In February 1941, No 616 (South Yorkshire) Squadron moved from Kirton-in-Lindsey to Tangmere and on 18 March Douglas Bader arrived as Wing Commander (Flying), a new position in Fighter Command, to lead its Spitfire squadrons. The Tangmere Wing comprised in addition to No 616, numbers 610 and 145 (based at Merston, one of Tangmere’s satellite airfields). On 9 May, because of continuing hit-and-run bombing of Tangmere by Bf 109s, the decision was made to move Nos 616 and 610 Spitfires to the other satellite airfield at Westhampnett (now Goodwood airfield).
Throughout the summer of 1941 the Tangmere Wing under Bader’s inspired leadership flew in support of Fighter Command’s ‘Circus’ operations (wings of fighter aircraft escorting a few light bombers – the aim being to encourage the Luftwaffe up to fight). Bader, when leading the Wing, usually flew with No 616 Squadron (OC ‘Billy’ Burton) with two pilots in his section who later went on to be very successful leaders in their own right – Hugh ‘Cocky’ Dundas and Johnnie Johnson. Bader was ‘downed’ over St Omer, Northern France on 9 August and No 616 finally left Westhampnett on 6 October, returning for a rest to Kirton-in-Lindsey.
Whilst at Westhampnett No 616 officers slept in a squadron house (Rushmans) in the village of Oving and used Shopwyke House, to the west to Tangmere, as their officer’s mess. For recreation, the squadron frequented the Royal Oak Public House at Lavant near Westhampnett and in appreciation of the hospitality shown to them by the pub’s landlady Violet Elcock, they presented to her a biscuit barrel.
The photograph shows Sandy Cater, grandson of Violet Elcock, presenting the biscuit barrel to the Museum’s Curator David Coxon.
THE No 616 SQUADRON BISCUIT BARREL IS DISPLAYED IN THE MUSEUM’S TANGMERE HALL.