John Michael Bryan, a World War II Hero

I am grateful to Anthony Knight, Secretary of  TECT (Typhoon Entente Cordiale Trust for supplying the information for me on this page and allowing it to be used on this blog.

John Michael Bryan, a World War II Hero

Information derived and extracts taken from ‘137 Squadron – RAF’ by Charles Shepherd at ‘’; ‘History of No. 137 Squadron’ at ‘’; The Bedfordshire Times; The London Gazette; The contributors to Key Publishing Ltd Aviation Forum at ‘’.

On the war memorial in the graveyard of All Saints’ Church are inscribed the names of thirteen Milton Ernest men who died during the two world wars. All of them heroes, as were the many other men from the village who were fortunate enough to survive the conflict. John Michael Bryan’s story has been included in this book because there was more material available; however, his story should be seen as a representation of the bravery displayed by all of the men from the village when they fought for their country.

John Michael Bryan was born in 1922 at South Norwood and was educated at Tunbridge School and Cambridge. His parents, John Ingram and Lucy Silver Bryan, moved the family to Milton Ernest in 1935. This was because John Ingram Bryan succeeded Ernest Holmes as the Vicar of All Saints’. John Michael Bryan would have been thirteen years of age when he came to live in Milton Ernest Vicarage. George Willars remembers John Michael playing in the grounds of the Vicarage before the start of the war. John would often confront George and his friends with the words “Halt, who goes there!” when they walked alongside the grounds of the Vicarage.

Bryan as FO seen 6 from left 137Sq Whirlwinds

Picture TECT

Bryan as FO seen 6 from left 137Sq Whirlwinds

In 1940, aged eighteen, John Michael Bryan, known as Mike Bryan, enlisted in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He trained in Canada and was commissioned as a pilot officer on 22ndJune 1941. War details, if they still exist, are only released with the permission of the person or next of kin; therefore, it is hard to put together a complete war record. In John Michael Bryan’s case all we know is that by 1943 he was part of Squadron 137. Before that is a bit of a mystery. Squadron 137 wasn’t formed until 20thSeptember 1941, so Bryan must have started his active military service in another squadron.

Squadron 137 started at Charmy Down in Somerset. Six officers were posted from 263 Squadron to form the core of the new squadron, one of whom could well have been John Michael Bryan. 137 Squadron moved to RAF Coltishall, Norfolk, in November 1941 and then was based at Matlaske, Norfolk, a month later. In September 1942 Squadron 137 became associated with RAF Manston, Kent, and took on the role of ground attacks.

The squadron used the Westland Whirlwind I, then the Hawker Hurricane IV, before being equipped with the Hawker Typhoon 1b in January 1944.

A report in the Bedfordshire Times dated 19th March 1943 headed ‘VICAR’S SON PAYS FLYING VISIT’ stated that Flight-Lieutenant J M Bryan, younger son of the Vicar of Milton Ernest paid a ‘flying’ visit to his parents. After lunch he took off again from a nearby aerodrome for his operational station. George Willars remembers John Michael Bryan flying his Whirlwind just over the top of the Vicarage on a number of occasions.

The Bedfordshire Times also reported that Bryan belonged “to a squadron which has an outstanding record for “intruder” activities over enemy occupied territory”. John Michael Bryan was credited with attacking twenty-one locomotives and his squadron had shot up twenty-seven goods trains. It would seem that John Michael’s sudden visit to Milton Ernest had been to pass on some good news to his parents, as four days later it was announced, in the London Gazette, that John Michael Bryan had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.


Fig 60 – Westland Whirlwind Mark I with the markings of 137 Squadron.

The DFC had been established on 3rd June 1918 for officers and warrant officers of the Air Forces for “an act of valour, courage, or devotion to duty performed whilst flying in active operations against the enemy”. The DFC was open to those pilots who had scored eight or more aerial victories.

The entry in the London Gazette, dated 23rd March 1943, confirmed that John Michael Bryan was in 137 Squadron. It stated that “This officer has taken part in a large number of sorties and patrols. On one occasion he assisted in the destruction of a Dornier 217. In attacks on enemy transport in Northern France and Belgium, Flying Officer Bryan has damaged 15 locomotives. His skill and keenness have been worthy of high praise”. The Bedfordshire Times also reported the accolade and their newspaper report, interestingly, noted that John had three elder brothers all fighting in the War. He had two brothers, Squadron Leader A. L. Bryan and Major Paul Bryan, in the African Campaign and another brother, A. Ingram Bryan, who was in the Canadian Army. Major Paul Bryan was later awarded the Military Cross and Distinguished Service Order in the North African and Italian campaigns respectively.

When John Michael Bryan was invested with his DFC at Buckingham Palace he was accompanied by his mother and another brother, Mr Arthur E Bryan, Canadian Trade Commissioner in Liverpool. The number of Canadian references suggest that the Bryan family originated from that country.

In June 1943 Squadron 137 moved to RAF Rochford at Southend-on-Sea. Here the pilots practised in the Hurricane IV and used 40mm cannon and 3 inch rockets which were so new that they were still officially a secret.

The London Gazette reported on 30th July 1943, that Bryan had added a bar to his DFC. It reported that “Flight Lieutenant Bryan is a skilful and tenacious pilot. Since being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, he has damaged 2 minesweepers, 3 barges and an E boat. In addition he has executed 13 destructive attacks on locomotives; he has also participated in several successful attacks on enemy airfields. Flight Lieutenant Bryan has displayed high qualities of leadership, setting an inspiring example”. The Bedfordshire Times, dated 6th August 1943, added that “in a sweep, leading his squadron over enemy territory, he personally destroyed seven locomotives, which makes thirty-four now to his credit”. Locomotive attacks would have been spectacular as the 40mm cannon could blast the boiler clean off a train.

To put his honours into perspective, 4,018 DFC’s were awarded during WWII, plus 214 first and 5 second bars. John Michael Bryan was, therefore, one of just 214 officers to be awarded a bar to his DFC.

In August 1943, 137 Squadron returned to RAF Manston. During this month Bryan left 137 and became Commanding Officer of 198 Squadron who were also based at Manston. Bryan was Squadron Leader of 198 Squadron, which was one of the first Typhoon squadrons tasked with ground attack duties to the continent, from August 1943 to November 1943.

On 23rd September 1943, 198 Squadron were in action along the Mastgat (Netherlands) where they found a large tug towing barges. They left it smoking but quite a bit of flak came up and Bryan’s Typhoon was hit and badly damaged.

Four days later, on 27th September, Bryan once again led 198 Squadron to the Dutch coast. At Oosterschelde they found tugs and barges escorted by three 800 ton naval auxiliaries. These vessels put up a good protective screen which brought down two Typhoons. Bryan was again hit, this time in the starboard ammunition pan by a 20mm shell which exploded the remaining ammo, blowing a hole two feet across in the main plane. This caused such a loss of lift that Bryan had to use both arms and one leg to keep the stick hard over in order to fly back to base. Here again his troubles were not over for his right wing dropped suddenly as he came in to land, causing the Typhoon to twist over to the right in mid air. The right wing banged down hard and the whole aircraft swung so much that he changed direction to run through forty degrees to the right and covered quite a distance before rolling to a halt.

On 7th October 1943, John Michael Bryan and Vaughan Fittall shared a Focke-Wulfe 190 near Blankenberge, Belgium. The 190 came down in a field south-west of Tielt. Fittall recalls that he and Bryan enticed two of these German planes by pretending to be slower Hurricanes. Crossing the sea they throttled back with a bit of flap down and chased them back inland. Flight Lieutenant Fittall, who survived the war and moved back to his native New Zealand, said “Mike Bryan I can only describe as a good bloke and if you know anything about New Zealanders, you will know that it’s high praise”.

The Bedfordshire Times of 15th October 1943 reported that John Michael Bryan “has been engaged in some exciting encounters over enemy territory. Last week, in a running fight of fifty miles over tree-tops, he brought down a Focke-Wulfe 190”. This report is probably referring to the action encountered with Fittall.

The same paper then printed on 5th November 1943 that “some dramatic pictures of an attack by Typhoons on enemy supply shipping off the Dutch coast, which were published in the week-end newspapers, were taken by Squadron-Leader John Michael Bryan (DFC and Bar), youngest son of the Rev. Dr. J. Ingram Bryan and Mrs. Bryan of Milton Ernest, by means of a small cine-camera fitted in his plane which led the attack”.

On 30th November 1943, 198 Squadron supported a B-17 deep penetration raid into Germany. On this sortie the squadron caught a number of FW190s as they came into land at an airfield near Deelen. Four were claimed, of which one was destroyed by Bryan and one was damaged.

At the end of November 1943, John Michael Bryan was posted away for a rest. However, on 13th January 1944, he briefly visited 198 Squadron and took the chance to take part in a Ranger operation led by Squadron Leader Johnny Baldwin. Six Typhoons took part, taking advantage of bad weather to sweep airfields in the Montdidier, Juvincourt and Laon areas of France. At Poix, Bryan shot down a Caudron Goeland transport plane and a Messerschmitt 109.

Bryan returned as Commanding Officer of 198 Squadron in April and May 1944. He was then promoted in May 1944 and became Wing Leader of 136 Airfield and led 164 Squadron.

On 18th May 1944 Bryan, flying with 164 Squadron, encountered a number of Messerschmitt 109s. He fired at one from below, of which the results aren’t recorded, and another he fired at exploded. Bryan’s aircraft was hit during the engagement and one of his rockets had been dislodged, hanging down all the way back to base.


Fig 61 – Hawker Typhoon Mark 1b with the markings of 164 Squadron.

D-Day, 6th June 1944, saw Bryan lead 164 Squadron on a late morning operation strafing trucks and lorries. Late in the afternoon he led 164 to the Bayeux area, finding targets, such as trains and bridges, for their rockets. A battle ensued between the Typhoons and FW190s in which one from each side was lost. Two days later Bryan was back in action in the same area. This time they found a number of Messerschmitt 109s in the air. The ME109s attacked the Typhoons and Bryan claimed two in the ensuing scrap.

On Saturday 10th June 1944, John Michael Bryan’s luck ran out and he was shot down by flak two miles south-east of Falaise in Normandy. He was buried in the Bretteville-Sur-Laize Canadian Cemetery, in Calvados, France.

John Michael Bryan died at the age of just twenty-two. The few records that exist of his war record paint the picture of a very brave man and an exceptional leader. Like so many of his generation he was a true hero. The people of Milton Ernest and the rest of the country should be very thankful for him and for his like.


Fig 62 – Obituary of John Michael Bryan, taken from the Saturday 24th June 1944 edition of The Times.

8 thoughts on “John Michael Bryan, a World War II Hero

  1. I was named after John Michael Bryan, my father’s uncle and the brother of my grandfather Arthur E Bryan

    I was born 25 Jan 1945. My father Harold Ingram George Bryan served in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a navigator flying anti-submarine patrols off the east coast of Canada

    • James
      Thank you for making the connection. The man you were named after was a skilful and brave, and I was proud to research him.

    • thank you for this great article on John Michael Bryan. My father Medville Bryan (from Prince Edward Island, Canada) was first cousin to him; am doing family research, would like to get in contact with James Michael Bryan or any other relative.

    • James Michael Bryan, I would appreciate if you could contact me at email:, as I am doing family research of the Bryan family from O’Leary, PEI and on John Ingram Bryan branch. Thank you. Catherine Bryan

  2. The Bryan family, to which John Michael and his father belonged, originated in a small town in Canada: O’Leary, Prince Edward Island; there are many Bryan relatives still living there.

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