Page last updated at 06:19 GMT, Friday, 16 October 2009 07:19 UK

The lawyer who shot down bombers

By Giancarlo Rinaldi
South of Scotland reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Patrick Gifford
Patrick Gifford shot down an enemy bomber on 16 October 1939

By day, Patrick Gifford worked as a lawyer with the family firm in a quiet south of Scotland town.

But at evenings and weekends he was flying a fighter plane as an auxiliary with the Royal Air Force.

It was in this role that he played a historic but relatively unknown part in World War II.

Exactly 70 years ago - near Prestonpans in East Lothian - he shot down the first enemy bomber to be destroyed in British airspace during the conflict.

Born in 1910 in Castle Douglas, in Dumfries and Galloway, Patrick Gifford came from farming stock.

His father set up a legal firm in the town and, after being educated in Melrose, Sedbergh in Cumbria and Edinburgh, his son joined him there.

With a passion for fast cars, he was also quickly attracted to flying.

He joined 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron Auxiliary Air Force based at RAF Turnhouse, now Edinburgh Airport, where he gained his wings in 1932.

Wager won

The young lawyer appears to have been something of an extravagant figure.

He once made a bet that he could set off in his car from the clock tower in Castle Douglas, drive to Turnhouse in Edinburgh and be back over the clock tower in an aeroplane within two hours.

He won the wager with only minutes to spare.

Shortly after war was declared in September 1939, the 603 squadron was re-equipped with new Spitfires.

Patrick Gifford
The young pilot joined the family law firm in Castle Douglas

A few weeks later, on Monday 16 October 1939, the Luftwaffe launched its first attack against targets in British airspace - Royal Navy ships in the Firth of Forth.

A dozen Junkers 88 twin-engined dive-bombers in waves of three were spotted approaching the Scottish coast, between Dunbar and Berwick upon Tweed, heading towards Edinburgh and the Forth Bridge.

The first two waves of enemy aircraft attacked the ships but, Spitfires from 602, based in East Lothian, and 603 squadrons scrambled to intercept them as they tried to make their escape.

Flight Lieutenant Gifford was leading a section of three planes from 603.

On patrol near Dalkeith, they found themselves confronted with a fleeing German bomber heading towards them, which had been caught by another 603 section.

Squadron leader

The young Galloway man and his pilots swiftly got on its tail as it headed north, each sprayed it with bullets as it dropped lower and lower.

Fl Lt Gifford fired the last shots into it before it flopped into the sea, not far from Prestonpans.

Another two German aircraft were also shot down on the same day.

Fl Lt Gifford was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and promoted to Squadron Leader.

He went on to command a regular RAF squadron, one of the first auxiliary officers to do so.

Patrick Gifford
It is hoped a memorial can be put up to Gifford in his home town

In May 1940, he took his squadron to France to take part in the fighting after the German invasion.

Within a few days the Castle Douglas lawyer's Hawker Hurricane was shot down over Belgium.

His body was never found and he has no known grave.

His death was reported widely and many tributes paid.

Before the war, he had briefly served as a councillor in Castle Douglas and a special meeting of the town council expressed sadness that he had been lost in action.

The Gifford name lives on today through the local legal firm of Gillespie, Gifford and Brown although nobody with the name is involved with the business.

However, he is otherwise largely a forgotten figure.

The 603 Squadron Association is working with Dumfries and Galloway Council to change that.

It hopes to erect a memorial to the young lawyer turned fighter pilot in the grounds of Castle Douglas library.

The target date for completion is 16 May 2010 - exactly 70 years after his final mission.



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