Obituary: 'Stapme' Stapleton DFC, RAF pilot during Second World War

Squadron Leader "Stapme" Stapleton DFC, RAF pilot during Second World War. Born: 12 May, 1920, in Durban, South Africa. Died: 13, April 2010, aged 89.

HE WAS one of the outstanding members of "The Few". In many ways, "Stapme" Stapleton was the very epitome of the heroes of the Battle of Britain with his glorious handlebar moustache, wavy blond hair, broad smile and dashing good-looks. When the Battle of Britain started in earnest in July 1940, Stapleton was with the No603 City of Edinburgh Squadron flying Spitfires from Edinburgh's Turnhouse aerodrome.

He was to play an integral part in the initial skirmishes with the Luftwaffe over the North Sea. Indeed, Stapleton shared in the shooting down of two German bombers that July.

Stapleton was, undoubtedly, one of the great characters of the Battle of Britain and remained devoted to the memory of colleagues of Squadron 603. He attended reunions with his usual gusto and enthusiasm – sporting the moustache to the end. The courage and achievements of the squadron are remembered with a replica of a Spitfire at Edinburgh Airport.

Basil Gerald Stapleton was educated at King Edward VI School in Totnes, Devon. He entered the RAF on a short service commission in January 1939 and, after a brief spell flying Blenheim night fighters, joined No603 Squadron.

It was with the City of Edinburgh squadron that he got the nickname, "Stapme". It derived from the exclamation "Just Jane", which often appeared in a Daily Mirror cartoon – especially when an attractive girl went past. Stapleton took much pleasure in daily pinning the cartoon to the squadron's notice board.

Stapleton first trained at RAF Montrose before joining No603 Squadron. The squadron had, in fact, been formed on 14 October, 1925, at RAF Turnhouse as a day bomber unit of the Auxiliary Air Force and was the centre for the training of pilots.

In October 1938, No603 was redesignated as a full combat unit and in August 1939 the New Zealand Brian Carbury joined the City of Edinburgh Squadron to train the pilots on the new Spitfires. As war approached, the squadron was put on a full-time battle footing and Stapleton immediately displayed a considerable ability to fly the fast new aircraft.

Scotland was to receive many raids from German bombers in those first few months – most targeting the shipyards of the Clyde. Stapleton flew with the squadron when the Spitfires intercepted the first German air raid on the British Isles on 16 October.

Stapleton shared in the shooting down of two German bombers in the estuary of the Firth of Forth – the first enemy aircraft to be shot down in the Second World War. Stapleton and the squadron remained on defensive duties in Scotland until 27 August, 1940, when it moved south to Sussex.

The following month, Stapleton had to force-land his plane when he was involved in a dog-fight, but later that month flew in several air battles and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in November.

Many years later Stapleton wrote of those days: "Despite the casualties, when I look back, I recall we also had great fun. It was an exciting time and we made the most of our opportunities to live it up. We tended to treat each occasion as if it were our last."

He was rested from flying in 1941, but soon returned to operational duties with a Hurricane squadron on escort duties over France. One mission, in August 1944, involved a daring attack on barges on the River Seine.

He flew in support of the troops who stormed Nijmegen and Arnhem and after an accident in a Jeep in Eindhoven, Stapleton classed himself fit to carry out reconnaissance flights prior to the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes. He had to make a forced-landing behind enemy lines after he had attacked a steam engine. Stapleton remained a prisoner of war in a Baltic camp until liberated by the advancing Russian forces days before the German surrender.

He remained as ebullient as ever. At one reunion he arrived in his trade-mark "warthog" hat and a tie emblazoned with nubile girls. He would delight in asking any pretty girl "so, which one are you?" pointing at the girls on his tie, with a glint in his eye.

After the war Stapleton worked for BOAC, returned to South Africa working on photographic safaris before coming back to Britain in 1994. Stapleton was awarded the Dutch DFC for his part in the operations at Arnhem and was the subject of a biography, Stapme, by David Ross which was published in 2002.

He is survived by his wife, Audrey, a son and his elder brother, Air Vice-Marshal Deryck Stapleton.