From 1940-1945, over 46 squadrons were based at RAF Westhampnett. Many hundreds of young men and women served on or in and around the airfield who, when off duty would head off into Chichester and the local area in search of beer, company, dancing and good times although some just wanted to return home for a much needed rest. Some found solace and companionship with their dog.
The first squadron to arrive at Goodwood or RAF Westhampnett in July 1940 were 145 Squadron who had moved over from RAF Tangmere. They too brought an assortment of pooches with them as can be seen from the photo below, the first known images of pilots’ pals at dispersal.
The earliest known dog of 602 Squadron during September 1940 onwards was that of Pilot Officer Patrick ‘Paddy’ Barthropp who flew during the Battle of Britain from the airfield. His dog was a dachshund called Blitzkrieg, the squadron also has an Alsatian called ‘Crash’ and another dog called Mr Jackson, a small terrier. They roamed the dispersals of the squadron and appear in the squadron photograph.
129 Squadron who arrived at the airfield in late 1941 had a Dutch pilot who had escaped from captivity by stealing a German floatplane. His name was Govert Steen and he had an Alsatian called Jan who appears in a number of squadron photos, some posed, some accidental, as she roamed the dispersals. Sadly Govert Steen was lost on operations and the Dog was adopted by another pilot Phill Stuart from New Zealand who recalled that she was very protective of her pilots:-
“Steen had a fine German Shepard and when he went missing I took over the care of Jan. Although great fun and friendly to pilots he was a bit of a snob and not happy to allow other than plots into our dispersal huts apart from the few groundcrew who regularly worked there. On one occasion I had trouble with a Spitfire engine fault and on landing back at Westhapmnett I was unable to taxi it back to our dispersal. It was teeming with rain so I borrowed a mechanics rain cape and bicycle and rode back the hut. When I went to go in Jan was not having any of it, bared his teeth and growled at me and then when I spoke to him he was overcome with remorse!”
Even the American pilots of the 309th Squadron who arrived in 1942 had their squadron mascots. Lieutenant Harry Strawn found himself besotted with an old Irish Setter pup he picked up in London whilst on leave and brought him back to live with him at Goodwood.
Right through the RAF’s period of tenure at the airfield there are several constants in all of the period photos, cars and dogs. It’s clear that our four legged friends were very important to the men, a sense of home maybe, normality, companionship and loyalty.