BILLY FISKE WINDOW IN BOXGROVE PRIORY
On 17 September 2008, 601 Squadron's Old Comrade's Association dedicated a window in Boxgrove Priory in Sussex to William Meade Lindsley Fiske III - or Billy as he was known. The young American Olympic Bobsled champion had been friends with several members of the squadron, and when war came his great hatred of Adolph Hitler's tyranny and friendship with 601 compelled him to join up. It wasn't an easy road as Americans were not allowed to join the RAF at this time, but as others would do, Billy found a way (with influential help) to get around the rules and joined the squadron flying out of Tangmere. On 16 August while flying to protect the airfield from German attack, Billy was shot down. Although he crash- landed his Hurricane successfully and seemed somewhat okay, he sadly succumbed to his wounds a few days later. Billy is buried in Boxgrove Priory and the OCA rightly thought it appropriate to commemorate their comrade.
601 Squadron re-created is very proud to have helped in a small way with contributions to help fund this memorial window. The following are pictures from the dedication ceremony conducted by the Reverend Ian Forrester at the Priory.
When fundraising for this effort was ongoing, we asked Jack Riddle - who knew and served with Billy in 601- to write something up for efforts to solicit funds. The following was penned by Jack:
Williame Meade Lindsley Fiske III
Memorial Window to be installed at Boxgrove Priory, Near Chichester, England
Members of the 601 (County of London) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force Old Comrades’ Association had been endeavouring to arrange something to honour Billy Fiske in Boxgrove Priory church. Initially we were trying to have a memorial tablet, similar to the one in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral in London in honour of Winston Churchill. However, after many months of consideration by the church architects it transpired that they required something to enhance the overall restoration plan for the church at Boxgrove.
Wing Commander (Retired) Reggie Spooner was very much our leader in our efforts to honour Billy in Boxgrove Priory. It was then that the idea of a stained glass window was suggested. The Reverend Ian Forrester at Boxgrove Priory was enthusiastic about this and the church authorities granted permission for a south facing window to be used for Billy’s memorial.
Mel Howse, a designer of stained glass windows, produced the design. It was decided that it should be simple, colourful and with a clear message. We believe this has been achieved in the final design which will be submitted to the Diocesan Advisory Committee in September for formal approval. Providing approval is given in September it is anticipated that the installation will take place in February/March 2008.
Unfortunately Reggie Spooner died in December 2006 and we wish he could have seen the progress recently made with regard to the memorial window.
My memories of Billy as a pilot was that he was quite exceptional. His Flight Commander, Sir Archibald Hope, having assessed Billy’s flying ability on arrival with the squadron, said “In all my flying experience I have never come across a pilot with such completely natural flying ability, and quick reactions. He made his aircraft become part of him.” Archie was definitely impressed!
Billy liked to talk with everyone around him, particularly the ground crews. He wanted to know them and all about their jobs, aircraft maintenance and where difficulties lay – always helpful. Very soon he managed to endear himself to the whole squadron – not just the officers, but the other ranks too.
There was club a few miles away from the airfield at Tangmere and this was made our unofficial Squadron Headquarters. It was somewhere pleasant, overlooking the waters of Chichester Harbour, where our wives and friends could meet and be with each other, and wait together until we could be free from Tangmere. Billy always seemed to get there before I did – maybe his motor car was faster than mine – I’m sure it was!
Usually I would find him at the club with a few friends, and there was something many of us noticed. If someone came into the club looking slightly at a loss, possibly not knowing many members of the Squadron, Billy would be on his feet. He would go over, introduce himself, find out who they were waiting for, get them a drink and suggest that they might care to wait with him and his friends until the person arrived. Billy was aware and caring, a very nice aspect of his character.
So, now we are raising funds for Billy’s memorial window which we hope will receive support from his admirers both in England and the USA.
Written by Squadron Leader Jack Riddle
Lovely shot of Jack in front of the window in Boxgrove Priory
Jack Riddle with Billy Fiske's Bentley
Jack Riddle talking with Tony Oldham and Torquil Norman at the reception
Close-up of the window
Great look at the window being made, courtesy of Mel Howse
Another great shot of Jack in front of the window