Hermes' Wings

History, Writing and Personal Musings


A great “cheerful blonde mountain of confidence,” John Bisdee (20 November 1915-30 October 2000), popularly known as “The Bish” for his large physique and booming, episcopal manner of speech, held a commanding influence over nearly everyone who served under him during the war. Originally, however, he evinced only an interest in languages. Determined to become fluent in Spanish, he went to Spain where his studies were studied cut short by the outbreak of the Civil War. Enlisting in the RAF Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR) a year later, Bisdee found himself called up for active duty at the outbreak of World War II. He trained as a fighter pilot and joined the flamboyant 609 Squadron as 1939 reached its twilight. He was still with the squadron when the Battle of Britain began in mid-1940. Between July 18 and October 7, 1940, Bisdee shot down three planes for certain, damaged three and probably destroyed a fourth. In sweeps over France afterwards, he shot down three more German planes, and for his troubles was given a DFC and made a training instructor. Eager to get back into action, Bisdee wrangled command of 601 Squadron, a unit destined for Malta. In his very first combat mission over Malta, Bisdee shot down a Ju88 but was shot down himself and posted as dead. In fact, he was very much alive, having ditched in the sea, and although injured he rowed his dinghy six miles back to shore. Bisdee and No. 601 left Malta in June 1942.

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