Wing Commander Howard ‘Billy’ Burton DSO, DFC & Bar, Croix de Guerre. A Cranwell Sword of Honour graduate before the war, Billy was a career officer probably destined for air rank.
Scoring his first victories over Dunkirk as a flight commander with 66 Squadron, he was given command of 616 in 12 Group with instructions to re-build the Squadron after its virtual annihilation at Kenley during the Battle of Britain. Under his command, the Squadron returned to a combat ready state and contributed to the so-called operations of the Duxford-based 12 Group ‘Big Wing’, led by Squadron Leader Douglas Bader of 242 Squadron. So began a long association between 616 Squadron and ‘Dogsbody’: in 1941, 616 flew South to Westhampnett (Goodwood), forming part of the Tangmere Wing – which Wing Commander Douglas Bader always led at the head of 616 with ‘Dogsbody Section’, usually comprising Smith, Johnson and Dundas.
Billy Burton scored more victories that summer before being posted to the western desert, leading a Kittyhawk wing. After home leave in 1943, Billy was returning to North Africa with other senior officers when the Hudson he was a passenger in was destroyed by a Ju 88 over the Bay of Biscay – a great loss to the RAF. Sadly, Wing Commander Burton remains missing and is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial. Many years ago I was very friendly with his widow, Mrs Jean Allom, who, aged twenty, had been part of the Bader inner sanctum at Tangmere – and still had Billy’s Irvin flying jacket. I gave Jean the last word in Bader’s Tangmere Spitfiresin 1996: ‘Tangmere was now in the past, but that summer is one that remains amongst my most vivid memories, perhaps because it was the first and last that Billy and I were ever to spend together’. Further words superfluous.