The life and last fateful flight of an RAF pilot from Lewes has been researched by a Dutch historian.
Flying Officer Claude Mervyn Wheatley was killed on March 22 1940 – Good Friday – when his unarmed Spitfire N3069, one of two allocated to the RAF’s first operational aerial reconnaissance unit, was shot down and crashed near the village of Herwen in Holland.
His father, Ernest Albert Wheatley, was the proprietor of the Lewes firm of Browne and Crosskey, drapers and furnishers. He lived over the shop at 214 High Street, the building at the corner of School Hill and Eastgate Street, opposite Boots.
F/O Wheatley, 26, posted to the unit a month previously after previous experience in 105 Squadron, took off from RAF Heston on a mission to photograph the Ruhr. The plan was to fly at 33,000 feet, higher than German planes were thought capable of achieving. His plane was detected by radar and two German officers were despatched to intercept it in their Me-109s.
For both German pilots this was their first mission of the war but one pilot, Leutnant Harald Jung, managed to get within range. F/O Wheatley baled out, but his parachute pack had been hit in the attack and never deployed.
Dutch historian Sander Woonings, whose childhood home was in the village where the Spitfire came down, has reconstructed the story in more than 20 years of research.
He has created a Facebook page: Spitfire PR IB N3069 – Remembering F/O Mervyn Wheatley
It is dedicated to F/O Wheatley’s memory and to mark the 80th anniversary of his death in 2020.