601 (County of London) Squadron

Squadron Historical Database

Gilbert, Humphrey Trench


Humphrey Trench Gilbert of Revesby, Lincolnshire, was born on November 3rd 1919. He was educated at Durnford School and was at Cheltenham College from January 1934 to July 1937. He joined the RAF on a short service commission in early December 1937. After completing his ab-initio course at 7 E&RFTS, Desford on February 18th 1938, Gilbert went to No 1 RAF Depot, Uxbridge for a short disciplinary course. He was posted to 9 FTS, Hullavington on March 5th.

Gilbert was awarded his pilots wings on June 1st 1938, completed his training and joined 73 Squadron at Digby on September 17th. He was sent to CFS, Upavon on October 23rd and qualified as an instructor on December 22nd 1938. In January 1939 Gilbert was posted to 504 Squadron, Auxiliary Air Force as Flying Instructor. On 3rd August 1940 he was posted from 9 FTS to 6 OTU, Sutton Bridge.

After converting to Hurricanes, he joined 601 Squadron at Debden on the 16th. Gilbert shared in the destruction of a Ju87 on August 15th, shared a He111 on the 30th, destroyed a Me110 on the 31st and was himself shot down over the Thames Estuary, in Hurricane V7260. He baled out, unhurt.

Gilbert destroyed a Me110 on September 4th. Two days later he was shot down by a Me109 over Mayfield. Again he baled out but this time he was wounded. He landed at Pembury and his Hurricane, V6647, crashed at Kippings Cross, near Pembury.

In late April 1941 Gilbert was appointed ‘B’ Flight Commander. A month later he was temporarily attached to 1422 Flight at Heston. He flew night sorties in a Hurricane, accompanying a Havoc in what were early tests on Turbinlite aircraft.

Gilbert was posted to 71 (Eagle) Squadron at Martlesham Heath on September 3rd 1941 as a Flight Commander. He was given command of 222 Squadron at North Weald on November 1st and on December 23rd 1941 he moved to Debden to take over 65 Squadron. When the Scharnhorst andGneisenau made their Channel Dash on February 12th 1942, the squadron was involved in combat with the German fighter cover. Gilbert destroyed a Me109 and damaged another.

On a Boston escort to Hazebrouck on April 12th, he shot down a Fw190.

Gilbert crashed on May 2nd 1942, attempting to take off from Debden in a Spitfire, with the Controller on his lap. They were said to have been going to a party. Both men were killed.

Gilbert is buried in Saffron Walden Cemetery, Essex. The award of the DFC was gazetted after his death (29th May 1942).

To add a bit, his half brother wrote;

My half-brother  HUMPHREY  who was born on 03/11/19 joined the RAF in 1937 soon after leaving  School at Cheltenham  and became a Pilot Officer.

The Battle of Britain began on 10/07/40  with heavy German attacks on our Channel Convoys.

16/08/40  He joined 601 (County of London) Squadron at Tangmere and was assigned to Hurricane P3228 and had a half hour familiarisation flight.

17th          Flew 2 operational sorties.

18th          Shared in the destruction of a Junkers 87  Stuka dive-bomber.

21st          Given a new aircraft V7260  and flew it 7 times  including 4 convoy patrols being airborne for 6 ¾ hrs.

25th          Flew 4 sorties including 2 scrambles against incoming raiders and a      lengthy  convoy patrol.

30th          Involved with his section of 3 aircraft shooting down a Heinkel 111 Bomber.

31st          Engaged a Messerschmitt 110 at 25,000 feet and shot it down over the Thames Estuary.  Later the same day he was shot down by a Heinkel 113 and baled out at 15,000 feet landing unhurt, but his Hurricane crashed and burned.

4th Sept.   Flying Hurricane  P3949 he was the first to attack an ME110.    2 other Hurricanes joined in and the  ME110 went down in the Sussex countryside.  He was credited with the kill.

6th            The Squadron was scrambled to face an incoming raid. At 15,000 feet the 12 aircraft of 601 took on  no less than 50  German fighters over Mayfield and it developed into one of the fiercest battles  in which the Squadron had been engaged.  Against the odds 3 enemy aircraft were destroyed and a further 3 damaged but 601 lost 3 pilots, 3 force landed and survived and Humphrey was one of 2  who were wounded and baled out.

In his Log he wrote: “Shot down by an ME109.  Baled out at 21,000 feet landed at Pembury, Kent.  Badly shot, stayed in Hospital for a month”.   He had done a delayed action drop not opening his parachute for 14,000 feet to avoid being shot at and landed 500 yards from the Hospital to which he was taken.  His Hurricane was completely destroyed.

By mid Oct 1940 the weather had begun to deteriorate and the German High Command took the decision to abort plans for the sea crossing and invasion.  By the end of Oct. the Battle of Britain was over but aerial activity was not.

Humphrey carried on serving with the RAF and sadly died in a crash on 02/05/42 when I believe he was taking a friend from the Squadron to a party  –  2 up in a single seat plane.   He was awarded the D.F.C. which my Father, as next of kin, received from the King on 20/10/42.


Humphrey Gilbert



Humphrey second from the end on the right – beside Clive Mayers


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