Battle of Britain profile of courage: Flying Officer J. Stewart “Stew” Young

Biography / July 27, 2015

By Major William March

234 Squadron, Royal Air Force

J. Stewart “Stew” Young, from Edmonton, Alberta, had been bitten by the flying bug at a young age. After a handful of lessons at the Northern Alberta Aero Club, he soloed on August 10, 1935. While waiting for his licence to arrive from Ottawa, he saw an advertisement in the local newspaper inviting young men with a keen interest in aviation to join the Royal Air Force (RAF). To him, it seemed the opportunity of a lifetime.

Young, after a period of “square bashing” and other forms of ground training, received his wings at RAF Station Ternhill, Shropshire, England, courtesy of No. 10 Flying Training School. With an “above the average” rating in his log book, he was posted to a bomber squadron operating Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, Mark I, aircraft. Imagine his surprise, as a well-trained bomber pilot with more than 400 hours under his belt, to be posted to No. 2 Ferry Pilot’s Pool, RAF Station Filton. However, the posting did provide him with the opportunity to fly 18 different types of aircraft including the Spitfire fighter.

“The early Spitfires had manual undercarriage controls,” Young said. “The throttle was on the right, and the undercarriage pump on the left – an awkward arrangement, as one pumped up the undercart after take-off, operating the throttle and the control column at the same time. The Spitfire was also difficult to taxi, for the long nose rose at a sharp angle when on the ground, and one had to weave from side to side to ensure that all was clear ahead.  Once in the air, however, she flew with grace, speed, and beauty, and became my favourite aircraft by far.”

In November 1939, Young found himself as a staff pilot, flying Whitley Mark I aircraft again – this time with No. 7 Bombing and Gunnery School at Newton Down in South Wales. But fate intervened during the Battle of Britain as losses among allied aircrew mounted, and a call went out for “volunteers” to transfer to Fighter Command. Newly promoted Flying Officer Young did not have to be asked twice, and with encouraging words from his commanding officer – “Well, we’ve been losing a lot of chaps; you might as well go and be a hero.” – echoing in his ears, he found himself at the Spitfire Operational Training Unit at Hawarden. Following 11 days packed with formation flying, aerobatics, dogfighting practice, beam attacks and battle patrols, he was posted to 234 Fighter Squadron at St. Eval, Cornwall, on September 19, 1940.

His new squadron had already seen its share of combat and had been sent to St. Eval, a quiet sector, for a period of rest and to absorb reinforcements such as Young. This provided him with the opportunity continue to learn about the Spitfire, tutored by veterans such as Jan Zurakowski, one of two Polish pilots on the squadron. Young described Zurakowski, who would go on to test-fly the Canadian-designed and -built CF-105 Avro Arrow in the post-war period, as “one of the most skillful pilots I ever knew”.

For Young, the Battle of Britain was a period of seemingly endless patrols interspersed with the occasional “chase” of an enemy aircraft as his squadron protected vital shipping, and Falmouth and Plymouth harbours.

“The only light available came…from streams of light that were streaking into the sky,” he said upon returning to his airfield at night on October 9, 1940, after attempting to intercept German raiders. “It did not take me long to realize that these were tracer bullets coming in our direction, fired by our own Bofors anti-aircraft guns.”

He made no claims against the enemy during his time with No. 234 Squadron, but was on the receiving end of more than one Luftwaffe attack, including one that resulted in the dispersal hut being set on fire while he and some of his squadron mates were inside. Everyone escaped unharmed, but spent a few exciting moments dodging bits and pieces of exploding hangars and vehicles destroyed during the attack.

Flying Officer Young survived the war and returned to Canada. He died from natural causes on November 19, 2001, in Barrie, Ontario.

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