Ayre, George Desmonde

George Desmonde Ayre was the younger son of George William Bulley Ayre and Jessie R Ayre of St John’s, Newfoundland.  He was born on 17th September 1914 and lived in London from 1921. Desmonde entered Sergeant’s in 1928, leaving in 1933 to work for a London bank. He was later an undergraduate at Leeds University and worked at Airedale Collieries at Castleford in Yorkshire from 1937-1939.

He was always enthusiastic about flying and obtained a commission in the Auxiliary Air Force in 1935.   He was posted to 609 (West Riding) Squadron, formed on 10th February 1936 as part of the expanding Auxiliary Air Force.   Initially a bomber squadron equipped with Hawker Harts, in December 1938 they changed to a fighter squadron, taking delivery of their first Spitfire Mk 1 during August 1939.  Desmonde was awarded his wings in 1938 and served with his squadron in Scotland, operating out of RAF Drem Aerodrome.  On 12th January 1940 he made the squadron’s first engagement with the enemy, when a Heinkel 111 bombed a merchant ship off the mouth of the River Tay.   He chased the Heinkel as it disappeared into cloud.  Months later the same aircraft was shot down near Wick and the pilot reported that he had struggled to get home on the previous occasion, as his aircraft had been riddled with holes.    Ayre also shared in the unit’s first victory, a Heinkel He111 H-2, shot down near St Abb’s Head on 27th February 1940.

He was involved in an accident at RAF Drem in East Lothian on 19th March 1940 when his Mark I Spitfire undershot its landing and was damaged beyond repair.     Ayre was uninjured.   On 18th May the squadron moved from Drem to Northolt and on 29th May 609 Squadron was ordered to patrol the Dunkirk beaches to cover the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force.

The following day he became the squadron’s first casualty.   Flying over Dunkirk with the rest of the squadron for an hour at 15,000 feet, unable to see the ground for all the smoke and haze, and low on petrol, 609 split up and headed for Northolt.   Desmonde ran into thick fog. He ended up over Harwich and when a factory suddenly appeared in his flight path, he pulled up sharply. He missed the roof but stalled and then crashed into the open ground beyond the factory, an explosive works at Oakley.   Desmonde died of his injuries on the way to hospital.  His funeral at Northwood Cemetery, where he lies in Grave 165, Section H, was marked by the participation of the RAF Central Band and by reversed arms.   Leading Aircraftman R F Burgess recalled it as “the only full ceremonial funeral I was to see.   On later occasions there was neither the time nor the opportunity.”

His brother, an officer in the Royal Artillery, wrote to the Headmaster to announce his brother’s death, and said how much he had always loved Winchester.

Desmonde is also commemorated in the Anglican Cathedral in St John’s, Newfoundland, and on a memorial at the airport in St John’s.


War: World War 2

  • Surname: Ayre
  • Forenames or initials: George Desmonde
  • House: G
  • Years in School: 1928-1933
  • Rank: Flying Officer
  • Regiment: RAF
  • Date of Birth: 17th September 1914
  • Date of Death: 30th May 1940
  • How Died: Killed in Action
  • Location in War Cloister: Inner F2
  • Decoration: NA
  • Burial Site: Northwood Cemetery: Section H, grave 165