Wednesday, January 18, 2017

(37664) Robert Alexander 'Butch' Barton 1916 - 2010

(The Telegraph - October 2010) The son of a Canadian civil engineer and a Scottish mother, Robert Alexander Barton was born on June 7 1916 at Kamloops, British Columbia. He was educated in Vernon, requiring a weekly journey by steamship to and from his home at Penticton. When he was 19 he went to a recruiting office in Vancouver and was accepted into the RAF. He travelled to England to take up a short service commission in January 1936. After training as a pilot he joined No 41 Squadron, flying biplane fighters. Following the outbreak of war he joined the newly-formed No 249 Squadron, whose CO was Squadron Leader John Grandy, later Chief of the Air Staff and a Marshal of the RAF. In December 1940 Barton was promoted to take command of 249 Squadron, and he destroyed two more enemy fighters. In 1941 his squadron was ordered to prepare for service in Malta, and on May 19 its Hurricanes were transferred to Ark Royal in Gibraltar. Barton opened his account in Malta on June 3, when he shot down an Italian bomber, the squadron's first victory over the island. Five days later he destroyed another bomber, this time at night. At first light, he returned to the scene to search for the Italian crew. Two men were found and rescued. Under Barton's leadership, 249 Squadron was one of the most successful fighter squadrons on the island. But on July 31 he was lucky to survive when the engine of his Hurricane failed as he took off and he crashed through some sturdy Maltese walls. His injuries included second-degree burns, and he was kept in hospital for several weeks. Yet by September he was back leading the squadron, and was soon involved in a fierce battle with Italian fighters, during which he was credited with shooting down one and damaging another. On November 22 he achieved his final victory when he shot down a Macchi MC202 fighter near Gozo. After two years' continuous and intense fighting, in December he was rested and returned to England. His deputy, Tom Neil (himself a Battle of Britain ace), wrote: "I was very conscious of the squadron's debt to him. Small and slight in stature, in no way a heroic figure and unassuming almost to a fault, he was a wonderful leader and one of the best fighter pilots it would be my good fortune to meet." The citation for the Bar to Barton's DFC concluded that "his excellent leadership inspires the pilots under his command".

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