Wing Commander HF Burton

Wing Commander Howard ‘Billy’ Burton DSO, DFC & Bar, Croix de Guerre. A Cranwell Sword of Honour graduate before the war, Billy was a career officer probably destined for air rank.

Billy Burton, in black pre-war flying overalls, whilst commanding 616 Squadron in 1940.

Scoring his first victories over Dunkirk as a flight commander with 66 Squadron, he was given command of 616 in 12 Group with instructions to re-build the Squadron after its virtual annihilation at Kenley during the Battle of Britain. Under his command, the Squadron returned to a combat ready state and contributed to the so-called operations of the Duxford-based 12 Group ‘Big Wing’, led by Squadron Leader Douglas Bader of 242 Squadron. So began a long association between 616 Squadron and ‘Dogsbody’: in 1941, 616 flew South to Westhampnett (Goodwood), forming part of the Tangmere Wing – which Wing Commander Douglas Bader always led at the head of 616 with ‘Dogsbody Section’, usually comprising Smith, Johnson and Dundas.

Billy Burton walking in at Westhampnett after a sweep over France in 1941 – note that he is wearing a coveted German lifejacket.

Billy Burton scored more victories that summer before being posted to the western desert, leading a Kittyhawk wing. After home leave in 1943, Billy was returning to North Africa with other senior officers when the Hudson he was a passenger in was destroyed by a Ju 88 over the Bay of Biscay – a great loss to the RAF. Sadly, Wing Commander Burton remains missing and is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial. Many years ago I was very friendly with his widow, Mrs Jean Allom, who, aged twenty, had been part of the Bader inner sanctum at Tangmere – and still had Billy’s Irvin flying jacket. I gave Jean the last word in Bader’s Tangmere Spitfiresin 1996: ‘Tangmere was now in the past, but that summer is one that remains amongst my most vivid memories, perhaps because it was the first and last that Billy and I were ever to spend together’. Further words superfluous.

Billy’s widow, Mrs Jean Allom, with his flying jacket in 1996.



The Runnymede Memorial to the missing – on which Wing Commander Burton’s name can be found.