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Group Captain Thomas Balmforth, D.S.O., D.F.C.

Thomas BalmforthGroup Captain Thomas Balmforth, 41363, 124 (Baroda) Squadron, Royal Air Force.

Thomas Balmforth was born in Ossett on the 20th April 1918, the son of printer's commercial traveller George Hirst Balmforth and his wife Euphemia, nee Render, who had married in the Bradford area in 1906. Thomas Balmforth had an elder sister Bessie, born in 1907 in Wakefield and a brother Douglas Balmforth, who also served as an RAF pilot, and was born in 1911 in Ossett. The Balmforth family lived at Healey Road, Ossett in 1913.

When George Balmforth died in December 1963, probate was granted on a sum of £17,204 to his daughter Bessie Pickering (wife of Charles Edward Pickering) and his son Douglas Balmforth, an air control officer. However, youngest son Thomas Balmforth was not included in any bequest from his father.

Tommy Balmforth joined the RAF on October 6th, 1938 and was promoted to Flying Officer on September 3rd, 1940. He served first as a Hurricane pilot in June 1940. Pilot-Officer Tommy Balmforth arrived in Luqa, Malta on the 22nd June, 1940 in Hawker Hurricane (P2614). It was originally intended that he would continue on the Middle East, but in the event he was to stay in Malta instead. He joined Hal Far Fighter Flight which was later absorbed into 418 flight. He was later transferred to 261 squadron. It was Malta where he won his first successes against the Italian Air Force.

On the 18th September 1940, during combat, a bullet entered the cockpit and caused an oil leak, and burning oil inflicted burns to both hands. He was discharged from hospital care following the treatment to his burned hands, which had developed a skin infection. He made his final flight in Malta on the 22nd December, but was readmitted to hospital for further treatment to his burns and was then posted back in the U.K. shortly afterwards.

On returning to England he was posted to Biggin Hill and there met a pretty W.A.A.F. Lorraine Tydeman, who was to become his wife. In 1941, Miss Tydeman, following the Battle of Britain, would drive airmen to their dispersal huts where they would congregate until they got the signal to scramble to their aircraft. Later, in 1943, Balmforth commanded 124 Squadron being awarded the D.F.C. and by the end of the war had received the D.S.O. for his leadership of the Manston Wing.

Thomas Balmforth married Ruby Lorraine Tydeman in Chelsea, London in early 1943 and they had a daughter Katrina Balmforth, probably born in Singapore in early 1950.

By now a Squadron-Leader and the Commanding Officer of 124 Squadron, flying Spitfire fighters, Thomas Balmforth took part in the famous, but ultimately disastrous Dieppe raid on the 19th of August 1942. In fact, he was the Commanding Officer of 124 Squadron between June 1942 and January 1943 and then again later from June 1943 to September 1944.

124 (Baroda) Squadron was formed at Castletown in May 1941 with early Spitfire Mk.1 fighters. The squadron received Spitfire Mk11b fighters in October, and a mix of Mk.V and and Mk.IIb Spitfires in November when it moved south to Biggin Hill in Kent. Here the squadron was to gain some success and a considerable number of future notable pilots served in the squadron during 1942. July 1942 brought high-altitude Spitfire Mk.VI fighters and a move to Debden in Essex. In September, the squadron moved to Tangmere in Sussex, following which North Weald in Essex became their base from the autumn of 1942 through to the spring of 1943. The Spitfire Mk.VI fighters were retained until January 1943, when they were replaced by Mk.IX Spitfires. However, in March these were replaced with Mk.Vb and Mk.VII Spitfires, the latter being used in the defence of the south-coast invasion ports prior to D-Day, intercepting high-flying Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft from a variety of southern airfields. The unit remained with the air defence of Great Britain, receiving HF IXe Spitfires in July, and operating these for the rest of the war. The 124 Squadron code letters were ON.

The "Ossett Observer" had this report in 1942:

"D.F.C. FOR LOCAL PILOT - Flight-Lieutenant Thomas Balmforth, 124 Squadron, a native of Ossett, whose home is now in Wakefield, has been awarded the D.F.C. (on the 29th May 1942) Lieutenant Balmforth, who is 24 years of age, was educated at Wakefield Grammar School, and was commissioned in 1938. He was appointed to command a flight in September, 1941. He has since completed many major operations over hostile territory. He has destroyed one enemy aircraft, probably another, and damaged a third; he has displayed coolness and enthusiasm which have set a magnificent example to others.

His elder brother, Douglas, aged 31, was educated at Southdale Council School, Ossett. Starting in the ranks, he secured promotion to sergeant-pilot, and received his commission in January 1942. Their parents, Mr. and Mrs. George Balmforth, lived in Park Square, Ossett, for some years. Their father has long associations with Ossett, and many will remember his aunt, Mrs. Kaye, who for some years carried on business as a draper in a shop in Dale Street, near the Horse and Jockey."

In 1943, Balmforth served as the R.A.F. Fighter Wing's Chief Flying Instructor at R.A.F. Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire. Later in April 1945, now Wing-Commander Thomas Balmforth, D.F.C., 41363, Royal Air Force, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order:

"Since being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross this officer has participated in a large number of sorties and has displayed the highest qualities of skill and leadership. By his great tactical knowledge, perseverance and enthusiasm he has done much to raise the operational efficiency of all under his command to the highest standard. He has set a magnificent example."

After the war, Thomas Balmforth remained in the R.A.F. and on July 15th, 1953, he led a formation of 6 Swift F1 from Boscombe Down for an air parade while serving as Wing Commander. He became a Group Captain on July 1st, 1961 and in the 1954 New Year's Honours List, he was awarded the Air Force Cross (AFC). He finally retired on November 1st, 1973.

Group Captain Thomas Balmforth died in late 1981 in Reading, Berkshire aged 63 years. His address at the time was 5, Westonbirt Avenue, Caversham, RG4 7EN. His wife Lorraine was still alive in 2003 aged 85 years.

Thomas Balmforth's elder brother, Flight-Lieutenant Douglas Balmforth (born 7th March 1911 and died 18th February 1991) served, like his brother as a WW2 Spitfire and Hurricane pilot. He was was a flying instructor, meteorological reconnaissance pilot and then worked post WW2 as a civilian air traffic controller.

References:

1. "Ossett Observer"