Our friends at Findmypast have unearthed a real gem for the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
Extracts from the diaries of Pilot Officer James Reginald Bryan Meaker, who was known as Bryan, were first published in several national newspapers in 1940.
We are lucky to have some of those entries, which we will be publishing here on the “Friend” website over the next few weeks.
Bryan was born in County Cork, Ireland, and grew up in Sussex. He worked as a reporter for the Chichester Observer until enlisting int he Royal Air Force in 1939.
In late June 1940, after training and service at RAF Digby, Scapa Flow and in Norway, Bryan was flying a Hawker Hurricane in 249 (F) Golf Coast Squadron, based at RAF Leconfield.
249 Squadron was involved in the thick of the fighting, and was home to the only pilot to be awarded a Victoria Cross for his actions during the Battle of Britain, Wing Commander James Brindley Nicolson.
Bryan was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his gallantry in the face of the enemy.
Bryan’s diary entries begin in September 1940.
He kept them for his own amusement, and his personality clearly shines through — making the knowledge that he would ultimately lose his life later that same month all the more poignant.
The “Butch” Bryan mentions below is Canadian Wing Commander Robert Alexander “Butch” Barton, a fellow pilot.
September 2, 1940
First day at our new station. Leapt from our virgin couches at 0650; this shook me a bit.
Was still slightly dopey when at 15,000 feet we sighted a solid block of 20 Dornier 215s with a large fighter escort. Attacked en masse, then dived away as fighters came down. Joined Butch again after a frantic tail wagging breakaway, and started after the bombers again.
Suddenly we see a Dornier coming towards us—running for home. We jump on it — Butch sits on its tail, pumping lead at it. I do quarter attacks. He doesn’t like this, lumps fall off and smoke pours out. I am awake now and feeling hungry. Butch says: ‘Don’t waste any more ammunition on him: this guy’s finished.’ The Dornier heads for Rochford. He is a wreck—rudders in ribbons and pieces falling off all the time. One guy comes out at 100 feet. Parachute streams he hits the ground—bounces.
Two more quick sorties seeing nothing, and then more blitzkrieg on the fourth do. We run into a whole pile of ME. 110’s and DOs. Too far to attack the bombers, so start mixing it with the 110’s. They circle and a lot come down vertically behind us. I lose ‘Butch’ and everybody else as I turn round and round, watching my tail. Then a 110 rears in front of me, plain view, as he does steep turn. Range is almost point-blank as I turn inside and plug him.
He disappears under my nose and when I see him again he is diving vertically starboard engine and wing blazing. I feel very cocky again, look for the fight, and find it is out of sight. I go home and find that I’ve only fired 300 rounds. We sleep very soundly.
September 3, 1940
Unsuccessful day – first sortie makes no contact. On second whole Squadron climbs like hell over base as we see a smoke ring over us as a bombing mark.
Then we see another big raid 10,000 feet above us. We stand on our tails to them – not a hope. When we look down we find the Aerodrome obscured by a pall of smoke. Every bout scored – a lot o buildings wrecked but only three casualties.
Shocking to see the whole thing happen and not be able to do a thing about it. Small party in Epping in the evening. Stayed sober.
Thro scrambles — 0920 and 1230, no contact made and not fun at all. Just roaming around looking for “Hun in the Sun”. Watched night bombers in the dark, parachute flares and AA bursts all over the sky. Slept well.
Another big day. Over Thameshaven we met 25 bombers and scores of ME 109s. Fired at a DO.215 but had to break away when fighters came down en masse. Chased bombers for ten minutes but couldn’t catch up. Came home and found Butch had bailed out and landed in a garden, where a terrified woman looked at him and then ran into the house. No more action today.
Check back next week for the next entries from Bryan’s diary.
For more on the Battle of Britain, click here.