WE REMEMBER THEM: The story of pilot officer Pip Cardell

Philip Cardell standing beside his 603 Squadron Spitfire

Philip Cardell standing beside his 603 Squadron Spitfire - Credit: Archant

David Duker from the Tally Ho Project tells the story of Battle of Britain pilot Pip Cardell, from Great Paxton, who was killed 80 years ago - and the heroic rescue bid by a colleague who crash-landed his Spitfire on a beach and commandeered a boat in an attempt to pull him out of the water.

Pilot officer Philip Cardell from Great Paxton

Pilot officer Philip Cardell from Great Paxton - Credit: Archant

The Second World War alone was a conflict that stole 60 million lives as we battled the very real threat of a regime that was intent on imposing its will on the world. It was a challenge that simply had to be met and one of the sons of our town was there to meet it.

Pilot Officer Philip Pip Cardell was one of our own. Born and bred in Great Paxton, he was described as being ‘cheerful, bright, energetic and kind’.

Along with his brother Ted, both of these local lads could see the tension building across the channel and decided to answer the call by joining the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

Pip Cardell successfully completed his training in time to be thrust into the centre of what became known as The Battle of Britain. As the skies darkened under the shadow of Nazi aggression, these brave young souls rose to challenge after challenge, sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice for a fight that just had to be won.

Philip Cardell and his brother Ted outside their family home in Great Paxton

Philip Cardell and his brother Ted outside their family home in Great Paxton - Credit: Archant

On September 27, 1940, Pilot Officer Philip Cardell was to make such a sacrifice for our freedom. His story is entwined with another character of the RAF, Flying Officer Peter Dexter DFC.

Both of these young men were flying Spitfires with 603 Squadron when they were heavily engaged in combat over the Channel. Dexter had found himself in a perilous position, fighting two enemy machines until ‘Pip’ swooped in to assist. Working as a team, the two young airmen successfully managed to regroup and shoot down their foe.

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As they headed for home they were set upon by five more and yet another vicious dogfight ensued. After minutes of this life or death aerial duelthat seemed to last a lifetime, both of Spitfires managed to break free from the scrap but Cardell’s aircraft had been hit.

Now a quarter of a mile from the English coast, with the two exhausted airmen flying in formation, Dexter realised that ‘Pip’ had a problem and saw his aircraft losing height.

All of a sudden, at a height of only 300 feet, Pilot Officer Cardell bailed out, but his parachute failed to open in time and he plunged into the icy waters of the Channel.

Miraculously, Dexter saw him resurface, still alive and dutifully flew over Pip’s position, frantically trying to signal to any boat crews on the English coast to come and rescue his friend.

Realising that this wasn’t working, he peeled away from Pip’s position and flew low over Folkestone harbour in an attempt to raise the alarm but, after another precious few minutes had elapsed decided he had no choice but to take matters into his own hands.

The courageous Flying Officer, circled Folkestone once more before crash landing his own aircraft onto the beach, narrowly missing a land mine. He leapt out of his Spitfire, commandeered a boat, complete with crew and promptly set sail in search of Pip.

Some thirty five minutes after Philip Cardell had hit the water, his body was sighted by the boat crew but, tragically, they were too late. Despite young Dexter giving artificial respiration to Pip for over half an hour and after all of his heroic efforts to save his friend, it became clear that Pilot Officer Philip Cardell had given his life to the fight for freedom.

And so we remember. We remember what these brave young souls sacrifice to protect the way of life that we enjoy today. They gave up their futures, so we could enjoy our own. Let us never forget. Pilot Officer Philip Cardell- thank you sir.