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Paterson Clarence Hughes (1917–1940)

by Dennis Newton

This article was published:

Paterson Clarence Hughes (1917-1940), by unknown photographer, c1939

Paterson Clarence Hughes (1917-1940), by unknown photographer, c1939

Australian War Memorial, P01397.001

Paterson Clarence Hughes (1917-1940), air force officer, was born on 19 September 1917 at Numeralla, New South Wales, eleventh of twelve children of native-born parents Paterson Clarence Hughes, labourer, and his wife Caroline Christina, née Vennel. Young Pat was initially educated at Cooma District (Public) School; after the family moved to Haberfield, Sydney, he attended Petersham Boys' Intermediate and Fort Street Boys' High schools. A good swimmer and footballer, he built model aeroplanes, was keenly interested in electricity and constructed crystal sets. He briefly worked as a junior stock clerk with the jewellers, Saunders Ltd, then in January 1936 joined the Royal Australian Air Force as a cadet at Point Cook, Victoria. Twelve months later he sailed for England to take a short service commission in the Royal Air Force.

Having flown with No.64 (Fighter) Squadron for two and a half years, in November 1939 Hughes was promoted acting flight lieutenant (substantive September 1940) and posted to No.234 Squadron as a flight commander. On 8 July 1940, near Land's End, he led three Spitfires which shot down a lone Junkers 88, the unit's first 'kill'. He and his section destroyed another Junkers south-east of Plymouth on the 28th. Temporarily detached on 1 August to help in organizing No.247 Squadron, he took advantage of the break from flying-duties to marry that day his English fiancée Kathleen Agnes Brodrick at the register office, Bodmin, Cornwall.

Back with his own unit, on 15 August Hughes shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 110 and shared in the dispatch of a second. He was successful on the 16th, 18th and 26th, each time destroying two Messerschmitt Bf 109s. An advocate of closing in for a certain 'kill', he accounted for three Bf 110s on 4 September, two Bf 109s on the 5th and at least one Bf 109 on the 6th. One of his victims on 5 September may have been Oberleutnant Franz von Werra, the flamboyant German ace.

Hughes was the real driving force behind No.234 Squadron. When its members' morale was dangerously low, it was his inspiration that welded the squadron into an efficient fighting unit. His authority in the air was tough and uncompromising, but on the ground Pat remained 'one of the boys'. Between 13 August and 7 September the squadron shot down 63 enemy aircraft and fought to the point of exhaustion. Hughes contributed at least 14 confirmed, 1 probable, 3 shared and 1 unconfirmed shared to this total, and became the highest-scoring Australian fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain. His close-in tactics led to his death on 7 September 1940 during the Luftwaffe's first heavy raids on London. He pounced on a Dornier 17—perhaps he collided with it, perhaps his Spitfire was struck by debris from the exploding bomber, perhaps he flew into the firing-line of a Hurricane attacking the same target. The confusion that surrounded the crash remains unresolved. Four days after his death No.234 Squadron was moved to a quieter sector.

Pat Hughes was buried in St James's churchyard, Sutton, Hull. The award of his Distinguished Flying Cross was gazetted in October. At Christ Church, Kiama, New South Wales, his sister Muriel placed a memorial tablet on the graveyard fence.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Shores and C. Williams, Aces High (Lond, 1966)
  • F. K. Mason, Battle Over Britain (Lond, 1969)
  • D. Wood and D. Dempster, The Narrow Margin (Lond, 1969)
  • W. Ramsey (ed), The Battle of Britain (Lond, 1980)
  • D. Newton, A Few of 'The Few' (Canb, 1990)
  • private information.

Citation details

Dennis Newton, 'Hughes, Paterson Clarence (1917–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 22 February 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Paterson Clarence Hughes (1917-1940), by unknown photographer, c1939

Paterson Clarence Hughes (1917-1940), by unknown photographer, c1939

Australian War Memorial, P01397.001