Flt Lt JS Mitchell DFC 151972 RAFVR
James Stanley Mitchell was born 1924 in Yorkshire and attended Keighley Boys Grammar School. Enlisting in the RAFVR in 1941, he trained as a pilot in Alberta, Canada under the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS), later known as the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). Commissioned in April 1943 on gaining his wings, he later joined 211 Squadron in Burma. Mitchell died in 1961.
His son Richard contacted me in October 2003, prompted by his father’s name in the Burma operations history and the brief summary of an incident with an abandoned Beaufighter. Today Richard holds his father’s Log Book, a cheerful group photograph and (a 2003 Christmas present from his adult daughter) a replica of James’ DFC.
By coincidence, Richard’s father-in-law survived captivity under the Japanese and forced labour on the Burma railway—not too far, apparently, from where JS Mitchell was operating with 211 Squadron.
JS Mitchell (far right) and fellow pilots “somewhere in Canada” 1943 (Mitchell)
Photographed at an RCAF Service Flying Training School in Alberta, Canada, part of the war-time EATS/BCATP aircrew training scheme. In the right background are two Avro Ansons in Canadian markings (the very large serial nos) and of Canadian build (the long-chord cowling and reduced glazing suggests the Mark II). Ansons were built in quantity for the RCAF. The aircraft behind the boys and in the left background appear to be Canadian examples of the North American Harvard much used in the training role in Canada and in the RAF.
The 6 NCO aircrew all wear their new pilot’s wings on their tunics. 4 are Sergeants. The other two are also in NCO uniform, with NCO badge on the forage cap, but no other rank insignia visible. These men wear a white brassard (or armband) just above the elbow and apparently of plain white cloth without markings. James Mitchell, newly qualified and commissioned, is last on the right.
The white brassard was issued to newly commissioned RAF personnel while still in Canada as the acknowledgement of their rank, pending return to the UK and tailoring of an English uniform. Allan Smith, a RNZAF EATS/BCATP trainee in Canada otherwise unrelated to 211 Squadron events, recalled a similar story:
“This week we have embarkation leave in Canada, sail to England the hard way and start flying Hurricanes at No 56 OTU Sutton Bridge. After graduation at Dunnville we were given passes and told to make our own way to Halifax. We did not rekit in Canada and stayed in our LAC uniforms but wore our wings and those commissioned wore a white armband. We were disappointed at the time because we wanted to wear our new uniforms but we were later very pleased when we found that the quality of the cloth and the cut of the English tailors was much superior to that of Canada.”
London Gazette Issue 36201 5 October 1943
ROYAL AIR FORCE VOLUNTEER RESERVE.
GENERAL DUTIES BRANCH.
Plt. Offs. (prob.) to be Flg. Offs. on prob. (war subs.):-
2nd Oct. 1943.
J. S. MITCHELL (151972)
London Gazette Issue 37313 19 October 1945
Air Ministry, 19th October, 1945.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve
the following awards: -
Distinguished Flying Cross
James Stanley MITCHELL (151972), RAFVR, 211 Sqdn.
Mitchell had two close encounters with disaster in 211 Squadron operations over Burma. By a combination of skill and luck, he and his navigator escaped on both occasions.
Here is the Air Ministry Bulletin citation for his DFC, earned for coolness and skill following an engine fire and successful ditching of his damaged Beaufighter NE702 ‘T’ on 17 September 1944:
“Flight Lieutenant Mitchell has completed a large number of operational sorties against enemy lines of communications in Burma. He has effectively attacked road and rail transport and shipping. In September 1944, when returning from a mission, one engine caught fire and, after many unsuccessful attempts to extinguish it, his aircraft was forced down on to the sea. Flight Lieutenant Mitchell made the descent with such skill and airmanship that both he and his navigator were able to keep afloat in their dinghy until rescued. Flight Lieutenant Mitchell has displayed courage and initiative throughout his tour.”
James’ second escape took place on 11 April 1945 while returning, damaged, in Beaufighter NT984 ‘R’ from a Bassein waterways patrol. On this occasion he and Palmer both successfully “stepped out”. His Log Book, the Burma operations history and the Squadron Operations Record Book and Sortie Report record the tale in different degrees of detail. Here is the ORB entry:
“Two aircraft patrolled the Bassein waterways; one of them fired HE rockets into two factories, the other attacked seven launches en route to the target area and photographed (as briefed) a lighthouse South of Diamond Island. The latter aircraft (crew: F/O Mitchell and P/O Palmer) was hit by LM [light machine gun] fire at Shwelaung which put out of action the rudder and elevator controls. After it had climbed rapidly to ten thousand feet, level flight was obtained with the trim and throttle controls and the aircraft returned to base hugging the coast and keeping in close with the VHF ground station. The Navigator baled out at 11:40 hours, landed beside the Aran road two miles south of the airstrip and slightly sprained his back. A few minutes later the pilot followed suit, after settling the aircraft on a westerly course; he landed in a mud patch five miles East of the strip. But the aircraft turned before reaching the sea and circled the camp for half an hour, maintaining height at four thousand feet and watched with keen interest by those on the ground. Another Beaufighter which, returning from Achy, had pinpointed the parachutists positions, now joined the circuit and eventually received instructions to shoot down the abandoned aircraft. By then however it had disappeared into an electrical storm and was last reported by radar on a Northerly course. Its present whereabouts are unknown.”
[211 Squadron Operations Record Book April 1945 TNA AIR 27/1303]
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