Sergeant Derrick Barrie Simpson

What happened to Sergeant Derrick Barrie RAFVR (755136), age 19, is a bit of a puzzle. He was recorded as killed along with Pilot Officer Matthew Roy Turnbull RAF (42915), age 19,  and Sergeant Gilbert Peter Rowe RAFVR (751202), age 20, in the squadron operational record, but this is incorrect. Simpson was in fact killed along with Flying Officer Hugh Haswell RAFVR (72482), age 21 from South Africa, and Sergeant Raymond Bradshaw Martin RAFVR (751104), age 21, when Bristol Blenheim IV, L9473 was shot down over the English Channel on 25 July 1940.  

Operational Record RAF 59 Squadron 26 July 1940 

2 convoy patrols were carried out without incident. A reconnaissance flight was not completed owing to bad weather. One anti-invasion patrol carried out. Nothing unusual was observed. A formation of 9 a/c carried out a night bombing raid on oil tanks at CHERBOURG. 3 of these failed to locate target owing to bad visibility. Another experienced ice formation resulting in failure of instruments and returned to base without dropping bombs. 3 a/c dropped their bombs on target. 1 a/c was chased away, by fighters. One a/c, pilot P/O Turnbull, Sgt Roe and Sgt Simpson failed to return, and the crew are posted missing. 

To add to the confusion, there is a memorial at Petit-Caux, Saint-Martin-enCampagne (north-east of Dieppe) listing Haswell and Martin and a Sergeant D Wallace RAF (628797), age 38, as the third member of the L9473 crew. Wallace’s body was the only one recovered and is buried at Criel-Sur-Mer Communal Cemetery (north-east of Dieppe) – he was from Crail, Fife. 

Wallace  was in fact onboard Bristol Blenheim IV T1801 along with Turnbull and Rowe. This was another RAF 59 Squadron, Blenheim that was lost the following day (26 July 1940). 

The operation that Simpson was participating in when he was killed, involved one of the most infamous alleged German atrocities against neutral shipping during World War Two. 

After the fall of France, the new ‘Vichy’ French Government insisted that French naval personnel in Britain be repatriated. Only those who volunteered to serve with the Free French under General Charles de Gaulle could stay. In accordance with the terms of the French Armistice with Germany, the Vichy government’s representative and the Red Cross, all had been informed in advance of the British intention to repatriate the personnel aboard the SS Meknes. Fifty-nine French ships, which had sought refuge in the harbours of Plymouth and Portsmouth had been seized by the British Royal Navy on 3 July 1940. 

Great care had been taken to make the SS Meknes look like a neutral ship. She was flying the French Flag and had the French colours painted on her deck and sides. At night, she was fully illuminated and had her navigation lights on. On the night of 24 July 1940, at about 10.30 pm, the SS Meknes was stopped by two German motor torpedo boats (German: Schnellbootor S-Boot, meaning “fast boat”), the S19 and the S27.  Both S-Boots fired one torpedo each, both missing the SS Meknes. The French passenger ship stopped. Two more torpedoes were fired and again they flew wide of the mark. Every time the SS Meknes tried to signal to the S-Boot’s its name and details, it was met with fire from S19’s flak gun. The passengers and crew were given five minutes to take to their lifeboats. Fifteen minutes later when the S-boots had reloaded their torpedo’s, a single torpedo was fired, and it hit the SS Meknes’s stern. The SS Meknes began to sink, and the S-boots retreated into the darkness. 

The French passenger liner of 6,127 tons had left Southampton carrying 1,277 French naval personnel who were being repatriated as per their own choice. Some 383 Frenchmen were lost that night.  

The RAF 59 Squadron Operational Record Book shows that that the mission of the Blenheim’s the following day was to search for SS Meknes survivors. Of the three aircraft sent out, the only crew to report positive findings in the ORB was that of Turnbull in Bristol Blenheim IV T1801 who guided Royal Navy destroyers to the survivor’s location.  Only one Blenheim appears to have returned safely and Luftwaffe daily situation reports confirm two Blenheim’s shot down that day. 

The squadron ORB also shows that Turnbull, Rowe and Sergeant Henry Strickland flew their first sortie on 23 July. As was the custom for new crews in the squadron, their first sortie was a night patrol – Time Up: 2155 – Time Down: 0235 – Nothing unusual seen. Strickland was injured on the second mission by the dorsal turret glass exploding. It was thought it could have been a seagull hitting it. Three days later, on only their third mission, Turnbull, Rowe and Strickland’s replacement, Sergeant Wallace were killed. 

Simpson was the only son of the late James and Janet Stevenson Barrie Simpson, 18 Balvaird Place, Perth. James Simpson was a factor on the Scone Estates. 

All those whose bodies were not recovered are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, Surrey. Sergeant Simpson is also commemorated on the Scone War Memorial, and the Scone Parish Church War Memorial. 

Perthshire Advertiser, 10 May 1941 


“SIMPSON – Formerly reported missing, now officially presumed killed in action, Sergeant Derrick B. Simpson, R.A.F.V.R., aged 19 years, beloved son and only child of the late James Simpson, factor Scone Estates, and Mrs Simpson, 18 Balvaird Place, Perth.” 



“‘He was one of the bravest people I know,’ is an R.A.F. pilot’s tribute to a Perth wireless operator and air-gunner, Sergeant Derrick B. Simpson, R.A.F.V.R., who is now officially presumed killed in action after having been reported miss-ing. Only son of the late Mr James Simpson, factor, Scone Estates, and of Mrs Simpson, 18 Balvaird Place, Perth. Sergt. Simpson was 19 years of age. 

“He is presumed to have lost his life, it is learned, on a flight for which he volunteered. In a matter of urgency, he offered to take the place of another airman who had taken ill. 

“Sgt. Simpson’s own pilot has written of him this fine tribute: – 

‘He was my gunner and wireless operator and one of the bravest people I know. 

‘It was always a reassuring thought to me to know that I had such a splendid fellow for a rear-gunner. When things were not looking too good, he would often give both my observer and me a feeling of absolute confidence by passing some cheery remark in the inter-communicating telephone. 

‘He was ready to do anything at any time and it was probably his courage and devotion to duty that led to his last flight.” 

“Sergeant Simpson joined the R.A.F.V.R. while at Perth Academy and was called up on the out-break of war, being promoted sergeant the following May. 

The E-boat was the Allied designation for the German Schnellbootfast attack boats. 

RAF 59 Squadron had been in combat action since the very first day of the German invasion of France and the Low Countries on 10 May 1940. On 19 May 1940, the squadron returned to Britain, resuming operations from RAF Hawkinge. The Battle of Dunkirk had just taken place (26 May 1940 and 4 June 1940) and RAF 59 Squadron operations at the time included observing the evacuation of the Allied troops including the British Expeditionary Force. The squadron moved to RAF Thorney Island, between Portsmouth and Chichester, on 3 July 1940. 

RAF 59 Squadron was one of the squadrons denied the right to the ‘Clasp’ to the 1939/45-star award, the Battle of Britain bar (if they had flown at least one operational sortie during that time). On 9 November 1960, the RAF issued a revised list of those squadrons considered to qualify for the Battle of Britain bar, RAF 59 Squadron was no longer on it. Those airmen who previously had been issued this award were instructed to take down the bar immediately and return it to the RAF medals branch. RAF 59 Squadron was a Coastal Command Squadron but was under the control of Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. RAF 235 Squadron, another Blenheim squadron, took part in similar operations and were recognised as Battle of Britain participants. As one 59 Squadron pilot later put it when writing of the withdrawal of the award: ‘...the feelings about this change ran pretty high at the time, I can tell you!’

Derrick Barrie Simpson, Perthshire Advertiser, 10 May 1941