Hughes, Patterson “Pat” Clarence, DFC

Patterson, or Pat as he was known by his mates, was born on the 19th September 1917 in Cooma in New South Wales. He was the youngest of five boys in a family that also boasted seven girls.

In 1935 aged 17, Pat had applied to join the RAAF and RAN and was accepted for both services. He chose the former and began his Air Force career on the 20th January 1936 by reporting to Point Cook in Victoria for cadet training. He graduated in January 1937 and was selected for a scheme to transfer to the Royal Air Force with a Short Service Commission. Upon arrival in England, he was sent to No.2 Flying Training School at Digby in Lincolnshire to complete his training. Pat was then posted to 64 Squadron at RAF Church Fenton in North Yorkshire to fly Bristol Blenheim heavy-fighters. Still wearing his dark blue RAAF uniform with RAF insignia, in which he cut quite a dashing figure, he was serving with the unit when war was declared in September 1939.

At the end of the following month, Pat was posted to Leconfield in neighbouring East Yorkshire to join the newly reformed 234 Squadron as a Flight Commander and in November was made an Acting Flight Lieutenant. The Squadron had a mixed-bag of aircraft types with Blenheims, Fairey Battles and Gloster Gauntlets.

The ultimate joy for the Squadron’s pilots came in March 1940, when the Squadron re-equipped with Supermarine Spitfires. Then, after a short tenure at Church Fenton, Pat and the Squadron were sent to St Eval in Cornwall during mid-June 1940, where he continued to hone his skill flying the best the RAF had to offer.

With Great Britain standing alone against the Nazi threat, action for Pat against the much-vaunted Luftwaffe came just before the Battle of Britain began, when during the early evening of Monday 8th July, Pat’s Section engaged a reconnaissance Junkers Ju88 off Lands End. Pat and his two wingmen returned to claim the first victory for the Squadron as they each had a share in the destruction of the lone enemy raider. Pat repeated this success on two further occasions in late July.

A high point at this time outside the theatre of war was his marriage to his sweetheart Kay on Thursday 1st August, whom he had met in Beverley when he was stationed at Leconfield earlier in the year.

As the Battle of Britain grew in intensity, Pat like any keen fighter pilot was eager to join the air battles raging over south-east England and on Wednesday 14th August, the day after the Luftwaffe launched Adler Tag (Eagle Day) 234 Squadron were sent to Middle Wallop in Hampshire. The very next day they were soon in the thick of the action against large Luftwaffe formations, and Pat shot down a Messerschmitt Me110 and shared in the destruction of another Zerstörer. At the end of August after constant action, the Australian was an Ace with claims for about a dozen enemy aircraft. (Web Master: On the 13th August 1940, the Battle of Britain began when the German Luftwaffe launched Eagle Day, its first major offensive against the Royal Air Force.)

Pat had earned a reputation for his leadership, fighting style and success, and was renowned for closing in to very short range when attacking his chosen target. During the first week of September, Pat made claims for another eight enemy aircraft, all of which were Messerschmitt fighters including a Me109 destroyed on the morning of the 6th September near Dover, with two more probably destroyed. However the strain of combat since arriving at Middle Wallop was beginning to show on the face of the gallant Australian, as he was evidently reaching the end of his endurance. Saturday 7th September 1940 marked a new phase of the Battle of Britain when the Luftwaffe turned its main attention from RAF airfields to the City of London. In a new development to win air superiority, the Luftwaffe embarked upon a massive daylight raid hoping to bring about a decisive clash with RAF fighters.

At about 4:00pm, the first of around 350 enemy bombers and 620 escorting fighters of an almost continual stream began crossing over the English Channel towards the Kent coastline. RAF controllers expected the massed enemy formations to split up and attack various airfields etc, but the realisation almost came too late that the target was in fact London. The many RAF fighter squadrons already positioned in the air on their patrol lines were re-vectored towards the huge numbers o f Luftwaffe aircraft heading for London.

234 Squadron was sent on their way at 5:35pm for an interception “scramble” and were vectored to patrol Kenley and Biggin Hill at “Angels 20” (20,000 feet). Soon enough, the 12 Spitfires were facing large numbers of enemy bombers and fighters returning from London and flying south to make good their escape back to their bases in France. On this early Saturday evening, Pat led his Flight to attack a formation of Dornier Do17s near Sevenoaks.

Tragically for the RAF Squadron, their Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader Joseph “Spike” O’Brien was shot down and killed when his Spitfire P9466 crashed near Biggin Hill at about 6:25pm. In the moments that followed, even more tragedy for the Spitfires of 234 Squadron was about to occur. A Dornier Do17Z from the Stab (Staff) Flight of Kampfgeschwader 76 that was returning from the raid, was struggling onwards after having conducted a photo-reconnaissance mission over London. It had already been reportedly hit by machine-gun fire from the Spitfires of 602 Squadron and possibly a Hawker Hurricane from 79 Squadron flown by Flying Officer George Peters.

Precisely what happened next has been subject to a number of different accounts, but one report suggests that as Pat attacked this particular Dornier, it exploded and parts of the bomber struck his Spitfire X4009, causing it to fall away. A further account says that due to the damage inflicted from the earlier fighter attacks, the Dornier suddenly went out of control and collided with Pat’s Spitfire. To add to the confusion regarding what happened, other accounts state that the Australian was shot down by a Messerschmitt Me109, or that his aircraft was caught in the hail of machine-gun fire from another attacking RAF fighter.

An eyewitness account from the ground, however, throws up another version of events. According to the eyewitness, the Spitfire was seen to deliberately collide with the Dornier. This could be reckoned to tally with yet another account that records Pat being so infuriated at seeing his CO, Squadron Leader O’Brien shot down, that he climbed up under the formation of Dorniers and smashed into the leading bomber. (When the Dornier was eventually excavated after the war, fragments of Spitfire wreckage were found to be embedded in the structure of the German bomber.)

Whatever the truth, the attempt to successfully bale-out from his stricken Spitfire proved tragic as the body of Pat was found in a garden at Sundridge about one mile to the west of Sevenoaks. His Spitfire came to earth at Dark’s Farm just outside Sevenoaks at Bessels Green. The Dornier crashed in pieces across Sundridge with the crew of Leutnant G. Schneider, Oberfeldwebel K. Schneider and Unteroffizier W. Rupprecht being killed. Feldwebel E. Rosche was the only survivor having managed to bale-out, slightly wounded.

Flight Lieutenant Paterson Clarence Hughes was laid to rest on Friday 13th September at Sutton-in-Holderness in St.James Churchyard near Hull, the hometown of his wife, who so sadly was a bride for only five short weeks of that momentous summer.

On the 22nd October 1940, the following announcement appeared in The London Gazette that a Distinguished Flying Cross was being posthumously awarded to Flight Lieutenant Hughes, the citation stating:
“This officer has led his flight with skill and determination. He has displayed gallantry in his attacks on the enemy and has destroyed seven of their aircraft.”

Memorial to Pat:

In England, the Shoreham Aircraft Museum has a Pilot Memorials Project that aims to honour fallen brave Battle of Britain pilots who lost their lives locally to the museum. On a dry and bright Saturday 23rd August 2008, the museum honoured Flight Lieutenant Pat Hughes DFC, when they unveiled a memorial stone at Sundridge near Sevenoaks in Kent close to where Pat was tragically killed. Unfortunately, it was not possible for any Hughes family representatives to attend the unveiling, but the occasion was blessed by the attendance of Wing Commander Bob Doe, DSO, DFC & Bar, a Squadron colleague and Group Captain Peter Norford, UK Air Attaché of the present day Royal Australian Air Force.

However, a message received from Malcolm Booth, a great-nephew of Pat Hughes was read out during the dedication service:
“My name is Malcolm Booth and Paterson Clarence Hughes was my great uncle. I would have given the world to be with you caring and kind English folk on this very special day, but it is not meant to be at this time. Although I never met this fantastic man, as I wasn’t born until 1954, I listened to so many stories about Uncle Pat from my late mother. I came to know him as a very kind and warm hearted person who would go out of his way to lend a helping hand to anyone that needed it. Words cannot explain the feeling that I have when I think of the way you people there in England think of my great uncle and want everyone to know what this Aussie did for you and your country. I am sure he will be looking down on this service today saying to himself, “I don’t deserve this”. But let me tell you, Uncle Pat you sure do. Your family here in Australia is so very proud of you for who you are and for what you did for your fellow man. God be with you Uncle Pat.”

Wing Commander Bob Doe gave a eulogy in tribute to his ex-Flight Commander, and speaking with admiration and affection, Bob remembered well how as a raw young pilot, it was Pat who guided him and gave him confidence to face the enemy and the overwhelming odds. He stated that he owed a great deal to his survival on the skill and leadership of Pat and as he closed his speech, it was all too evident that the memories of a lost dear and respected friend, was still keenly felt as his voice cracked.

With great timing whilst poppy wreaths were being placed on the unveiled memorial, the Biggin Hill based “Spirit of Kent” Spitfire performed an aerial salute to a gallant Ace pilot. In the “pocket” of the pilot at the controls of the “Spirit of Kent” was a piston head from the Merlin engine of Pat’s Spitfire to symbolically allow X4009 to fly again on the day its brave Aussie pilot was being remembered by a gathered group of grateful Poms.

Wing Commander Bob Doe wrote of Pat in his memoirs and a brief article is reproduced below.
“Pat and I joined 234 Squadron when it was reformed at Leconfield at the beginning of November 1939.  We were both Bomber pilots, but when seemingly by accident we were given Spitfires, we became Fighter pilots. Our Commanding Officer and the ‘A’ Flight Commander did nothing and eventually disappeared, and it was left to Pat to create a Squadron, which he took into the Battle with some success.

Pat looked a bit like Errol Flynn and when he wore his best uniform, it was Royal Blue with Gold Rank Badges, he looked fantastic.  We all admired him and his constant companion, a dog called Butch, which had more flying hours in Spits than some pilots. (Pat’s beloved pet terrier was known as Flying Officer Butch.)

Pat was killed in action and has earned his place in our country’s history as one without whose efforts we would not be free today. In his first actions during the Battle of Britain, I was flying as his Number Two, so I saw some of the things he did and know that he is fully qualified to enter our history’s Hall of Fame. He was an Australian who came to help us when we needed him.  God Bless Him”.

Wing Commander Bob Doe, Malcolm Booth
The Spitfire Association