Battle of Britain pilot and one of the last of 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron

Born: June 21, 1918;

Died: September 10, 2017

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SQUADRON Leader Nigel Rose, who has died aged 99, was a Battle of Britain pilot and one of the last to have flown with the City of Glasgow Squadron. Only one pilot from the squadron now remains, Sqn Ldr John S Hart, a Canadian who is 100 years old.

Stuart Nigel Rose was from Elswick in Tyne and Wear and as a young man trained as a quantity surveyor. In 1938 he decided to join the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, in his words, to impress a girl. His amorous strategy was not all that successful however, as the Second World War was declared and he found himself in the south of England training as a pilot in the Royal Air Force.

On graduation, he was commissioned as a pilot officer and posted to 602 (City of Glasgow ) (Fighter) Squadron, Auxiliary Air Force at RAF Drem near Haddington. The squadron was now an integral part of the Royal Air Force and had already seen action in the defence of the Royal Navy Ships at Rosyth and at anchorage in the River Forth.

The squadron had also already brought down a JU88 aircraft , the "Wonder Bomber", during an attack aimed at HMS Hood. Many enemy aircraft were brought down in this period including a Heinkel 111 which was the first to be brought down on British soil in the Lammermuir Hills.

This was the environment which greeted the young graduate pilot. He had never seen an enemy aircraft.

As action began to hot up in the south of England, 602 Squadron was posted to Westhampnett, a satellite of RAF Tangmere near Chichester to relieve 145 Squadron. 602 Squadron was now in the front line in the defence of Britain. The possibility of invasion was real. Young Pilot Officer Rose set up empty beer cans on a wall and practised his skill with a revolver to be prepared.

In the air, the scene was rather different. As part of 11 Group, 602 Squadron was airborne several times a day to thwart the enemy. Nigel Rose had seen plenty of enemy aircraft now as he often had to face a sky filled with enemy bombers and fighters.

His days were filled with scrambles to face incoming enemy aircraft and in an interview with The Herald in 2010 he remembered his feelings during his first encounter with the enemy. "The Germans raids were flooding in," he said. "I remember in the sky, more than a hundred of them, but they looked like more. I was looking down and could see these ranks of fighters against the cloud and they stood out more and more. There were huge parties of bombers and fighters. I'd never even seen a German aircraft before, let alone a hundred. It was a lot to contend with but we were told to pick our target and down you go."

On 25 August 1940, the main base of RAF Tangmere was heavily bombed and Pilot Officer Rose was credited with the destruction of a Bf110. A few days later he was wounded in a battle with another Bf110. A shell badly damaged the cockpit and his elbow was hit as he tried to escape. He prepared to bale out when he realised he could not possibly make it back to Westhampnett, but he landed with no flaps, no brakes and no radio. He made it successfully – quite a feat although he was out of flying for a month as a result of his damaged elbow. On his return, he claimed and was credited with a Bf109 fighter.

The Battle of Britain was declared over on 31 October 1940. Flying Officer Rose was credited with three enemy aircraft destroyed. It was still necessary to carry out defensive patrols although the main thrust of the Luftwaffe was over.

In December, 602 Squadron returned to Prestwick to reorganise and introduce new personnel. Flying Officer Rose re-joined the squadron on 4 January 1941 on landing a Spitfire back from Westhampnett.

The duties at Prestwick comprised mainly of standing patrols and training flights to develop the new arrivals joining the squadron.

On one such training flight, the experienced Flying Officer Rose was heading north taking in the scenery oblivious to any signals. He suddenly realised he was being ordered back to base with all haste. He had forgotten he was due south to be married. He did catch the train with minutes to spare and was wed to Pamela Anding. It was a close call.

In September 1941, he was posted to 54 Squadron at RAF Hornchurch. He became an instructor and this was followed by attachments to Peterhead and Ayr before returning to 57 Operational Training Unit as a gunnery instructor. A further tour took him to the Middle East.

He was released from the Royal Air Force in February 1946 with the rank of Squadron Leader. He returned to his pre-war training and qualified as a chartered quantity surveyor.

He maintained his interest in the Royal Air Force through the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust. He was regularly seen at air displays, particularly at Duxford and Goodwood which was Westhampnett in darker days.

In 2013 he made a trip to Glasgow and was delighted to see the Spitfire in Kelvingrove Art Galleries although it was a more up-to-date version than those he had flown. He spoke about his affection for Glasgow 602. "The squadron was my closest relationship in the RAF," he said. "There was great camaraderie and friendship."

Nigel Rose was a real gentleman in temperament and manners and rather mild in demeanour and yet he was a Spitfire pilot during Churchill’s Finest Hour. He was a widower and is survived by his daughter Barbara Erskine, the historian and novelist.

PG TRAYNOR