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
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
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.