The Biggs' Boys
By Ken Stofer
Copyright 2001 Ken Stofer, All Rights Reserved
Biography of Dale Stephens
Pilot, DFC, 122 Squadron RAF & 402 Squadron (RCAF) & Mechanic 242 Squadron, World War II, RAF
My mother died when I was a few months old and it was her wish that I be raised by my grandparents who lived in Chemainus, B.C. I frequently visited my father who lived in Duncan just a few miles away. Strangely enough, in a small place like Chemainus, we had regular visits from float planes (pontooned aircraft). I was utterly fascinated by them. I used to hurry down to stand on the wharf and watch the aircraft land. Occasionally I was able to speak to some of the pilots. When I reached high school age and was determining what I wanted to do with my life, I had naturally become interested in flying.
One day while visiting my father in Duncan we discussed my future. I mentioned I would dearly love to fly. At that time the Royal Air Force had not entered my mind. How dad heard about Captain Seymour-Biggs I don't know, but obviously he must have had contact with him and I was put on the Seymour-Biggs list to go overseas.
Six of us travelled together; Simon Tatar, Bob Horsfield, Ted Woodruff, Clayton Gibbons, Les Holtum and myself. Myself and two others were 17-years-old. The other three were 18. We left in May, 1939 and travelled by train through the States to New York and spent a day or two there. We saw a performance by strip-tease artist Sally Rand. It was quite something for 17-year-old-eyes.
We boarded the German liner, the S.S. Columbus. It was interesting on board ship. It was just four months before the outbreak of war. A group of young German chaps were returning home to join the Luftwaffe. I recall seeing Hitler's book, Mein Kampf on the ship's newsstand. When we arrived at our destination, Plymouth, England, there wasn't a dock available, so we were taken ashore in smaller craft.
I went to Cardington, Bedfordshire for my square-bashing or foot-slogging - it was disciplinary drill. Cardington was the original dirigible base in England and still had the enormous hangars used for dirigibles like the R100.
The hangars were now being used to store the huge barrage balloons that were to protect the city of London in the event of air attack.
Ten weeks later I was off to St. Athan, Wales to start training as an aero engine mechanic. By this time war had been declared between Germany and England. After the completion of my course I was posted to 242 Hurricane Squadron at Church Fenton in Yorkshire. It was great there because there were many Canadians just like myself who had joined the RAF.
The German offensive was on the roll and steam-rolling its way into France. Early one morning, all of us ground crew types were piled into an over-loaded Bristol Bombay and flown to Lille, France. Our stay at Lille was short. The Germans were bombing our airfield. I had my first glimpse of action as the pilots of our squadron engaged the invaders in aerial combat. The German divisions were so close we were advised to get out quickly and the best way we could. We refuelled our Hurricanes and they took off for England. The rest of us went by truck to Boulogne. It was slow moving. Hordes of French refugees blocked the roads.
I spent one of the most horrible nights of my life in Boulogne, hiding in a shed while the Germans unceasingly bombed the town.
Early the next day we were ordered to board a destroyer. The evacuation of Dunkirk was in progress at this time and rescue craft of every size and shape choked the English Channel.
We landed at Dover and our crew went up to Biggin Hill, a base near London for a short rest. Then our squadron was ordered to return to Chateau D'Un, France for a brief period and then once again we had to get out. The only transportation was a flat-bed truck going to St. Nazaire. We were put on a Polish liner and arrived at Weymouth. We went to Coltishall, Norfolk to rebuild the squadron and it was here that Douglas Bader (the late Sir Douglas Bader, Kt.,CBE,DSO,DFC ) entered my life. Bader, the famous legless pilot had just been made Squadron Leader of 242. I was assigned to his aircraft.
He would never allow anyone to assist him in getting into his aircraft. He never let his disability get the better of him.
Every chance I had I told him of my desire to become a pilot. Bader was very understanding. He encouraged me and later fixed up the necessary paper work, so that I could remuster to aircrew.
During the Battle of Britain (summer of 1940) our squadron was very active and knocked its share of enemy aircraft from the skies. We changed airfields from time to time, but always remained around the London perimeter. Eventually we ended up at Northweald.
In September of 1940 I happily learned that I was accepted for aircrew and was posted to the United States to take my flying training. Eight months later I was posted back to England, and after some operational training I went to join 402 RCAF Squadron at Kenley, near London. From there I went to 122 RAF Spitfire Squadron, at Hornchurch. The Spit was an extremely manoeuvrable, responsive aircraft.
In preparation for D-Day my squadron went through a special period of training for mobility, and we moved from airfield to airfield on very short notice, all the while continuing our job as bomber escorts and fighter sweeps.
After flying 200 sorties I was given a period of rest with 409 Repair and Salvage unit at Croydon. It was some "rest". I was a test pilot testing re-conditioned Typhoons and Mustangs.
After D-Day I rejoined 122 squadron in France and flew from the Sommervieu airstrip. I was again operational, but now flying Mustangs. Our main job was to carry out ground attacks and to dive bomb.
In September, 1944 I went to Brussels and then back to Andrew's Field in Essex, England, where my squadron took on the job of long range bomber escort.
Later I was posted to the Navy School of Air Warfare at St. Merryn, Cornwall. While here I learned I had been awarded the DFC. That was quite a thrill. I was flying Seafires now, the naval version of the Spitfire. I flew one more operational tour before the cessation of hostilities.
I should say at this point that while I was at an airfield near Bognor Regis I went roller skating at the Pavilion. I met a young lady who was struggling with a badly fitting rollerskate, came to her rescue and learned her name was Vicky. We courted for two years and were married at South Bersted. My squadron honored us with a fly-past.
I transferred to the RCAF in England and returned to Canada and was demobbed in Vancouver, B.C. My wife Vicky came out to Canada in 1946.
I tried five years of civilian life but joined the RCAF again in October, 1951. I took a pilot refresher course in Calgary and then went for operational training at Chatham, N.B. and flew Vampires there; the first jets. I later transferred to 442 Squadron. Here I acted as reserve support. While I was with 442 I trained as flying instructor at Trenton, Ontario so that I might convert pilots to T33 jets. Then I went to Chatham, N.B. to train on Sabre jets.
While I was stationed at Sea Island, Vancouver, B.C., I attended a reunion of ex-242 Squadron members and, Bader, retired at that time, was a guest of honor. It was a great time for me. Bader's book REACH FOR THE SKY, by Paul Brinkhill hadn't been out long. I had a copy and Bader autographed it for me.
I spent three years after that in France on RCAF 441 Squadron and my wife and son lived with me there at Marville. We had a second son born to us at Luxembourg, in 1959. In the summer of that same year I was posted back to Canada and instructed on Sabre jets at Chatham again.
I served at Montreal, Comox and Patricia Bay until my retirement in 1970.
Vicky and I moved to live in Deep Cove, near Sidney on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. I drove a school bus for awhile as a change of pace. I had a big surprise one day. I was making a left turn off of Beacon Avenue in Sidney, on to Third Avenue and there, firmly mounted and pointing into the sky, was a Sabre jet bearing the numbers 060. It was such a coincidence. I flew that plane years ago in Chatham, N.B.
----- Dale Stephens
Submitted by Ken H. Stofer
Captain Henry Seymour-Biggs
Robert Frank Hawes, MD
Dale Stephens, DFC
More to Come
Copyright 2001 Ken Stofer, All Rights Reserved
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