clive Ellis for use by the Aircrew Remembrance Society (January 2009). Special thanks to Andy Saunders, updated August 2013.

Stacks Image 5