DSO, OBE, DFC
and Bar, DFC (US) Croix de Guerre (12 December 1917 - 21 September
Al Deere was one of the RAF's leading aces during World War
II and in pictures epitomises the image of a square jawed
RAF hero with more tan a passing resemblance to Dan Dare.
He was also extremely lucky, being shot down or crashing nine
times in his career. He recorded his own escapades in his
autobiography Nine Lives, which was published in 1959.
Al Deere was born on December 12th 1917 in Westport, New
Zealand. Soon after this his family moved to Wanganui NZ and
it was here that he was educated at the Marist Brother's School
and then Wanganui Technical College. At school Deere first
made a name for himself as a sportsman, excelling at Rugby,
Cricket and Boxing. He would continue to be an acid sportsman
throughout his life
After leaving school Deere briefly worked as a shepherd before
spending two years working as a law clerk before setting out
to begin a long cherished dream to become a pilot. This he
achieved in 1937 by applying to the Royal Air Force, arriving
in England to commence his flying training. In October 1938
Deere gained his commission as Flying Officer and after a
short period with 74 Squadron he was posted to 54 Squadron
at RAF Hornchurch., then flying Gloster Gladiators.
54 Squadron converted to Spitfires in early 1940 and it was
whilst flying Spitfire's that Deere achieved fame. Soon after
converting to Spitfire’s Deere had his first brush with
death when his oxygen supply failed at altitude, Deere passed
out but recovered consciousness in time to pull out from his
In May 1940, 54 Squadron and Deere found themselves embroiled
in the intensive air fighting over Dunkirk and on May 23rd
1940 Deere scored his first aerial victories by shooting down
two Messerscmitt Bf 109's whilst covering a daring rescue
mission being undertaken by James Leatheart . This was also
the first recorded incidence of a Spitfire shooting down a
Messerschmitt Bf 109. Later on the same day Deere bagged himself
a third 109.
By 26th May 1940 Deere had added two Messerscmitt Bf 110's
to his tally but on May 28th expended the second of his nine
lives when he was himself shot down while engaging a Dornier
Do 17. Luckily Deere survived a forced landing in Belgium
and after cycling to Dunkirk was evacuated on a destroyer
and was back at Hornchurch within a day of first taking off.
Deere's actions led to him being awarded (along with Adolph
Malan, James Leatheart, Jonny Allen and Robert Stanford Tuck)
the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). The ceremony was conducted
by King George VI on June 28th 1940 at RAF Hornchurch.
The Battle of Britain was very eventful for Deere. By the
time that 54 Squadron was withdrawn from the battle on September
3rd 1940, Deere had significantly increased his score but
had himself expended a further three of his nine lives, having
survived a mid air collision with a Messerschmitt 109, being
shot down once and being hit by a bomb while trying a hairy
take off during a bombing raid.
Another of his nine lives was expended in early 1941 whilst
he was training new pilots. This was caused by a collision
with another Spitfire. Deere only just managed to struggle
free from the plummeting wreck and then found that his parachute
failed to open properly. Luckily he fell into the softer part
of a sewage farm! Whilst recovering from this fall, Deere
was appointed the Operations Controller at RAF Catterick.
In may 1941 Deere moved to take command of a flight of 602
Squadron at Ayr and had soon expended another of his nine
lives when crash landed after suffering an engine failure.
At the end of July 1941 Deere was promoted to Squadron Leader,
in command of 602 Squadron. In early 1942, Deere made a visit
to the United states to lecture on air fighting tactics and
on his return was given command of 403 Canadian Squadron.
In August 1942 Deere was sent to the RAF Staff College at
Cranwell from where he was posted to the staff of 13 Group
but managed to swing a more active posting with 611 Squadron
at Biggin Hill. A brush with a Focke Wulf 190 whilst flying
from Biggin Hill accounted for another of his nine lives to
Deere was then given command of the Biggin Hill Wing, leading
over a hundred offensive sorties over occupied Europe before
in September 1943 taking command of the Central Gunnery School
at Sutton Bridge. After another brief stint vas a staff officer
with 11 Group, Deere again returned to active flying duties
in mid 1944 when he was invited by General Valin to command
the Free French Fighter Wing for the Normandy campaign. Deere
ended the war as the Station Commander at RAF Biggin Hill.
After World War II, Deere remained in the RAF going on to
command a number of airfields including RAF Duxford and North
Weald. In 1951, Deere was promoted to Wing Commander and in
1955 took up a senior post with the RAF Staff College at Cranwell.
In 1958 Deere was promoted to Group Captain and became assistant
commandant of the RAF Staff College in 1963. In July 1964
Deere was appointed Air Commodore and took command of the
East Anglian Sector. Deere was also honoured by being made
an Aide de Camp (ADC) to the Queen in 1962 and in 1965 by
leading his fellow Battle of Britain pilots during the funeral
of Sir Winston Churchill.
Deere retired from active service in 1967 but always a keen
sportsman took up a post as the RAF’s civilian director
of sport. In 1969, Deere, along with R S Tuck and Adolph Galland
acted as a consultant during the making of the epic film The
Battle of Britain. Deere retired in 1977 and died in 1995.
As a fitting tribute, his ashes were scattered over the Thames
estuary from a Spitfire of the Battle of Britain Memorial
Bishop, E. 2002. The Daily Telegraph Book of Airmen's Obituaries.
Deere, A. 1959. Nine Lives
Smith, R.C. Al Deere: Wartime Fighter Pilot, Peacetime Commander,
the Authorised Biography.