LEATHERHEAD WAR MEMORIALS - WWII

Pilot Officer Patrick Alexander George Learmond RAF
92 Squadron

Town Memorial WWII Panel


LEARMOND, PATRICK ALLEN GEORGE Age: 20

Rank: Flying Officer
Royal Air Force: 92 Squadron
Date of Death:
23/05/1940
Service No: 33490

Son of George Thomas Learmond and Emily Theresa Learmond, of Leatherhead, Surrey.
Grave/Memorial Reference: Panel 9.
Cemetery: Air Forces Memorial, Runnymede

Commonwealth War Graves Commission entry

Patrick (usually known as Pat, sometimes Paddy) Learmond's father was George Thomas Learmond, born 8 Aug 1888, 55 Junction Street, Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland, died 1 Nov 1937, [registered at ?] Epsom, Surrey, England, aged 49 years. Educated at Daniel Stewart's College, Edinburgh, he served his apprenticeship in the Commercial Bank of Scotland. He joined the  National Bank of India in February 1907. In due course he was appointed to the Eastern Staff, but unfortunately his health broke down and he was invalided home. He eventually recovered and entered the London Office.

His obituary appeared in the  February 1938 issue of The Monsoon, issued by the National Bank of India's Ex-Servicemen's Association [source ML]. This showed him in uniform. He ended WWI in the RAF and although in a non-flying role had persuaded his CO to allow him to qualify for an aircrew Observer brevet. After the war he took a prominent part in the NBI ex-Servicemen's Association until prevented by ill health. Thus Patrick grew up with a strong example of service and a connection with the RAF.

Family lore had it that an NBI ledger showed the handwriting of three Learmonds [source ML].
   
His mother was Emily Theresa Mathewson, born 23 Jul 1880, baptised 29 Aug 1880 Seaford, Sussex, died 10 Mar 1968, [registered at ?] Epsom, Surrey, England, aged 88. Their marriage was on 6 June 1914, Hendon, Middlesex, England. Mrs ET Learmond was listed in the 1950 Kelly's Directory at 11 St John's Avenue, Leatherhead. When all the houses in that road had names not numbers (eg in the 1939 Electoral Register) it is believed no.11 was Craigend.

Emily was also known as Emmy and in the family as Biddy. Her parents, Thomas Peter Mathewson and Harriet Elizabeth Ann Baker, came from Queenstown, Co. Cork (Cobh in present day Ireland). Some thought Patrick was "from Ireland" and though he had Irish maternal grandparents he had a Scottish born father and English born mother and was born in England.

An announcement appeared in the Daily Telegraph of Saturday 10th May 1941:
Sunday
LEARMOND. - Killed May 23, 1940, Pilot
Officer PATRICK LEARMOND, dearly beloved son
of Mrs E T Learmond and brother of Jack.
May 11, this his 21st birthday.
[source: ancestry]

Patrick's birth was registered in the third Quarter of 1920, Epsom. He was educated at St John's School, Leatherhead, just across the road from his home. He had an elder brother, Jack Stuart Learmond (1915-1999). It is hoped to add more detail of his time at St Johns.

There is a record of Patrick, aged 16, arriving at Southampton by the Jervis Bay on 11 Jan 1937 from Malta, to return to St John's. Another Johnian, Alan JA Elliott, aged 17, is on the same passenger list.

On 5 November 1940 the Jervis Bay, which had been converted into an armed merchant cruiser HMS Jervis Bay, pennant F40, was sunk while attacking the German heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer. Her sacrifice and that of the SS Beaverford held off the Admiral Scheer long enough for the convoy HX84 to scatter and most to evade sinking.
The Jervis Bay's captain was awarded a posthumous VC.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Jervis_Bay

Patrick successfully gained entrance to RAF Cranwell as a Flying Cadet in 1938.

In his book Best of the Few – 92 Squadron Michael Robinson gives a brief biography of each of the pilots and tragically shows just how few of these young men survived the war. He describes the first day of combat for the squadron:

"Thursday 23rd May was to be a momentous day for 92; twelve aircraft left Northolt at 0500 for Hornchurch, where they were held at readiness until 1045hrs. The flight over the English Channel was made at the lowest speed possible in order to conserve fuel, which allowed a period of only about half an hour at combat speeds.

As the squadron patrolled the French coast on their first real sortie, levels of experience and confidence varied greatly among the twelve pilots. The common denominator was that none of them had any combat experience. The first sweep between Boulogne and Dunkerque proved uneventful. However at 11:30 hrs, shortly after a 180 degree turn over Dunkerque, the calm was shattered by Barraclough’s R/T cry of "Here they come eight o’clock". That same instant Pat’s Spitfire P9370 exploded into a fireball and plunged earthward, the squadron had lost its first pilot, without firing a shot. An organised attack was impossible, and individual dogfights ensued".

As no trace of the aircraft or of the pilot was ever found, [Paddy] is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. 92 Squadron lost four Spitfires on 23 May 1940: P9370, P9373, N3290, and N3194. Two pilots were killed, one captured and taken as a PoW, and one survived unhurt.
[ https://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/228024 ]

In Cobra in the Sky by Simon Morris, a postwar pilot on 92 Squadron, the WW2 ace Bob Stanford Tuck gave his version of the same action and the aftermath:

On the morning of 23 May they took off early and flew to Hornchurch. There they had breakfast while the aircraft were refuelled, then they briefed for a patrol over the French coast. At last, after all the practise and waiting, the testing time had come. With Bushell leading them, the twelve Spitfires flew down the coast on ‘Offensive Patrol’ inviting the enemy to attack. They flew over Calais, Boulogne and Dunkirk but still nothing rose to meet them and there was no sign of the hundreds of JU 87B Stukas that were supposed to be dive bombing the British troops.

Flying very close together, the formation flew up and down the coast with each member straining his eyes to catch the slightest reflection of sun against metal.  For what seemed like hours they flew on, the strain of flying in an exact formation position beginning to tell on each pilot. Then one of them gave an ear-piercing shriek,

“Here they come – eight o’clock.”

Then Pat Learmond was killed. His aircraft exploded in a lurid ball of flame and the whole formation split up. Bushell was yelling orders but he couldn’t be heard above the general din of pilots shouting out the enemy’s position. [Roger Bushell was the CO: it is thought that he was one of a select band of RAF officers with some training for intelligence work if shot down. He was the mastermind behind The Great Escape from Stalag Luft III and was one of the escapers murdered in March 1944 by the Gestapo.]

The ME 109s were diving out of the cloud behind and slightly to the left, in a long line. Tracer was smashing straight through the formation and the leader, who must have been the one that shot Learmond, came whistling through the formation a second later. He pulled up steeply to get back into cloud but Tuck saw him and gave chase.

Climbing at full power after the Messerschmitt, Tuck lost him as he went into cloud but kept on hoping to pick him up on top. The cloud was thinner than he had expected and as he broke on top he saw the Messerschmitt not more than a mile in front of him. Tuck realised that his shallower angle of climb had actually closed the distance between him and his target. The German was flying perfectly straight so he obviously thought he was safe up there! Tuck pushed his throttle forward hard, breaking through the wire locking, which guarded the ‘emergency power’, and dived his Spitfire into the cloud tops and flew along with only his canopy just out in the clear.

The Messerschmitt grew larger in his sights, so he must have been closing. A sudden wave of elation flooded through him, but he checked it and relaxed. He mustn’t get too excited now; just remain cool, methodical and precise.

Tuck had visited Germany twice before the war. He liked the people more than the French because he thought them cleaner, more industrious and he liked their beer. But on this occasion he gave no thought to the pilot, the one who was going to die just because he was not checking his six o’clock.

Slowly the gap closed and through a small gap in the clouds Tuck noticed that they were passing over the Normandy beaches. He was now just within maximum range so he checked his turn and slip indicator, checked the rudder a little to centralise the needle, then thought:   

“Why open up at this range if I can get closer. I’ll only damage him at this range.  Let’s get in there and blast him to bits.”

And so he pressed on in to five hundred yards, then tracking the German’s canopy with the dot in the gun sight he gave a gentle squeeze on the gun button.

The eight Browning S.303 machine guns burst out their vengeance and as his aircraft shook and rattled he could see his tracer pouring into the German’s canopy and wings. He hosed it for three or four seconds then the Messerschmitt started to climb as bits started breaking off and hurling themselves back at the attacker. The aircraft seemed to hang there for a moment with its nose pointing vertically upwards; then it flickered, dropped and went into a descending spiral.

Tuck dived below the cloud and waited for a long time before the doomed Messerschmitt appeared. Although it was against orders he had to follow it to see it crash, just to be certain. It took a long time for, as its speed built up, the nose would rise and it started to climb again. This would slow it down, a wing would drop as if trying to shake Tuck off, then the nose would drop and the speed would build up again. Finally it crashed into a ploughed field and blew up.

Tuck flew back to base and landed where he met Green, Bryson and Bartley. They, too, had each got a 109. The total score for the Squadron was six ME 109s with the loss of Pat Learmond, whose burning wreck had been seen to crash on a French beach.

... when the Squadron’s losses were known they were all very glum. Sergeant Klipsch, John Gillies, Pat Learmond, and the CO, all shot down. Green had been wounded by a piece of armour-piercing shrapnel in his thigh. He had flown back fainting and vomiting with a thumb stuck in the wound to stop the flow of blood. The MO said the leg could be saved but he would be off for a long time; he was taken to Shorncliffe Hospital.

It had been a glorious day for 92 Squadron with twenty-three German machines brought down.

[ https://sirius1935.wixsite.com/92squadron/chapter-four ]

The loss held particular significance for Geoffrey 'Boy' Wellum one of the last survivors of the Battle of Britain and author of the well known book First Light:

"Mac [the Adjutant] introduces me to Pat Learmond, 'the best aerobatic pilot in the squadron and ex-Cranwell', and Pat in turn introduces me to the others ... "

 "Pat Learmond was shot down in flames and killed. Pat was the chap who looked after me on my first night in the Mess with 92 Squadron. Next morning he was dead."

[ There is a photo of Patrick in front of  Spitfire in Geoffrey Wellum's book First Light and one of him in Andy Saunders' book Spitfire Mk I P9374 ]

source: https://www.magzter.com/article/Flying-Aviation/Flight-Journal/Never-Stay-Still

Pat was at Cranwell with Pilot Officer Alan Wright, who was one of those he introduced to Geoffrey Wellum. In Norman Franks' book Air Battle for Dunkirk 26 May - 3 June 1940  Wright remembered taking part in that first air battle above Dunkirk: "Even at the time the whole episode seemed a dream, although it became real enough. On our very first patrol over Dunkirk - 23rd May - Pilot Officer Pat Learmond, my closest friend from RAF Cranwell days, and, at the time, rival in love, did not return - he was shot down and killed. We were just twenty years old and I was overwhelmed with shock and disbelief. When I first saw a few Me109s on that sortie, not far away and glinting in the sun, they were just other aeroplanes to me; it just didn't occur to me to attack or realise the danger - how green can one be! But this is so true of initiation into battle, Dunkirk or the Falklands, or any other."

Patrick's Spitfire
Spitfire Mk.Ia (c/no.553). First Flown 20-2-40. Delivered to the RAF at 9 MU RAF Cosford 1-3-40. Issued to 92 (East India) Squadron 11-3-40 as "QJ-V"). Written off (destroyed) when lost (failed to return) after being shot down in flames by Bf 109s near Dunkerque 23-5-40. Total Flying Hours 64.20. Pilot - Pilot Officer Patrick (Pat) A G Learmond killed. According to the official Air Ministry file on the incident (File AIR 81/512): "Spitfire P9370 failed to return from an operational flight over the French coast, 23 May 1940. Pilot Officer P A G Learmond: missing presumed dead".

From 10 May 1940, Spitfire squadrons were authorised to carry out offensive patrols across the Channel. Spitfires first met Bf-109s and Bf-110s on 23 May: two of each type of Messerschmitt were lost, as were four Spitfires of 92 Squadron. Spitfire P9370 is believed to have been shot down in combat with Bf109s of I./JG27 during an offensive patrol over Dunkerque, and crashed and burned out on the beach near Cap Gris-Nez 11.30 a.m. Possibly the Spitfire that was claimed as shot down by Oberlt Gerhart Framm (Staffelkapitän) of 2./JG27. Pilot Officer Patrick Alexander George Learmond missing. Aircraft a write-off. Reportedly, the shooting down of Spitfire P9370 the first loss in air to air combat by 92 Squadron in WWII.

[ https://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/228024 ]

Has Patrick Learmond's aircraft been found?

In the book Spitfire Mk I P9374 by Andy Saunders there is a note as follows:

During September 1987 French enthusiasts excavated the buried wreckage of a Spitfire I close to the sea wall at Les Salines, situated between Calais and Sangatte. Amongst the wreckage had been discovered the remains of the pilot, although no formal identification of either pilot or aircraft could be made. Some researchers, however, have suggested that this may well have been the wreck of Pat Learmond and his Spitfire, P9370.

Local information pointed to the crash having taken place around 24 May 1940. If it had crashed on 24 May 1940, the only real candidate for an unaccounted Spitfire pilot is Plt Off Richard Dennis Aubert of 74 Squadron who was shot down "south of Dunkirk" on that day. However, if the date of loss was 23 May then clearly Pat Learmond becomes a contender for the identity of this unknown pilot, and it has certainly been theorised that this is quite likely to have been the Spitfire he had been flying and his remains.

On 24 May Peter Cazenove, also of 92 Squadron was in Tony Bartley's section. Following Bartley into an attack on Dornier 17s, Cazenove's Spitfire P9374 was hit by return fire. He did a wheels up landing on the French beach and tried to get on three Royal Navy destroyers but was turned off each one ('all the accommodation was reserved for the army and the air force could go and ---- themselves!'). Cazenove walked up the beach towards Calais and came across the shattered and burnt wreckage of another Spitfire. Examining the remains he found a burnt piece of parachute harness with the name 'Learmond' marked on it. He had, in fact, accidentally stumbled across the wreckage of his friend Plt Off Pat Learmond's Spitfire (P9730) shot down just the day before.
   
Whilst its location up against the sea wall might tend to add weight to this suggestion there are other contra-indicators to this.

Given the account that Cazenove found the wreckage "as he walked up the beach" it must be recognised that the crash location at Les Salines is to the south of Calais, whereas Cazenove landed to the north. To have accessed this part of the beach then, it means that Cazenove would presumably have had to cross the harbour mouth at Calais, or else walked around the inland outskirts of the town before heading back to the shore on the south side. In some respects, this scenario seems rather unlikely, although we can reasonably conclude that Cazenove had made it into Calais port in order to attempt to secure passage on a Royal Navy vessel and he might then have walked from the port to the Les Salines location.

The only 'clue' found during the dig at the crash site was the Rolls-Royce engine plate, although its number bore no relation to that recorded for either Learmond's or Aubert's aeroplane. However, and as explained earlier in this work, the lack of an engine number match cannot necessarily rule out either of these aircraft. The remains of this unknown RAF pilot were buried in Plot 14, Row E, Grave 22 of Terlincthun British Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, on 28 July 1988. Just possibly, Peter Cazenove might have been able to throw some light to help solve this mystery by identifying exactly where it was he found the Spitfire wreck that he had managed to establish as Learmond's machine. Sadly, fate intervened and decreed otherwise. Peter Cazenove died in 1981, "haunted by the fate of his aircraft P9374".

His Spitfire was restored to flying condition in 2015 and sold to benefit the RAF Benevolent Fund and a wildlife charity.
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3057575/Spitfire-shot-Dunkirk-discovered-buried-Calais-beach-40-years-later-auctioned-2-5million-fully-restored.html
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-33472028

Patrick Learmond is named on the following memorials:

Leatherhead Town Memorial*
Leatherhead RBL Roll of Honour*
St John's School Memorial, Leatherhead
The Air Forces Memorial, Runnymede, Surrey
RAF Cranwellians Roll of Honour

*where he is incorrectly shown as PAC Learmond instead of PAG Learmond


Air Forces Memorial, Runnymede

The Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede, overlooking the Thames on Cooper's Hill four miles from Windsor, commemorates the names of over 20,000 airmen who were lost in the Second World War during operations from bases in the United Kingdom and North and Western Europe and who have no known graves. They served in all commands from Bombers to Maintenance, and came from all parts of the Commonwealth as well as countries in Europe which had been taken by the Germans (such as Denmark, the Netherlands, or Poland) and whose airmen continued to fight in the ranks of the Royal Air Force. The memorial was designed by Sir Edward Maufe with sculpture by Vernon Hill and ceilings by John Hutton.


the website editor would like to add further information on this casualty

e.g. more photos of him, his name on the Air Forces Memorial
and of any recollections within his family.

with thanks to Miss Margaret Learmond (ML), a cousin of Patrick's: last updated 20 May 20