born: 19 September 1917 killed in action: 7 September
A brief Biography
Pat's father, also called Paterson Clarence Hughes and a schoolteacher in Cooma, was married to Caroline Vennel of Cooma.
Pat Hughes, the youngest in their family of five boys and seven girls, was born in Cooma on 19th September 1917, and was educated at the Cooma Public School. When he was 12 years old, the family moved to Haberfield in Sydney and he attended the Petersham Boys' School, and later Fort Street High, until the age of 17 years. He was a keen sportsman, excelling at football and swimming, with an interest in model aircraft and the wonders of electricity.
In 1935, while awaiting replies he had submitted to both the
Air Force and the Navy, he worked for a period at Saunders'
Jewelers in Sydney. After being selected for both services he
chose the Air Force and began his training as a Cadet Pilot at
RAAF Point Cook in Victoria. The smiling photo below was taken
whilst he was a cadet at Point Cook. After graduation, he was
selected with a number of others to transfer to the RAF under a
special Short Service Commission Scheme. They sailed for
England on 9 January 1937. After two years training as a
fighter pilot he was a member of 64 Squadron, RAF at Church
Fenton when hostilities began in 1939.
Pat was promoted to Acting Flight Lieutenant in November 1939 as a Flight Commander to the newly formed 234 Squadron at RAF Leconfield in East Yorkshire. Initially, they were equipped with Fairey Battles, Bristol Blenheims and Gloster Gauntlets, but in March 1940 they were re-equipped with Spitfires. In June 1940, 234 squadron was transferred to Cornwall. It was here, on 1 August 1940, that Pat married Kathleen (Kay) Brodrick of Hull, whom he had met at the Beverley Arms Hotel in Beverley in the February.
The Battle of Britain began in July 1940, and Pat was credited with the first confirmed kill for the squadron with the shooting down of a Ju 88 near Lands End. One of the duties of 234 Squadron was to provide air cover for 10 Squadron (RAAF) based at Mount Batten. In August, 234 Squadron was transferred to Middle Wallop in Hampshire. During the next two months with the Battle of Britain at its height, Pat was the driving force behind the achievements of 234 Squadron. His close-in and aggressive tactics were responsible for many of 234's successes.
In one of the most costly engagements of the Battle of Britain, on August 15th, Pat scored a double with two Messerschmitt 110's. He scored double successes again, on 18th and 26th August, for which he was awarded his DFC. Another couple of weeks of highly intensive aerial warfare followed, with several sorties a day and no rest or days off for most pilots, takes Pat's story up to the end of the first week in September.
September the 7th was a major turning point in the whole battle, effectively the day when the Luftwaffe gave up attacking airfields and the RAF in particular, and made their first huge, daylight raid on London. Hindsight and history would also show that this was the day when the RAF could be said to have won the battle, and therefore staved off immediate invasion. But that didn't become clear for a few more weeks. And tragically, Pat, as with all his fellow pilots killed in those weeks of battle, was never to know it at all.
It was in the late afternoon of the 7th September, when 234
Squadron ran into a force of 60 German aircraft consisting of
Do 17's and escorting Bf 109's. Pat was leading his
Section in Spitfire X4009 and dived to attack the bombers. The
official report states that after attacking a bomber from close
range, a large section of the bomber broke away and appeared to
hit the Spitfire, which crashed in the village of Bessels
Green. Pat's body, thrown clear of his aircraft, came down
into a garden in the nearby village of Sundridge. The official
record shows that Pat died around 18.30 hrs. Pats wife, Kay,
was a widow after only five weeks of marriage.
However, we now know that the action was also witnessed from the ground, and Tony Hall, of Sundridge, writes to tell me that his own father always maintained that, as he watched the aerial combat and ensuing dogfights taking place right over his house, it was his belief that Pat deliberately rammed the Dornier in order to bring it down. Tony has had a lifelong interest in the Battle of Britain, and of course, thence in Pat Hughes in particular. His father's wish that a memorial to Pat may one day be located in the village where he fell has come to fruition, courtesy of the Battle of Britain Memorial Society. This was unveiled on the 65th anniversary of Pat's death in 2005. Pat's former colleague, Wing Commander Bob Doe, now aged 86 and in poor health himself, remembers Pat with affection, was unable to attend the ceremony. Bob mentions Pat and his exploits in the acclaimed book, "Fighter Pilot", which Bob wrote after the war.
Pat was credited with 14 downed enemy aircraft, plus other shared planes, making him the highest scoring Non-British Fighter Pilot in the Battle of Britain. One fact that came to light, a great deal later, was that Pat is also credited with shooting down a very well-known German airman indeed, none other than Oberleutnant Franz von Werra, the famous "One That Got Away".
This was the German Luftwaffe prisoner who escaped from British POW camps several times, only to be recaptured every time. After an escapade in which he very nearly nicked a Spitfire to fly home in, and along with other notorious German escapees, von Werra was shipped off to Canada - our version of Colditz, I suppose - and finally made his successful escape from a moving train at night into the snow and thence to cross the frozen St Lawrence River in a stolen rowing boat to freedom in the US . . just a few months before America came into the war. He was repatriated to Germany to continue his flying career, only to lose his life in Russia on the Eastern Front.
After a service at St James', Sutton-in-Holderness, Hull, on 13th September 1940, Pat Hughes was buried with full military honours in the churchyard. His grave was tended for many years, up to the mid-1990's, by Mr Bert Knowles on behalf of the Sub-Branch of the Spitfire Society. Since around 1995, Marjory Shirtliff and her husband Norman have performed this task, keeping the grass tidy, laying flowers and occasionally washing down the marble headstone. It is also noteworthy that the stone itself, in common practice with all war graves, doesn't mention Pat's Australian nationality, just that he was a pilot with the RAF, which is partly true, as he was on secondment to the RAF. Pat was noted within the squadron for defiantly keeping and wearing his darker-blue RAAF uniform .. a proud Australian indeed, and no doubt he would have returned to the RAAF had he survived the war. Marjory was in regular contact with Connie, Pat's sister in New South Wales, until Connie herself passed away in July of 2010, aged 95.
At Christ's Church, Kiama, on the south coast of NSW, a
memorial tablet placed on the churchyard fence by another of
Pat's sisters, Muriel Tongue, reads:
A special memorial, this time depicting his aircraft and the area of his major operations, was unveiled and dedicated at Monaghan Hayes Place, Cooma, the town of Pat's birth, on 26th March 1998, in the presence of members of the Spitfire Association.
We hope that this page of details will be of interest to anyone who has ever visited Sutton churchyard, and paused to wonder how a 23 year-old Australian came to be buried here. A few more photos of Pat's grave, and the general churchyard, are below.
We are indebted to the following for the above details:
Reference: "A Few of the Few" by
Stan Howard . . Chairman of the Memorials Sub-committee of the Cooma-Monaro Sub-Branch of the Returned and Services League of Australia.
Bronwen Hughes . . for doing the research and finding and supplying me with all the above details, and in so doing, found that her family is indeed related to Pat Hughes' branch of the Hughes family after all. Her act of kindness (see below) is what helped to find much of the above information in the first place. Of course, at the time I first contacted Bronwen, I had no idea that Marjorie and Norman were tending the grave and had been already in touch with Pat's sister for many years. It is indeed a small world now.
THERE'S A QUITE A STORY . .
of how we in Sutton came to find more details of Pat and his family
I originally wrote to Bronwen, having found her name and email address in an Internet Directory. She was on a list of people on a website called "Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness" where volunteer helpers offer help and research in Family History matters. It seemed too good to be true.
But Bronwen lived quite some miles away down the coast away from Haberfield, and Kiama, and at first any link between herself and Pat seemed remote and clutching at straws. For she then knew nothing of any link herself.
Nevertheless, touched and impressed by Pat's story, Bronwen put a free advert in the Sydney Telegraph, and was inundated with replies, from both people that knew the family and of Pat's RAF service, and from the family itself. It just goes to show the power of the internet. And the nice twist to the tale is that initial research seems to show that Bronwen IS related to this fighter ace after all. This is her reply to me when she first received the details back from Stan Howard.
It was over three weeks ago I placed the application to have a notice in the Sydney newspaper, it was only printed in last Wednesday's edition (22 May 2002), my phone has not stopped, I have been inundated with calls from family members and people who have heard of our brave young fighter pilot. I have passed on the information obtained from the website. "Pat" was also a descendant of one of the first fleet convicts sent to Australia.
Many thanks for your original email, it started a search that has been most rewarding, and it now looks like our family is related to Paterson's line.
I have forwarded your original email onto a family member and I am sure he will be in touch with you.
Regards Bronwen Hughes
THE DEANNA DURBIN LINK
Perhaps it's time for a few more photos here .. maybe this one of Marjorie and Norman Shirtliff, taken with Merrill Rhodes, on Pat's Memorial Day, back on Sept 7th, 2006. This is a good indication of how this couple have taken on and cared for this grave over the past 15 or more years. I only recently learnt, in 2010, the story of just how Marjorie and Norman came to be involved. It's all down to the screen actress Deanna Durbin. Marjorie is a great fan, and in the Deanna Durbin Society. She became friends with fellow member, Jean Holmes, in Barton on Humber just over the water. Jean is very involved in looking after war graves generally, and on telling Marjorie about the ones in Sutton, Marjorie and her husband took on the particular task of looking after Pat's, which they have done ever since. Deanna was a popular actress of the war years, and understandably especially popular with the armed forces. It's not beyond credibility that Pat himself could have been rather keen on the lass himself, as would most of his and other squadrons. A wonderful aside to an amazing story. And at the time of writing, Deanna herself is still alive, living in Paris, and will be 90 next year, and would probably be equally amazed that her name and career would become connected all these years later with an Australian RAF pilot. For those that are interested, visit Deanna's website.
Use your 'BACKSPACE' key when done, also for the ones below.
They have taken Pat's story to heart,
and were regularly in touch with another of Pat's
sisters in Australia, until she herself died in 2010 .
These little thumbnails open up into bigger views. After we
laid the flowers, I went back and took these other shots
later in the day.
Tony Hall, seen here on the left, along with his brother Des.
Click on the small image to read the plaque on the wall behind them.
In 2008, as the 68th anniversary of
Pat's death approached, a memorial stone was built
and dedicated, alongside Main Road in Sundridge near to
Tony Hall's garden where Pat's body was found, at
a special service on August 23rd. This stone is one of a
series commissioned by the Shoreham Aircraft Museum
commemorating Battle of Britain pilots who died in the
Tony Hall wrote to Pat's nephew,
Malcolm, enclosing this photo.
" .. Dear Malcolm, Just got
back from the dedication ceremony. A wonderful sunny
day for it, after our wettest August ever. A whole
crowd of villagers and V.I.P's, including Wing
Commander Bob Doe, & The Australian Air
Attaché. We had a very smart parade by the
Air Cadets and a great flypast by the Spitfire,
"The Spirit of Kent". I believe a video
was filmed, as is usual at these dedications; I will
see you get one. The Shoreham Aircraft Museum did a
grand job of organising the event. More to follow in
image courtesy of Australian War Memorial P01397.001 and RAAF Museum, Point Cook, Victoria, Australia.
This photo was taken by an unknown photographer in 1939,
just at the start of the war, when Pat was still a Pilot Officer.
This link is to the Shoreham Aircraft Museum showing
photos of the dedication of the above stone, as well
as of other memorials, and is well worth a
Pat was just one of many, the famous
'few', who never lived to see the outcome of the
battle whose success, and cost, we commemorate on this day
every year. We should, and do, remember all of them.
Pat's story is very representative of the many who came
from Overseas, from every corner of the Empire, black and
white, almost every creed and colour, to help fight for the
ideals that Britain held to be worth fighting for. Indeed,
even as I write, we still fight for. As a nation, we forget
their sacrifice and example at our peril.
I hope we have indeed made it certain that this young man, along with all the others buried beneath war graves in Sutton churchyard, will never be forgotten.
And finally, we are indebted firstly to
Mr Bert Knowles of Sutton, and latterly Marjorie and Norman
Shirtliff of Holderness High Road, Hull, for their
continuing service of tending Pat's grave, and laying
flowers for him, for so many years. I know they'll be
pleased there is now a couple of photos of Pat on this
RLH. 28 Aug 2009
Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness
An Australian Forces Memorial