Pilot Officer James Desmond Aspin DFM

Pilot Officer James Desmond Aspin DFM

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We have a fair bit of information about members of our congregation who gave their lives in World War I. But we have surprisingly little about World War II. So, we wanted to share this with you about Desmond Aspin.

Desmond was in 625 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He died, aged just 21, on Sunday 20th February 1944. The biography comes to us thanks to Jenny Evans. Jenny is the niece of Desmond. He is commemorated at the family grave in Christ Church Walmersley and there is a memorial plaque in St John’s Church...

Pilot Officer Aspin

Pilot Officer Aspin was the son of Thomas Beardwood Aspin and Sarah Aspin of Bury, Lancashire. He was born 18th May 1922 at the family home in Bury. He was the youngest of three siblings and was known as Desmond, or Des, to his family and friends. Desmond is on the right of this picture, his sister Marion is on the left.

desmond aspin

From a letter he wrote in May 1942 we know that he was stationed for flying training at the Air Corps Basic Flying School in Macon, Georgia, USA.

Desmond Aspin then joined 625 Squadron – which was based at RAF Kelstern – from 10th October 1943 to 4th April 1945. The squadron operated Avro Lancaster heavy bombers. 76 of these were lost and 375 members of aircrew lost their lives, including Pilot Officer Aspin.

DFM

The London Gazette (Third Supplement) of 23rd November 1943 records the King’s approval to Desmond being awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM) in recognition of gallantry displayed in flying operations:

One night in October 1943, this airman piloted an aircraft detailed to attack Leipzig. On the outward flight his aircraft was attacked by 2 enemy fighters. Coolly and skilfully, Sergeant Aspin out-manoeuvred the attackers, enabling his gunner to shoot 1 of the enemy aircraft down and drive the other off. Although the rear turret became unserviceable, Sergeant Aspin flew on and executed a successful bombing attack. On the return journey, the bomber was hit by machine-gun fire from another fighter but Sergeant Aspin flew clear and was able to reach base. This airman displayed outstanding skill, courage and resolution.

desmond aspin medal
Letter from the Air Ministry and Distinguished Flying Medal

Captain and pilot

His Wing Commander later confirmed that he was the first member of 625 Squadron to be awarded a decoration. This was just shortly after the squadron’s formation. The appointment to commissioned rank had been approved only a few days before he was reported missing. His medal was issued posthumously to his family on 30th April 1945.

Desmond Aspin was reported missing as the result of air operations on the night of 19th – 20th February 1944. Lancaster aircraft ME588, in which he was flying as captain and pilot, set out to bomb Leipzig and was not heard from again. It was shot down by night fighters and crashed at Almke, Helmstedt, Germany. Burial of the seven members of the crew took place in the nearby village of Marienthal. Their remains were exhumed post-war and re-interred in a communal group of graves in the British Military Cemetery at Hotton, Belgium.

The crew consisted of: Pilot Officer JD Aspin DFM (pilot), Sgt GH Eastwood (wireless operator/air gunner), Sgt JC Landon (air bomber), Sgt WE Riley (navigator), Sgt PS Skebo RCAF (air gunner), Sgt RS Watson (air gunner) and Sgt PR Wheeldon (flight engineer).

that undefinable something

A member of the ground team later wrote to Desmond’s mother :

‘I met the greatest and bravest man I have ever, or shall ever, meet – your son. As a flyer Desmond’s name was a byword, and by his fellow pilots he was willingly given pride of place. Many of us had an affection for him, that rare affection that is shown by men towards the really great and worthy…there was that undefinable something in his make-up that caused him to stand out and above all those around him. How proud of him you must be – and rightly so…his supreme modesty won for him the hearts of all who had the good fortune to meet him’.

Pilot Officer Aspin’s memorial stone at the IBCC centre:

James Desmond Aspin memorial stone

Other links

You can also find reference to Pilot Officer Aspin in these two reports:

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