Paterson Clarence HUGHES DFC


HUGHES, Paterson Clarence

Service Number: 39461
Enlisted: 20 January 1936, RAAF Point Cook
Last Rank: Flight Lieutenant
Last Unit: No. 234 Squadron (RAF)
Born: Cooma, Cooma-Monaro - New South Wales, Australia, 19 September 1917
Home Town: Kiama, New South Wales
Schooling: Cooma Public School, Petersham High School, Fort Street High School
Occupation: AIr Force Officer
Died: Air Combat Battle of Britain, Bessells Green Kent England, 7 September 1940, aged 22 years
Cemetery: Not yet discovered
Memorials: Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour
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Non Warlike Service

20 Jan 1936: Enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, Aircraftman 2, Aircrew Training Units, RAAF Point Cook
20 Mar 1937: Transferred Royal Air Force, Pilot Officer, Aircrew Training Units, No. 2 Flying Training School Digby Lincolnshire

World War 2 Service

3 Sep 1939: Involvement Royal Air Force, Flying Officer, No. 64 Squadron (RAF), Air War NW Europe 1939-45
1 Nov 1939: Involvement Royal Air Force, Flight Lieutenant, SN 39461, No. 234 Squadron (RAF), Air War NW Europe 1939-45

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Biography contributed by Steve Larkins

Flight Lieutenant Paterson Clarence Hughes DFC - Battle of Britain - (1917-1940)

Paterson Clarence Hughes was born in Numeralla, near Cooma, New South Wales, on 19 September 1917. He was the second-youngest of twelve children, the last of four boys in his family.   Hughes' father was a teacher by profession but at the time of Pat's birth was running the community post office.

Christened Percival Clarence Hughes, and known as Percy, he had apparently adopted the name Paterson by the time of his marriage to Catherine Vennell in 1895. Percy was also a writer, contributing to newspapers and magazines such as The Bulletin, and "Paterson" may have been homage to the poet Banjo Paterson. In any case, Pat shared his father's interest in literature. He also grew to love the landscape of the local Monaro district in the shadow of the Snowy Mountains, which he described as "unrivalled in the magnificence and grandeur of its beauty".

Hughes was educated at Cooma Public School until the age of twelve, when the family moved to Haberfield in Sydney; his father was by then working as a labourer.  He attended Petersham Boys' School, becoming a prefect in 1932 and vice captain the following year. As well as playing sport, he was a keen aircraft modeller and built crystal radio sets.  Having attained his intermediate certificate, Hughes entered Fort Street High School in February 1934.

He left after eight months to take up employment at Saunders' Jewellers in George Street, Sydney, and enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on 20 January 1936. Hughes had also applied to, and been accepted by, the Royal Australian Navy, but chose the RAAF.

Training as an air cadet at RAAF Point Cook near Melbourne, Hughes learnt to fly in de Havilland Moths before progressing to Westland Wapitis in the middle of the year.  A practical joker who bridled under RAAF discipline, his euphoria during his first solo on 11 March 1936 was such that he "went mad, whistled, sang and almost jumped for joy".

A fellow cadet recalled that Hughes "loved life and lived it at high pressure".   Upon graduation in December 1936, Hughes was assessed as having "no outstanding qualities" despite being "energetic and keen".  Under a pre-war arrangement between the British and Australian governments, he volunteered for transfer to the Royal Air Force (RAF), and sailed for the United Kingdom on 9 January 1937.  His decision to transfer had not been quick or easy; though keen to "try and do something special" in England, and intrigued by "a fascinating picture of easy life, beer and women" that had been presented to him, in the end he felt that it was simply "willed" that he should go.

On 20 March 1937, Hughes was granted a five-year short-service commission as a pilot officer in the RAF.   Like some of his compatriots (see Leslie Clisby) , he refused to exchange his dark-blue RAAF uniform for the lighter-coloured RAF one. 

He undertook advanced flying instruction at No. 2 Flying Training School in Digby, Lincolnshire. Slated to fly bombers, he appealed and in July was posted as a fighter pilot to No. 64 Squadron, which operated Hawker Demons out of RAF Martlesham Heath, Suffolk.   The squadron was transferred to RAF Church Fenton, Yorkshire, in May 1938.  Hughes was promoted to Flying Officer on 19 November.  No. 64 Squadron subsequently received Bristol Blenheim 1F twin-engined fighters, and completed its conversion to the type in January 1939.

After two years training as a fighter pilot he was a member of No. 64 Squadron RAF at RAF Church Fenton when World War II began in September 1939.

There's no use muttering about things... to my mind the chances of living through this are about equal anyhow, and that's all one can ask after all...—Hughes to his brother shortly after the outbreak of World War II.

On 6 November, Hughes was promoted to acting Flight Lieutenant within the newly formed No. No. 234 Squadron at RAF Leconfield alongside Bob Doe, who was destined to become the highest scoring British pilot of the Battle of Britain.

In the nearby town of Beverley in February 1940 Hughes met his future wife Kathleen Agnes (Kay) Brodrick of Kingston upon Hull in the Beverley Arms Hotel.  No. 234 Sqn had originally been equipped on formation with Fairey Battles, Bristol Blenheims and Gloster Gauntlets, but re-equipped and re-trained trained in March 1940 with Supermarine Spitfires, becoming operational two months later.  The commanding officer, Squadron Leader Richard Barnett, rarely flew, and Hughes assumed responsibility for overseeing conversion to the Spitfire.  "More experienced and more mature" than his fellow pilots, according to historian Stephen Bungay, the Australian "effectively led" No. 234 Squadron. By this time, Hughes had acquired a young Airedale Terrier known as Flying Officer Butch, who sometimes flew with him—against regulations. 

The Battle of Britain began in July 1940, and Hughes was credited with the first confirmed kill for the squadron with the shooting down of a Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88 medium bomber, near Lands End on 8 July, and a kill shared with another pilot on 28 July.   A shared claim for a Ju 88 on 27 July could not be confirmed as destroyed; after a chase over the water at heights as low as 50 feet, the German escaped, despite being struck in the engines and cockpit, and was credited to the section as "damaged".  German records, made available post-war, confirm that a Junkers 88A piloted by Leutnant Ruckdeschel, was lost on this day. 

On 1 August, Hughes was seconded from No. 234 Squadron to help set up the only (biplane) Gloster Gladiator-equipped unit to operate during the Battle of Britain, No. 247 (China British) Squadron in Plymouth.   The same day, he married Kay Brodrick, who likened him to Errol Flynn, in the registry office at Bodmin, Cornwall. Apart from Flying Officer Butch, the witnesses were strangers; Kay arrived alone, and no-one from No. 234 Squadron could attend.  Barnett was transferred out of No. 234 Squadron on 13 August, and Hughes took temporary command until the arrival of Squadron Leader Joe "Spike" O'Brien four days later.

By now the fighting was intensifying over southern England and the duties of 234 Sqn included air defence duties over RAF Mount Batten, near Plymouth, the home of an Australian flying boat unit, No. 10 Squadron RAAF, which flew long distance maritime patrol missions. No. 234 squadron relocated from St Eval to RAF Middle Wallop, Hampshire, on 14 August. Almost immediately after Hughes landed the Luftwaffe bombed the airfield; several ground staff and civilian workers were killed, but No. 234 Squadron's Spitfires escaped damage.

As a result, in August 234 Sqn transferred to RAF Middle Wallop in Hampshire.

Whereas in July he had fired at his targets from a range of 150 to 50 yards (137 to 46 m), it was now his habit to close to 30 yards (27 m)      He had a narrow escape on the 16th after his second victory of the day, when he chased a quartet of Junkers Ju 87s and had his tailplane shot up from behind by another Bf 109; he dived and forced the German to overshoot, then broke off having exhausted his ammunition firing at his former attacker. In the pub with Kay and his squadron mates that evening, Hughes jokingly told his wife, "In case of accidents make sure you marry again".

Hughes claimed a double victory, two Messerschmitt Me 110s, on 15 August 1940, on which the Luftwaffe mounted the largest number of sorties of the campaign and known later as "The Greatest Day" (or, by the Luftwaffe, as Schwarzer Donnerstag ["Black Thursday"].)

He achieved further double victories on 18 and 26 August, making him a fighter ace, and resulting in the recommendation of a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). Hughes claimed further double victories on 4, 5 and 6 September, bringing his official tally to 13 (12 and two half) victories.

In early evening of 7 September, 234 Sqn ran into a force of 60 German aircraft consisting of Dornier Do 17s and escorting Messerschmitt Bf 109s. Hughes was leading his Section in Spitfire X4009 and dived to attack the bombers. The official RAF report states that after Hughes attacked a Do 17 from close range, a large section of the bomber broke away and appeared to hit Hughes' aircraft.

There is anecdotal evidence (eye witness accounts) that he deliberately rammed the bomber.   Hughes bailed out of the Spitfire, but his parachute failed to open, and his body was found in the garden of a house in the nearby village of Sundridge, Kent. The official record shows that Hughes died around 18.30 hrs. His Spitfire crashed soon afterwards at Darks Farm, near Bessels Green, Kent. During the same action, Hughes' commanding officer, Squadron Leader Joseph "Spike" O'Brien, was also killed.

The top-scoring Australian flying ace of the Battle of Britain and one of thirteen Australian fighter pilots killed (another was lost as PoW) during the battle.  Hughes has been described as "the inspiration and driving force behind No. 234 Squadron RAF".  He is generally credited with seventeen confirmed victories—fourteen solo and three shared.  This tally puts him among the top ten Allied Battle of Britain aces.   It also ranks him among the three highest-scoring Australians of World War II, after Clive Caldwell with thirty victories (twenty-seven solo and three shared) and Adrian Goldsmith with seventeen (sixteen solo and one shared).

A war widow after barely five weeks of marriage, Kay Hughes was inconsolable in her loss: "I wept until I could cry no more".  His dog,  Flying Officer Butch ran out of the mess on the day of his master's death, and was never seen again. Following a service at St James', Sutton-on-Hull, on 13 September 1940, Hughes was buried in the churchyard at Row G, Grave 4.[64] A week later, Kay discovered she was pregnant, but eventually miscarried.  She subsequently drove ambulances for the British war effort. 

News of his son's marriage came as "a complete surprise" to Percy Hughes, who only learned of his daughter-in-law's existence from the Australian Air Board's casualty letter.  Having married three more times after Hughes' death, Kay died on 28 June 1983 and, in accordance with her wishes, her ashes were buried with her first husband, whose headstone was amended to read "In loving memory of his wife Kathleen".

Hughes was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) on 22 October 1940 for his "skill and determination" as a flight commander and "gallantry in his attacks on the enemy"; Squadron Leader O'Brien had recommended the decoration a week before their deaths. Kay was presented with the medal at Buckingham Palace on 23 June 1942.