Pilot Officer Joseph Aloysius Spencer

1921 - 1943


  • Born on 21st June 1921 the son of Mary E Spencer and stepson of Malcolmn Spencer.
  • Brought up as a Roman Catholic and educated at Ratcliffe College in Oxford, a Roman Catholic Boarding School.​
  • His natural father (Archer) was killed in an accident on board a ship (a merchant vessel?) on the way to Canada (date unknown)
  • Joe took his step fathers surname (Spencer) shortly after his mother married Malcolm in November 1928, hence the references on Joe’s records as:
  • Son of Mary Emily Spencer (nee Rance) and stepson of Malcolm Spencer of Letchworth, Hertfordshire.
  • Aged 13, Joe attended Devon House (Private) School for Boys in Margate. He remained there from
    1934 – 35.
  • Between the ages of 15 and 17 (from 1936 to 1938) Joe was educated at Ratcliffe College in Leicestershire, a Roman Catholic Boarding School.
  • Aged 17, Joe joined The Mount, a former Victorian monastery in Wadhurst, East Sussex. He was at the Seminary between 1938 and 1939 for training in the Priesthood, but didn’t stay.
  • In 1940, aged 19, Joe’s civilian occupation is noted on his Service Record as an Agricultural Student.
  • at Cocker & Sons, in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire.

Enlistment and initial RAF Training

  •  Enlisting at RAF Uxbridge (No: 1 Recruits Centre) as an AC2 on 7th January 1941, aged 19½ years, Joe joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve (R.A.F.V.R.) and was recommended for pilot / observer training.
  • From 8th January to 21st June 1941 Joe was at the No: 1 ITW (Initial Training Wing), in Babbacombe near Torquay, undergoing recruit initial training.
  • Posted on 21st June 1941 to No: 7 ITW, Joe was based in Newquay, Cornwall for pilot and observer ground instruction and physical training.
  • With effect from 30th August 1941 Joe was promoted to Leading Aircraftsman (LAC) as pilot in training.
  • Joe’s Service Record shows he was at 50 SN Pool from 6th September 1941 from where he would have embarked for the journey by sea to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The voyage was probably aboard a former ocean-going liner which usually sailed without escort vessels because they were faster than German U- boats.
  • On landing in Canada Joe would then have moved onward from Halifax, probably by train, to theRAF Person nel Depot in Moncton, New Brunswick.

RAF Pilot Training in Canada and USA

  • On 10th January 1942 Joe arrived at No: 31 RAF PD (Personnel Depot) in Moncton (Arnold U 821) for processing (immigration checks and medical inspections) before entering into the USA for flying training. At this time he was issued UK insignia for his uniform and received his flying clothing.
  • After 5 days in transit on a train and travelling in civilian clothes, Joe arrived on 19th January 1942 at 31 PD Turner Field in Albany, Georgia to join the RAF Replacement Training Centre (RTC) / Preflight School, for approximately 5 weeks. Published records show that 159 hours were spent on reception, processing, academic preparation and administrative indoctrination.
  • On 22nd February 1942, Joe moved to 31 PD Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA for primary flight training at the Alabama Institute of Aeronautics, Inc. Primary flying courses took place over 10 weeks and training flights (60 hours) were conducted using Boeing PT-17 biplanes.



Joe as an LAC at Turner Field barracks USA



Joe as an LAC undergoing pilot training in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

Boeing PT-17 'Stearman' Biplane
  • On 30th April 1942 Joe moved to Gunter Field in Montgomery, Alabama for basic flight training.

From published records, the timing suggests he was in Class 42-H (mixed RAF and American) and he most likely trained on the Vultee BT-13 trainer. The 10-week program included 70 hours of flying
instruction and 98 hours of ground school. 209 RAF trainee pilots started the course and 185
graduated (86.9% passed). 3 RAF trainees were killed during this course.




In KD uniform USA 1942.

Vultee BT-13 ‘Valiant’ Trainer
Beechcraft AT-7 Twin Engine Trainer
  • Selected for advanced twin-engine school, on 14th July 1942 Joe was posted back to Turner Field in
    Albany, Georgia to begin his 10 weeks advanced multi-engine flight training. Multi-engine training
    took place using twin-engine Beechcraft AT-7, AT-10 and AT-17 trainers.


  • Having graduated from the Advanced Flight School, Joe was awarded the Pilots Distinguishing Badge (his Wings) and promoted to Sergeant (T), effective 5th September 1942.
  • Arriving back at 31 PD Moncton in Canada on 6th September, Joe would then have received his Diploma and appropriate uniform insignia (Pilot Wings and Sergeant Stripes) before returning to the UK.
  • On 24th September 1942 Joe is shown on his records as HE (Home embarkation).

Operational Flying in the UK and over Europe

  • On 7th October 1942 Joe is shown on his Service Record as having returned to the UK.
  • On 8th October 1942 Joe’s records show him as being located at N.O.A.F PRC (Personnel / Pilot Reception Centre).
  • On 3rd November 1942 Joe was posted to No: 3 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit (AFU) at RAF South Cerney in Gloucestershire to fly the Airspeed Oxford twin-engine aircraft.
  • He finished his pilot training as 1331578 Sergeant J A Spencer and on return to the UK he continued his training at an operational Training Unit and having crewed up eventually went on to 1661 Conversion unit at RAF Winthorpe, where he would have increased his crew from five to seven with the addition of a flight engineer and second air gunner. That crew were;

1331578 Sergeant J A Spencer   Pilot.

1261508 Sergeant T E Watkin  Flight Engineer

1398388 Sergeant J Punter  Navigator

Sergeant S Williamson   Bomb Aimer.

1321638 Sergeant S J Bunting   Wireless Operator.

1337229 Sergeant R W Horwood  Air Gunner

R/178385 Sergeant E Johnson RCAF   Air Gunner


10 August 1943 Joe was posted to No.61 Squadron at RAF Syerston From 1661 conversion unit 

12/13 August 1943 was his first operation, when he flew as second pilot to Squadron Leader D C Wellburn on a raid to Milan, which was shown to be a successful attack.

14/15 August was his first operation as captain, on a raid to Milan. This was in Lancaster W5002. Taking off at 21.23 hrs and returning at 06.09 hrs.

22/23 August was his next operation was on a raid to Leverkausen, taking off from Syerston at 21.11 hrs in Lancaster DV228. The operational Record Book simply states "Sgt Spencer in 3rd wave, failed to return."

Chorleys Bomber Command Losses state he was "Shot down by a night fighter, (Lt Heinz Bock, III./NJG1) nd crashed 01.49hrs at Helicop (Zuid Holland) in the commune of Hei-en-Boeicop, 15Km E of Schoonhoven. Those who died lie in Hei-en-Boeicop (Heicop) General Cemetery. Their average age was 23."

Sgt S Williamson was the only survivor and was taken Prisoner of War.

CWGC Documents for Joe.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [2.3 MB]