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Clifford Whitehead

Clifford Whitehaed Flying Officer Clifford Whitehead, DFC, 45299, Flying Instructor, Royal Air Force.

Clifford Whitehead was born on the 26th April 1915 in the Aston registration district of Warwickshire, the eldest child three surviving children of Rotherham born Campbell John Whitehead and Nottinghamshire born Mabel Maria Whitehead (nee Culley), who were married in Nottingham in 1904. In 1911 the family were living at Aspley Villa, near Eccleshall in Staffordshire, where Campbell was working as a railway district canvasser.

Born in 1877 Campbell was working on the railways, at Heeley, Sheffield by 1891, and in 1939 he and his newly wed second wife, Florence (nee Kay) were living at the Station House, Braughton Lane, Sheffield where Campbell was the Railway Station Master LNER.

Clifford Whitehead was the husband of Annie Elizabeth Whitehead (nee Chamberlain), of Sheffield, where they married in 1938. In 1939 the couple were living at 26 Bassett Gardens, North Weald, Epping, Essex when Clifford was described as a Sgt Pilot, RAF. It is thought there were two children from the marriage: William J. Whitehead, born in summer 1940 and Peter Whitehead born in early 1942, just before his father's death. Clifford’s widow, Ann Elizabeth, later married Harry S Lister in Sheffield in spring 1950.

It is said that Clifford Whitehead was educated at Ossett Grammar School 2 and that he joined the RAF in 1931 as an aircraft apprentice, passing out in 1934 as a metal rigger. He later applied for pilot training and was successful. In 1939, he was serving with 56 Squadron at North Weald. On the 16th May 1940, Whitehead went with 'B' Flight to Vitry-en-Artois to support the squadron in France. On the 17th May 1940, he shot down a Heinkel He111 east of Cambrai and damaged another. On the 18th May, he shot down two Messerschmidt Me110s south of Vitry.

On the evening of the 18th May, the squadron evacuated Vitry and went on to Norrent Fontes in the face of the attacking German army who were gradually pushing the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) back to the French coast. Whitehead and Sergeant F.W. Higginson were sent back to Vitry to destroy the remaining aircraft and stores. When they finally left Vitry, the Germans were only 3 or 4 miles away.

Over Dunkirk on the 29th May 1940, Whitehead probably destroyed an Me109 fighter and on the 10th July, he claimed an Me110 destroyed. On the 16th August he shared the kill of a Dornier Do17, and on the 18th August, he shared a the kill of an Me110. On the 28th August, Whitehead shot down another Dornier Do17.

During combat with enemy fighters over Colchester on the 31st August during the Battle of Britain, Whitehead baled out of Hawker Hurricane V6628 unhurt whilst being shot down. He was awarded the DFM (gazetted 30th August 1940) for his bravery and pilot skills. The citation reads:

"Sgt. Whitehead has taken part in most of the patrols with his squadron since the outbreak of hostilities. He has personally destroyed four enemy aircraft, and probably three more. He has carried out his many tasks with enthusiasm, and has set an example by his courage and leadership."

On the 7th October Whitehead claimed an Me109 and Me110 destroyed.

Hawker Hurricanes

Above: It is believed that Clifford Whitehead flew the Hawker Hurricane fighter like these shown above over southern England in 1940. Often underrated, the Hurricane shouldered the lion's share of Britain's defense during the Battle of Britain. It was the first fighter monoplane to join the Royal Air Force and the first combat aircraft used by the RAF capable of exceeding 300 mph in level flight.

Clifford Whitehead received his commission to Pilot Officer on probation on the 5th February 1941. He rose to Flying Officer on the 5th February 1942 with seniority backdated to the 22nd January 1942.

Flying Officer Whitehead was killed on the 4th July 1942 whilst working as an instructor with 4 EFTS at Brough in East Yorkshire. Tiger Moth T8200 was airborne from Bellasize Reserve Landing Ground when the pilot stalled it, whilst it is believed he was demonstrating a circuits and landing exercise. The Tiger Moth crashing to the ground, close to Newland Gate Farm, Howden, Yorkshire and Whitehead was killed.

Flying Officer Whitehead died on the 4th July 1942 aged 27 years and is buried in grave Class B. Cons. Grave 2944 at Arnold Church, Cemetery, Nottingham. Arnold is an urban district and parish three miles north east of the City of Nottingham. The cemetery is at Redhill, on the Nottingham-Mansfield road, and contains war graves of both world wars. The 1914-1918 War burials number 19, and there are 63 burials of the 1939-1945 War, including one Polish airman.

References:

1. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site

2. "Men of the Battle of Britain" by Kenneth G. Wynn, Frontline Books, 2015, ISBN 978-1-47384-767-5