b. 14/06/1913 Wimbledon, Surrey. d. 09/12/1941 Malaya.
Arthur Stewart King Scarf (1913-1941), known to the family as John, and to many friends as “Pongo”, was born in Wimbledon, Surrey on 14th June 1913. Educated principally at Kings College, Wimbledon, he gained little distinction academically, and he channelled most energy into his sporting activities. He played rugby for his school, and his non interest in academics almost got him expelled from the College. On leaving the College in 1930, he took up employment in an insurance office, but the atmosphere didn’t suit him, and he applied for the Royal Navy.
His lack of academic qualifications though stymied his application to the Royal Navy and he was rejected. Instead, in January 1936, he applied to join the RAF for pilot training, and was accepted by a discerning interview board whose decision was based on potential rather than paper qualifications. For his first thre months he underwent initial flying instruction at the AST, Hamble on Avro Cadet biplanes; then progressed to 9 Flying Training School, Thornaby, flying Hawker Hart trainers under the skilled guidance of veteran fliers Squadron Leader D’Arcy Grieg DFC AFC and Flight Lieutenant John Grandy (in later years, Chief of Air Staff, RAF).
On graduation to pilot on 11th October 1936, he was posted to 9 Squadron at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire to fly the Handley Page Heyford bombers with which the unit was then equipped. His stay with 9 Squadron was brief and, after a short detachment to 206 (GR) Squadron at Hemswell on 20th March 1937, flying Hawker Hind bombers. Just 4 weeks later, on 18th April, he was posted to Abingdon, Berkshire to form a new unit, 62 Squadron, flying Hinds, which moved to RAF Cranfield in June 1937. Promoted to Flying Officer, he was immediately detached to Manston in the summer of 1937 for a short navigation course, then rejoined A Flight, 62 Squadron at Cranfield.
62 Squadron then converted to Bristol Blenheim I bombers in February 1938, and when war looked imminent the following year, they were posted to Singapore via India, and arrived at Tengah airfield, Singapore, though for two years they saw no active service. The routine was exercises, training flights, and manoeuvres including mock dogfights and bombing runs. In February 1941, they changed bases and moved north to Alor Star in the Kedah Province, close to the neutral Siam (Thailand) border. Then, in December 1941, Japan struck. They launched an invasion force at Kota Bahru on the east coast, and five RAF Squadrons were detailed to attack at first light on the invaders.
On 9th December 1941 in Malaya, near the Siam border, all available aircraft had been ordered to make a daylight raid on Singora (where the Japanese Army was invading), in Siam. Squadron Leader Scarf, as leader of the raid, had just taken off from the base at Butterworth when enemy aircraft swept in destroying or disabling all the rest of the machines. Scarf decided nevertheless to fly alone to Singora. Despite attacks from roving fighters he completed his bombing run and was on his way back when his aircraft became riddled with bullets and he was severely wounded, his left arm had been shattered, he had a large hole in his back and was drifting in and out of consciousness. He managed to crash-land the Blenheim at Alor Star, without causing any injury to his crew, and was rushed to hospital where he died two hours later.
Working at the hospital where he passed away, was his wife, Elizabeth (known as “Sally”) a nurse, whom he had married in Penang in April 1941. She had volunteered to work at Alor Star Hospital to be near her husband. She donated blood to try and help save his life in the operating theatre. Sadly, he collapsed and died soon after he last saw her and squeezed her hand and said “Keep smiling, Sal” Arthur was laid to rest in Taiping War Cemetery, Malaya.
In the chaos of the Malayan campaign, most records were lost or destroyed, and it was not until 1946 that the full story of Scarf’s heroism was brought to the notice of the RAF authorities. He was immediately recommended for a posthumous VC, and this was approved and then gazetted on 21st June 1946; his widow receiving the medal at an investiture on the 30th June. Shortly afterwards, his parents donated a sum of money to the RAF to create the Scarf Trophy, to be awarded to the Far East Air Force Squadron considered best in weaponry. Scarf’s medals were on loan to the RAF Museum, Hendon for a number of years. They were sold at Spink & Sons, London on 27th April 2022 for a hammer price of £550,000. The purchaser has yet to be revealed. It has now been revealed that the purchaser is an overseas buyer and a temporary block has been put on the sale in the hope of keeping the medal group in the UK. The RAF Museum started a fundraising campaign in January 2023 to attempt to raise the £660,000 they believe will keep the group in the UK. Following a large media campaign both in national newspapers and on social media, it was announced on 1st May 2023 that the funds had been raised to match the auction sale price. The medals will go on display at the Royal Air Force Museum in Hendon in the summer of 2023.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL AIR FORCE MUSEUM, HENDON, LONDON (from Summer 2023).
BURIAL PLACE: TAIPING WAR CEMETERY, MALAYA.
PLOT II, ROW G, GRAVE 14.
Brian Drummond – Image of the Scarf VC Stone at the Bomber Command, Lincoln.
Spink’s – Images of the Scarf VC Medal Group and the reverse of his Victoria Cross.
Abi Terry – Image of the Scarf VC plaque on the Stratford Upon Avon Rowing Club Memorial.