‘Fanny’ Orton – Mission Accomplished

At the end of June, the research team at Unlocking Warwick appealed for information about the family of Squadron Leader Newell ‘Fanny’ Orton from Bridge End in Warwick, a noted flying ace who was the first WW2 pilot to be awarded the DFC with Bar. A French historian, Francois Clauvelin, had contacted the volunteers to say he was searching for Orton’s grandson for pictures and information to add to a book he is compiling about the 73rd Hurricane Squadron based in Eastern France in 1939-1940.

Unlocking Warwick’s Project Leader, Christine Shaw, said, “Almost immediately we were able to track down both of Fanny Orton’s grandsons, Michael and Paul Orton, and the family is now exchanging information and photographs with Monsieur Clauvelin in France who is ‘absolutely delighted’. We have also been contacted by Newell Orton’s nephew, Nigel Robinson, who lives in Leamington. His mother was the fighter pilot’s sister. He said a neighbour rang his doorbell clutching a copy of the Courier and excitedly pointed out the feature about Fanny Orton.

Nigel Robinson has provided us with some fascinating documents, including a letter to Orton’s parents from Anthony Eden, the MP for Warwick and Leamington, who in 1940 was the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. He wrote about Newell leading three hurricanes against twelve German machines and sent ‘hearty congratulations on his very fine performance’.

It is clear that Orton’s prowess as a fighter pilot was well-known in Warwick and he was regarded as a local hero. It is hardly surprising as he was hailed nationally as Britains first fighter ace in WW2, credited with shooting down 17 enemy aircraft with another 8 ‘probables’ before he himself was killed in 1941.

Newell’s nephew, Nigel Robinson, has also kept a letter to the Orton family from the Headmaster of Coten End School, written after Newell had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and when they were anxiously awaiting news of him after his plane had been shot down in flames in France.

In fact Newell had baled out and though injured was rescued by British troops. The Headmaster, Mr. Gough, describes how ‘our boys make admiring groups round Newell’s photograph daily, and follow the news very closely’.

The fighter pilot was clearly a real life ‘Boy’s Own’ hero. Nigel Robinson has provided a colour-enhanced photograph of Orton in France with the other ‘ace’ of the squadron, ‘Cobber’ Kain DFC, who was killed in June 1940 at the age of 21 shortly before his planned wedding.

Graham Doughty who has lived in Warwick all his life also remembers that Newell ‘Fanny’ Orton was revered as a heroic pilot and Wing Commender, and recalled a report in the Advertiser – the precursor of the Courier – of a talk Newell Orton gave to the local Rotary Club in support of the Spitfire fund. Helen from our research team found the report from August 1940 on the British Newspapers Archive website. Orton had been on home leave in Warwick while recovering from injuries sustained when he had to bale out of his burning Hurricane in France. It reported that ‘The presence of such a distinguished airman … was a great inspiration for workers for the fund, and his modest account of the exploits of the R.A.F. made a deep impression’. The Heart of England Spitfire Fund was to raise £15,000 – enough for three aircraft.

Francois Clauvelin has also sent us a copy of the entry for 17th September 1941 in the Operations Record Book of 54th Spitfire Squadron led by Newell Orton. It records that the Squadron Leader and two of his colleagues ‘were lost sight of and not seen again’.

The entry says, ‘He gave his best for his country and squadron – he had fought well and bravely in France at the beginning of the war with 73 Squadron against fantastic odds. His score stands at 17 destroyed and 8 probables’, and it quotes the squadron motto, ‘Audax Omnia Per Peti: Bravery In All Things.

So our appeal on behalf of the French historian was a success, and we now know a great deal more about the name ‘N. Orton’ on the War Memorial. He was a much revered local hero”.