Sunday, August 29, 2010

A salute to The Few, 70 years later

Today a special British Airways flight, an Airbus A321 airliner, carried 13 former Royal Air Force pilots, survivors of 'The Few' who defended their country during the Battle of Britain in 1940, on a tour of the area of the Battle. It was joined in formation flight by two historic fighters, a Spitfire and a Hurricane of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The Daily Mail reports:

Every Battle of Britain veteran on board this special commemorative flight had seen the formation before. But the last time most of them flew in it was 70 years ago.

Back then, in these same skies in which all of them had fought for their country, it was a matter of life and death. Now it was a matter of pride.

And so - as two of the most iconic aircraft of the Second World War made a victory flight alongside an airliner carrying 13 ex-RAF pilots - Britain paid tribute to The Few who risked their lives for freedom.

The British Airways A321 Airbus was taking the veterans on a tour of the coastline and mainland they defended so courageously in 1940 against Hitler's attempt to crush the country into submission. The oldest flyer was 97 now; the youngest 89. But none had forgotten the days when, as teenagers or young men in their early 20s, they overcame seemingly overwhelming odds to change the course of history.

Men like Tom Neil, 89 now, but then a 19-year-old Pilot Officer flying 'Spits and Hurries' with 249 Squadron (motto: With Fists and Heels) when the Battle of Britain loomed.

He saw dozens of his friends and colleagues killed, burned or wounded, but survived to fly 141 combat missions in eight months, bringing down 13 enemy aircraft, and winning the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar.

Gazing out of the window as the historic aircraft prepared to form their escort, he recalled: 'I don't think I was particularly skilled. I was just very good at ducking and weaving. I suppose I was reasonably successful. But I never thought when I turned 20 that I would ever reach the age of 21.'

Nearby, Flying Officer Ken Wilkinson, 91, who piloted Spitfires under the command of legless flying ace Douglas Bader, conceded he must have led a 'charmed life' to survive the war without a scratch. Some of his friends, he said, never made it beyond their first mission.

The special flight and historic escort was organised to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, to honour those who survived and to remember those who gave their lives.

There's more at the link, including a picture of the aircraft, old and new, in formation over the English coast.

It seems odd to realize that the Battle of Britain took place seventy years ago. My father served with the RAF during the Battle, and through the rest of the war. He died last year, God rest him . . . I hope his former comrades-in-arms were there to meet him, and exchange wartime memories over a few glasses of whatever the heavenly brew might be.



John Peddie (Toronto) said...

Thanks, Peter.

Wonderful to see a tribute like this.

Anonymous said...

well done lads, well done