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WWii ace pilot, at 95, still remembers brave voices (1 vs 12 head-on); modern youth think Battle of Britain took place last year

By WcP.Story.Teller - Posted on 10 July 2015

’Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few’ - Winston Churchill on 20 August 1940

surviving World War 2 hero Battle of Britain ace pilot

RAF fighter planes WWII

1 Hurricane to meet 12 Messerschmitts head on


update March 5th 2016 marks 80 years since the first flight of the Supermarine Spitfire, which had a vital role defending the UK during the Battle of Britain The prototype Spitfire first flew from Southampton Airport in 1936 10 Jul 2015 - Tom Neil: "I can still remember my brave friends' voices" - 75 years on, a Hurricane ace remembers the Battle of Britain When I joined No 249 Squadron, I was one of the young ones, only 19 years old. And an opportunity to defend the nation came swiftly, on a brilliantly fine day in early July 1940, just before what is considered the official start of the Battle of Britain – the 75th anniversary of which I am proud to mark today with fellow veterans at Buckingham Palace.

When I was ordered off our base at Leconfield, Yorkshire, I rushed into the air with two other pilots in a lather of excitement. We were each flying a Hurricane which, while it did not have the legs of a Spitfire, or its sprightly acceleration in a dive, was rock solid and possessed an obvious ruggedness and strength. No shrinking violet, this.I saw the enemy immediately, about three miles away, a slim dark shape cruising as calm as you like between scattered white dumplings of cloud. I could scarcely believe my eyes. A German! When he saw us, the enemy made a very brave and calculated move; he turned in our direction and towards the coast, diving. We three reared up like startled pheasant chicks, dropped into line, then plummeted down on his aircraft which was making to fly between our legs. We were too slow. He made hard for a cloud ahead of us and just beat us to it. We shot straight in after him and out the other side. Then, like terriers around a rat-infested haystack, we raced up, down, in-and-out, over-the-top, underneath, and round the other side yet again. But he had disappeared. Vanished. And so, reluctantly, we turned for home. I was still wildly elated but terribly disappointed. Our first Hun. And we’d let the blighter get away.

A few days later, a different section of our squadron did actually shoot down a German plane. Having taken some juicy hits, he had flown inland before crash-landing in a field, three of the crew bailing out. Cock-a-hoop, our boys flew home, delighted with themselves. The squadron’s first victory. And the following day it was in all the papers. The pilot had been killed and the three who had taken to their parachutes, feeling pretty miserable no doubt, had staggered towards a farmhouse to surrender, whereupon the farmer’s wife had set about them with a pitchfork.

Over the course of the battle I went on to shoot down 13 enemy aircraft. Five is enough to be considered an “ace”. My dear old Hurricane, while not necessarily the fastest, the sleekest, the warmest, or the most beautiful fighter in Christendom, was strong, it was willing, and it worked. We became more than companions in battle, we were comrades – staunch and inseparable friends. But after the war, when I spoke to German fighter pilots, they revealed that only one or two hits with their explosive cannon ammunition was enough to bring down any of our fighters.

So how did we ever win the Battle of Britain? Hitler, at the head of his overwhelming army, was prevented from invading Britain because the RAF denied him the conditions to do so. If they been allowed to invade, it is more than likely they would have won. The Battle of Britain was what Churchill described “a hinge of fate”. Had No 249 Squadron and other Fighter Command units not prevailed, Europe and the world would be a very different place.

Such thoughts, however, were never in my adolescent mind in 1940. Never once, even when under the greatest stress, did I ever hear the word defeat mentioned. Such was the spirit in No 249 Squadron. Great, too, were the sacrifices made by my long-dead colleagues and friends.

Of the original 20 or so men I flew alongside 75 years ago, I am now, I believe, one of only two still alive. I have, over the years since, considered it extraordinary that, although I lived and fought with these men for so short a time, they remain so vivid in my memory. I still recall their voices, laughter, jokes and idiosyncrasies. But I remember more than that. I remember their bravery. It struck me most poignantly at one memorial service when a young officer read from the Book of Samuel: “In life and in death, they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.” Today we shall remember their great sacrifices and be forever grateful.

2015 - Four out of ten young adults are clueless about the Battle of Britain, survey reveals, as the Queen and Royal family prepare to mark its 75th anniversary today - Only half of all adults knew who “The Few” were, and one in ten 18 to 24-year-olds thought the Battle took place last year, with the same number thinking it was a Viking attack when presented with multiple choice answers.

Four out of ten young adults have no idea what the Battle of Britain was, according to research commissioned for the 75th anniversary of the RAF’s heroic defence of the skies.

The RAF Benevolent Fund polled 1,000 people for its survey as the Queen and other members of the Royal family prepare to commemorate the start of the Battle today.

Only half of all adults knew who “The Few” were, and one in ten 18 to 24-year-olds thought the Battle took place last year, with the same number thinking it was a Viking attack when presented with multiple choice answers.

The Battle of Britain began on July 10, 1940, with a series of co-ordinated Luftwaffe raids on shipping convoys in the Channel. RAF Fighter Command shot down 14 enemy aircraft and severely damaged 23 more at the start of a pivotal fight for aerial supremacy that lasted more than three months.

The 3,000 RAF fighter pilots held off the enemy, forcing Hitler to cancel Operation Sea Lion, the Nazi invasion of Britain, and prompting Sir Winston Churchill to declare that: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

"Never was so much owed by so many to so few" was a speech made by the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on 20 August 1940. The name stems from the specific line in the speech, Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few, referring to the ongoing efforts of the Royal Air Force crews who were at the time fighting the Battle of Britain, the pivotal air battle with the German Luftwaffe with Britain expecting a German invasion.

The first major campaign to be fought entirely by air forces. A crucial turning point."...if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour'."(Winston Churchill)
The Battle of Britain (German: Luftschlacht um England, literally "Air battle for England") is the name given to the Second World War air campaign waged by the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) against the United Kingdom during the summer and autumn of 1940. The Battle of Britain was the first major campaign to be fought entirely by air forces, and was also the largest and most sustained aerial bombing campaign to that date.

The Battle of Britain (German: Luftschlacht um England, literally "Air battle for England") is the name given to the Second World War air campaign waged by the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) against the United Kingdom during the summer and autumn of 1940. The Battle of Britain was the first major campaign to be fought entirely by air forces, and was also the largest and most sustained aerial bombing campaign to that date.

The objective of the Nazi German forces was to achieve air superiority over the Royal Air Force (RAF), especially its Fighter Command. Beginning in July 1940, coastal shipping convoys and shipping centres, such as Portsmouth, were the main targets; one month later, the Luftwaffe shifted its attacks to RAF airfields and infrastructure. As the battle progressed, the Luftwaffe also targeted factories involved in World War II aircraft production and ground infrastructure. Eventually the Luftwaffe resorted to attacking areas of political significance and using terror bombing strategy.

By preventing Germany from gaining air superiority, the British forced Adolf Hitler to postpone and eventually cancel Operation Sea Lion, a planned amphibious and airborne invasion of Britain. However, Germany continued bombing operations on Britain, known as The Blitz. The failure of Nazi Germany to achieve its objective of destroying Britain's air defences in order to force Britain to negotiate an armistice (or even surrender outright) is considered by historians to be its first major defeat in World War II and a crucial turning point in the conflict.

The Battle of Britain has an unusual distinction in that it gained its name prior to being fought. The name is derived from a famous speech delivered by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the House of Commons on June 18, more than three weeks prior to the generally accepted date for the start of the battle:

"... What General Weygand has called The Battle of France is over. The battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of a perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour'. "- Winston Churchill

*update* August 4, 2015
"A true gentleman and hero", Les Munro, the last surviving pilot from the Dambusters raids has died at the age of 96. Along with Leonard Chambers, who died in 1985, John Leslie Munro was one of two New Zealand members of the Dambusters crew. He joined the Royal New Zealand air force in 1941. On 16 May 1943, as part of 617 squadron, Munro piloted a Lancaster bomber in Operation Chastise, later immortalised as the Dambusters raids. Earlier this year, Munro announced his intention to sell his war medals, hoping to raise £50,000 for the upkeep of the Bomber Command memorial, which commemorates the 55,573 men who died in the second world war bombing campaign. Lord Ashcroft, the Tory peer who endowed London’s Imperial War Museum with the world’s largest collection of Victoria Cross medals, donated £75,000 to the memorial to allow Munro instead to donate his gallantry awards to the Museum of Transport and Technology (Motat) in Auckland.

At a ceremony at Motat in April, Munro handed over his gallantry medals, flight logbooks and other wartime memorabilia. “I am comforted by the thought of my medals being situated in close proximity to the Lancaster at Motat as I flew all but one of my operations in these planes,” he said. “I appreciate very much indeed that they will have some relationship.”

Following news of Munro’s death, Motat signalled its sadness, calling him “a true gentleman and hero”.


Image courtesy Wikipedia, UK Royal Mail, RAF Museum,, Getty Images, Rex, David Parker, and

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