Air Commodore Alan Christopher Deere

Alan Deere, possibly the best known of all New Zealand fighter pilots, was born in Auckland on December 12 1917. He joined the RAF in October 1937 and was posted to 54 Squadron in September 1938. From the outbreak of war until mid-May 1940 the Squadron, based in England, carried out only defensive duties.

On 23 May 1940 Deere took part in a daring rescue operation. He and Pilot Officer Allen escorted their flight commander, James Leathart, to France where he was to land a Miles Master trainer and pick up the CO of 74 Squadron who had made a forced landing on the airfield at Calais-Marck. The pick-up was made, with Allen watching from 8000 feet and Deere circling at low level. An approaching formation of Bf 109's was spotted by Allen as the Master taxied out for take-off. As a strafing Bf 109 pulled out of its dive, presenting a perfect target, Deere fired a short burst and the aircraft stalled and then crashed into the sea. Deere, climbing to help Allen, crossed the path of two 109's, one of which turned towards him. Deere also turned, firing at the second one, which rolled over and dived away. Pursuing the first one, he caught up at treetop height and pursued him, firing off his remaining ammunition before the German headed for home.

Diving towards the coast Deere called up Allen and was relieved to hear him answer. In the interim the Master had taken off and headed for Hornchurch. In the action three Bf 109's had been shot down and three others severely damaged.

During four days - 23 to 29 May - Deere shot down three Bf 109's and three Bf 110's and in June was decorated with the DFC by the King at a special ceremony at Hornchurch. Leathart and Allen were decorated at the same time. During the Battle of Britain Deere destroyed seven more enemy fighters and one bomber and was awarded a Bar to the DFC. In December 1940 he was sent for a rest and in January 1941 became an Operations Room Controller. He returned to operations on 7 May 1941, joining 602 Squadron in Scotland as a Flight Commander.

On the 10th he was scrambled to investigate a Bf 110 flying westwards. He did not sight the enemy aircraft but after landing was told it had crashed near Glasgow. The pilot was later revealed to be Rudolf Hess.

Deere took command of 602 Squadron on August 1 1941 and on that day destroyed a Bf 109, his first victory for eleven months. When his second operational tour ended in January 1942 Deere went to the USA to lecture on fighter tactics but was restless for a return to operations. He achieved this in May 1942, when he took command of 403 Squadron, leading it until August before being posted to staff duties. During a temporary attachment to 611 Squadron in February 1943 Deere destroyed an FW 190. Some days later he was appointed Wing Leader at Biggin Hill. He flew 121 sorties during his six months' leadership and increased his personal score to twenty-two confirmed victories, ten probables and eighteen damaged. Awarded the DSO, Deere also holds the Croix de Guerre and the DFC (US). He was awarded an OBE in May 1945 and retired from the RAF in December 1977, with the rank of Air Commodore. Deere wrote of his experiences and his many escapes from death in his classic book, 'Nine Lives', published in 1959.