This is a digital work in honour of my father, Ft Lt Trevor Arthur Dossett, Squadron 222 RAF.
Mission: A leg for Bader
www.echo-news.co.uk 9th June 2010
By Sophie Edwards
Strange mission - Trevor Dossett now lives in Canada
The memories of wartime bombing missions and fire-fights in the sky have come flooding back for a heroic Spitfire pilot.
Trevor Dossett, 89, has returned to south Essex from Canada, where he has lived for the past 60 years, to recall his life as a fighter pilot during the Second World War. Back then, Mr Dossett lived with his family above a shop in Leigh Broadway, but it was up in the air where he felt truly at home, clocking up some 60 missions supporting the allies over France, Holland, Belgium and Germany. Seventy-two years later and he has returned to Southend for a three-week trip and just by chance watched the Spitfire pilots in this year’s Southend Airshow.
Flying over Southend is something Flight Lieutenant Dossett knows all about, as back then the young pilot would peel off from his comrades and fly low over Leigh Broadway to let his mum and dad know he had returned safely from battle. He said: “I used to fly as close as I could to the shops and houses in Leigh Broadway, just above the chimneys. “All the fishermen knew who I was. They’d know it was me because of the large letters ZDS on the side my plane. “I did it because I wanted my mother and father to know I’d come home safe. They would watch and listen out for me.”
Laughing, the pilot remembered the rollicking he used to get from his squadron leader every time. Mr Dossett joined the RAF in 1938 and remembers signing up at the Palmeira Towers Hotel, in Westcliff. He quickly fell in love with flying, learning the skills in Hatfield, Hertfordshire. He said: “I loved flying, I really enjoyed it. I always had the idea I’d be a fast plane pilot. “When I got my Spitfire, I practically lived in it.”
Mr Dossett went to Southend High School and his parents owned Dossett and Sons bakeries. He is also one of only a handful of people who can say they took part in possibly the most bizarre mission of the Second World War. In August 1941, Mr Dossett set off as part of an elite squadron of Spitfires escorting bomber planes to St Omer, in German-occupied France, as part of the Leg Operation. It was the Leigh pilot’s job to make sure the Blenheim bombers, and one in particular which was carrying a precious cargo of one prosthetic leg, were kept safe from attack, so the carrier could parachute the
limb on to the airbase below. The reason for this crazy mission? To reunite the legless Spitfire ace Douglas Bader with one of his false legs.
Bader, whose story has since been immortalised in the film Reach for the Sky, lost both his legs in a horrific flying accident before the war.But when war broke out, the double-amputee was determined to fly again and went on to become a living legend. However, on a fateful mission in 1941, which Mr Dossett was also part of, Bader was shot down and captured. He lost one of his false legs while parachuting out of his failing aircraft and as a mark of respect, the Germans agreed to let the British fly over a replacement limb. About the experience, Mr Dossett said: “We got the leg from Mrs Bader and dropped it over France for him, to complete one of the stranger missions I took part in.
“Douglas Bader was one of the best fighter pilots, but was unfortunately destined to spend most of the war in a prison camp. “He was a strict disciplinarian and it was an honour to fly with him in his wing.”
Such jobs were not the norm for the young Spitfire pilot, who was lucky enough to be stationed at Rochford for part of the war, within easy reach of his family home. Most of his air time was spent escorting bombers on daring raids into Nazi strongholds, but by 1942 his superiors decided to give him a rest from duty and sent him out to Canada to train pilots. Mr Dossett said: “I wasn’t happy with going to Canada. I just wanted to get back in the fighting. “But in the end it gave me a rest which I suppose I needed.”
While out there, Mr Dossett met his wife-to-be, Zita Sampson, with whom he went on to have three children – John, 62, Amanda, 54, and David, 49. The couple met in Ontario and by the time Mr Dossett was called back to duty, they were engaged.
Leaving Zita in Canada, the pilot returned to the action in Europe and was sent to Belgium and Holland to fly meteorological missions, reporting on the atmospheric conditions, which involved taking his Spitfire up to heights of 42,000ft. But in 1944, while engaging with the enemy, he got into difficulties and was forced to make a rough landing. The impact fractured his spine and the pilot had to be flown to England, where he spent the final weeks of the war laid flat on his back. But he made a full recovery within a year and was up and about, ready to go back to Canada to be reunited with his fiancee.
The couple married and set up home out there, with Mr Dossett working as a property developer. The marriage broke up in the Seventies, but Mr Dossett decided to remain in Canada, making occasional trips back to his home county. He said: “I have always missed Essex. I miss the beautiful sea and the coast. “One of my fondest memories is sailing along the coast and taking out friends in my boat. “Leigh was a lovely place to grow up.”
Mr Dossett came back to Southend with his youngest son David, 49, who lives in Ontario, Canada, and his second wife, Janet Borlase-Dossett.