Air Vice-Marshal William Vernon Crawford-Compton

Bill Crawford-Compton's journey to war had many of the elements of a "Boy's Own" adventure.

Born in Invercargill on 2 March 1916, he spent his early years in Waiuku, near Auckland. In late 1938 he and three other men sailed in the ketch 'Land's End' for England, where he hoped to join the RAF.

The boat was wrecked on a reef off the coast of New Guinea and the four made a raft from wreckage. Having drifted for twelve hours, they reached the safety of a small island. After six weeks with local natives the party reached safety in a canoe. Crawford-Compton finally arrived in Liverpool on 6 September 1939, having worked his passage as ship's carpenter on a tramp steamer, and joined the RAF on the same day as a mechanic. Having been accepted for flying training, he gained his wings as a Sergeant-Pilot and was posted in early March 1941 to the newly-formed 485 (NZ) Squadron.

Commissioned as a Pilot Officer, Crawford-Compton claimed one Bf 109 destroyed and two others probably destroyed in the closing months of 1941. When the German battleships 'Scharnhorst' and 'Gneisenau' made their 'Channel Dash' on 12 February 1942 485 took part in cover operations. Crawford-Compton, by now a flight commander, shot down a Bf 109 west of Ostend.

Awarded the DFC later in the month, Crawford-Compton shot down four enemy fighters in March and April and shared another. Returning from a sweep in late April 1942 he was injured in a forced-landing. The mishap was badly timed as command of 485 was about to become vacant and, with Crawford-Compton now non-operational, the post went to the other flight commander, Reg Grant.

Fit again in July 1942, Crawford-Compton was posted to 611 Squadron as a flight commander. By December 1942, when he was given command of 64 Squadron, he had destroyed four more German fighters and had been awarded a Bar to the DFC.

Crawford-Compton was to lead 64 Squadron until late March 1943. Earlier in the month the squadron escorted US Liberators to bomb targets at Roven and in a running battle he destroyed an FW 190 and probably a second. On another sortie he shot an FW 190 down into the sea west of Calais.

In June 1943 Crawford-Compton was appointed to lead the Hornchurch Wing. During his six months in command, forty-one enemy aircraft were destroyed and possibly as many more were destroyed or damaged. After being awarded the DSO in late 1943 he was sent to the USA to lecture on tactics.

In April 1944 he became Wing Commander Flying for three Free French squadrons, based then in southern England but ready for transfer to the Continent as soon as the invasion had taken place. Crawford-Compton led them on sweeps, attacks on railways, military installations, flying bomb sites and on coastal targets in the Pas de Calais. In the month after D-Day he destroyed a further four enemy aircraft.

In early 1945, at the end of his operational tour, Crawford-Compton was awarded a Bar to the DS0, having been credited with twenty-one enemy aircraft destroyed and another shared. He remained with the RAF postwar, retiring as an Air Vice-Marshal.