The Three Pilots

Remembered here today, three Pilots of the Royal Air Force

F/Sgt Adrian Francis Laws

Sgt Frederick Fenton Vinyard

Sgt Leslie Arthur Dyke

May they forever Rest in Peace

We came across a story of a Pilot who had simply gone out on a routine patrol on the 27th September 1940 and never came back, it seems that it was the first time he had gone up since joining 46 Squadron at Driffield. On that fateful day according to archives he was paired with F/Sgt Laws and Sgt Vinyard, it states simply they took off in their Spitfires at 0940 hrs only Laws and Vinyard returned. Against Dykes name is simply “Failed to Return”

We couldn’t find any records about Dykes accident and to this day he is listed as missing. What conspired then was that only three days later F/Sgt Laws was killed in a training accident and that it was caused by Sgt Vinyard shearing off his tail section in mid-flight.  6 days later Sgt Vineyard’s plane was seen to cruise out from the coast and to dive into the sea. We can only speculate what has happened here but it may be that Sgt Vinyard could not cope with the fact that he had caused F/Sgt Laws’ death, we can only speculate but today Sgt Vinyard would probably be diagnosed with PTSD.

What started out with three pilots taking off one September morning turned into a nightmare a week and half later culminating with all three Pilots Dead and not a shot fired by an enemy plane. Such was the risks that our Air Force Heroes took that even a routine Patrol over our County during wartime could turn into a disaster.  

The History of the Pilots are here and the full story and citations are listed.

Leslie Arthur Dyke of Sutton, Surrey joined the RAFVR about July 1939 as an Airman u/t Pilot. Called up on 1st September 1939, he completed his training and was posted to 64 Squadron at Leconfield in September 1940. On the 27th he failed to return from a sector patrol in Spitfire X4032, the cause unknown. Dyke was 22 and is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, panel 13.

Frederick Fenton Vinyard from Erdington, Birmingham joined the RAFVR about May 1939 as an Airman u/t Pilot. Called up on 1st September 1939, he completed his training and joined 64 Squadron at Leconfield in mid-September 1940.

Pilot Officer Adrian Francis Laws DFM was a British RAF pilot and flying ace during the Battle of Britain. He was killed on 30 September 1940 after colliding with another Spitfire while training new pilots.

Aged 19, Laws enlisted with the RAF in 1931 as an Aircraft hand and trained as a Storekeeper. He applied and was accepted for pilot training and began flying at No. 4 Flight Training School at RAF Abu Sueir in July 1935. He joined No. 64 Squadron RAF at Ismailia on 20 April 1936, as a Sergeant-Pilot. Equipped with two-seater Demons they were to return to the UK in September 1936 .

By late 1939 Laws was flying Blenheim’s out of RAF Church Fenton in the Leconfield sector. 64 Squadron was then converted to the new Spitfire Mark I which a nearly promoted Flight Sergeant Laws now flew.

 DFM citation

The King has been graciously pleased to approve the under-mentioned award, in recognition of gallantry displayed in flying operations against the enemy:-

Awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal – 514143 Flight Sergeant Adrian Francis Laws – This Airman has taken part in numerous operational flights since May, 1940. He has destroyed five enemy aircraft and damaged another two. His initiative, courage and tenacity have been outstanding.


Laws fatal accident was witnessed by American pilot Art Donahue. His diaries, later published as Tally-Ho! – A Yankee in a Spitfire noted:

I re-joined my squadron several days before my leave expired…I learned that the heroism of some of the boys hadn’t gone unrecognised. Three DFCs and one DFM had gone to the squadron… Andy (pseudonym for Laws), who had four confirmed, received the DFM because he was a flight sergeant and not a commissioned officer at the time… He had worked up from the ranks to become an exceptional fighter pilot. He had just been awarded a commission as pilot officer but wasn’t living in the officers’ mess yet because he hadn’t yet purchased his uniform.”

Later, Donahue writes:

Next morning Andy (Laws) had to give a group of new pilots some practise flying before we went to the target range; so as I was badly in need of some practise too I went for a little cross-country jaunt in my machine, familiarising myself with our present sector of operations. While I was up I could hear distant voices over the R/T which I knew were those of Andy and the pilots he was flying with. When I heard them plainly I could tell it was usually Andy giving one of the others some order, or coaching them on their flying. I didn’t pay much attention to what was being said, but I noticed that when I was returning to the airdrome Control seemed to be calling “Yellow One” and having difficulty in getting a reply.

“The leader of Yellow section was Andy, and he wasn’t having trouble with his R/T. Percy ran out to meet me as I taxied in, and with agonised face told me, “Andy and Nels have collided and Andy’s gone in, and it looks like there isn’t much hope!”

“There wasn’t. After half an hour’s dumb sad waiting around the telephone in our pilots’ hut we heard the story. His tail had been sheared off and his machine had gone all the way down, tumbling over and over, and for some reason he hadn’t bailed out. Nels had managed to land safely at another airdrome, as his machine wasn’t badly damaged.


The Accident

The character described as “Nels” in Donahue’s account was in fact Sgt. Frederick Fenton Vinyard. This 24 year old from Birmingham had joined 64 Squadron on 15 September. Laws was flying Spitfire P9564 and Vinyard piloted K9805. Both were acting as a target formation for a section of Spitfires who were carrying out practise fighter attacks. Who the other pilots were is not recorded, but it is known that Sgt. Hopgood, Sgt. Limpenny and Pilot Officer Stanley were new arrivals at 64 Squadron at the end of September. They may well have made up the “attacking section”.

Laws and Vinyard were flying at an altitude of 3,000 ft (914 m) when the accident occurred at 10.45. The following is from an Air Ministry and sources quoted by the Ministry were the RAF Casualty index and the P file held in archive at Hayes:

Sgt. Vinyard reported that the two aircraft were flying semi-line abreast, semi-echelon starboard and six spans apart. The pilot of K9805 (Vinyard) closed in on P9564 (Laws). Shortly after, the under surface of the starboard main plane of K9805 struck the top of the rear portion of the fuselage of P9564 and severed it. Immediately after the collision had occurred the entire rear portion of Laws’ aircraft broke away and the aircraft went into a fast somersaulting dive and struck the ground, bursting into flames on impact. The aircraft crashed at Cranswick, 4 miles north of Leconfield, killing Laws instantly. Spitfire K9805 (Vinyard) went into a dive, but the pilot managed to gain control and land safely at Driffield airfield.

Exactly how the accident happened is unknown. This is an Air Ministry Letter

On 6 October 1940 Sgt Frederick Fenton Vinyard was on an operational section patrol with two other Spitfires of 64 Squadron in the vicinity of Flamborough Head. The aircraft entered cloud in poor visibility (10/10ths) and the three aircraft then became separated. This was the last time that Sgt. Vinyard was seen by the other two pilots who both returned safely to base. However, at 15.10 hours a

report was received from the Observer Corps that a Spitfire was seen to crash into the sea off Flamborough Head at 14.30 hours. Sgt Vinyard is still reported as missing.

Vinyard’s other two section members on that day were Flying Officer A. J. A. Laing and Pilot Officer Arthur Gerald Donahue.