The Hurricane – a personal view
March 26, 2021
The Hawker Hurricane is an example of private enterprise producing a superior aircraft to those built to Air Ministry specification. The highly successful Spitfire, Lancaster and Mosquito are among other aircraft built by private enterprise.
At the beginning of the Battle, the RAF was outnumbered by the Luftwaffe four to one. One big advantage the Hurricane had over the Spitfire was that its simple robust construction of stretched doped canvas over a wooden frame meant that it could get back to an airfield when quite badly damaged and be easily and quickly repaired. It was not unknown for it to be back in action the same day.
In combat, the Hurricane had one significant advantage over the formidable Messerschmitt bf109 (more commonly known as the Me109) in that it could out-turn it, a distinct advantage that enabled it to escape pursuit.
At the beginning of the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane and Spitfire worked well together, but when the Luftwaffe changed its tactics and decided to fly straight across the Channel at much higher altitude to bomb London, only the Spitfires could climb fast enough in the 20 minutes radar warning to gain the height advantage and position themselves with the sun behind them (essential strategy in any fighter attack). Nevertheless, the Hurricane went on to make a vital contribution to the RAF’s success in the Battle of Britain and after.
As well as doing sterling work in the Battle of Britain and Malta, variations of the Hurricane did vital work overseas as fighter bombers, tank busters and carryring out a range of other duties . One highly specialised duty (little known and therefore usually overlooked) was one that was as close as the RAF ever got to the Japanese technique of the Kamakazi, as it was a one way flight for both machine and pilot. This was the duty known as the MSFU, standing for Merchant Ship Fighter Unit.
The background to this was that as well as merchant ships crossing the Atlantic bringing their precious cargoes to Britain being sunk by German U-Boats, they were also bombed from the air by the Luftwaffe’s long range Condor bombers. These operated too far out in the Atlantic for any RAF fighters to reach them. The Navy’s aircraft carriers were fully occupied in other parts of the world and none could be spared.
A solution was suggested, but it could only be carried out by pilots who understood the enormous risks and would, nevertheless, volunteer. The idea was that a certain number of merchant ships in a convoy would have, along the length of their decks, a wide steel girder, with a steam catapult at its stern. This had in front of it a Hurricane, ready to go into action at a minute’s notice, with its pilot also ready. Once one of the Condors was seen overhead, the pilot would “scramble” into his machine and would be catapulted into the air. It would then attack and, hopefully, destroy its prey. There was then, of course, no chance of landing back on the ship, so the pilot had to ditch as near as possible to a merchant ship and hope to be picked up.
As with most things it’s not all good news, and the Hurricane was no exception. It is often asked why the Hurricane pilots seemed to suffer more serious burns than other fighter pilots.
First of all, of course, there were more Hurricane pilots (i.e. 39 Hurricane squadrons and 19 Spitfire squadrons in the Battle of Britain), so statistically, alone the chances were greater. Beyond that the construction, materials used and the layout of the machine were responsible.
In front of the pilot, on the engine side of the thin aluminium instrument panel, was an 85 gallon tank of high octane aviation fuel. Once this was hit, and caught fire (reaching several thousand degrees within seconds) it became, as one pilot described it “like sitting in front of a giant blow torch” ( Wing Commander Geoffrey Page DSO, DFC).
If the slab fuel tanks in the wings were hit and the contents set on fire, with no self sealing lining available at the time, more fuel poured out into the wings and added to the fire. What worsened the already serious situation was that where the wing roots joined the fuselage there were no sealing sheet metal strips, so the river of flaming fuel came flooding in around the pilot’s feet.
The fuselage, constructed with wooden slats and doped, stretched canvas, would be consumed in flames within seconds. The intense heat invariably rapidly distorted the sliding canopy, preventing, or at least delaying, the pilot’s escape. It was said by pilots that if it took longer than eight seconds then they would need extensive treatment with skin grafts, and probably reconstruction of bones.
A specialist burns treatment unit was set up at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, Sussex, under the brilliant and unconventional surgeon from New Zealand, Archibald McIndoe. Those treated there formed what became known as the “Guinea Pig Club” or ”McIndoe’s Army”.
March 24, 2021
Fighter Aces of the RAF in the Battle of Britain
Author: Philip Kaplan
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation, first published 2007, reprinted in new format, 2021 RRP £14.99
ISBN: 978 1 52677 499 6
Buy this book if you want to settle down to pass time with the deeds and misadventures of some distinguished RAF fighter pilots. Lockdown reading perhaps. Any obsessive (I raise my hand) who has read the memoirs and biographies of most of the pilots involved will find much which is familiar, but the author has collected varied material in one place.
There are some odd statements (“Air Commodore Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory” in 1940 for instance – a combination not appropriate for any stage of his career), some strange choices of photographs and poor captions, but plenty to enjoy too. However, the author does have form. In 2014 my friend Philip Curtis reviewed another of Mr Kaplan’s books for a Memorial Trust newsletter. His comments were generally favourable but he did complain of sub-standard captions and a reference to “Air Vice-Marshal” Dowding in 1940.
An “ace” in the RAF is somebody who has been credited with destroying at least five enemy aircraft in aerial combat. In reading the blurb for this book I inferred that there would be analysis of how such a pilot differs from his comrades. Apart from what one can glean from the individual stories this consideration is largely absent.
In particular, I suggest that an opportunity has been lost by the narrow choice of subjects. Bob Stanford Tuck, “Sailor” Malan, Geoffrey Page, Al Deere, Peter Townsend and Brian Kingcome were all officers in the Battle of Britain. All had the social standing required in those days to be accepted for the RAF College, Cranwell or otherwise to be judged suitable for officer status, from the outset.
How interesting it would have been to see the backgrounds of some of these Spitfire and Hurricane pilots compared with, say, Bill Franklin, a Flight Sergeant flying Spitfires on No 65 Squadron. “Gunner” Franklin (he had served as a Territorial in the Royal Artillery) was already an ace before the Battle of Britain started. He was the son of a labourer and was a former pupil of Thomas Street Central School, Limehouse, east London. He was commissioned in October 1940, shortly before his death.
Then there was Flight Sergeant “Grumpy” Unwin of No 19 Squadron who took 12 years of RAF service to be commissioned and three months of combat to become an ace. Sergeant Don Kingaby (No 92 Squadron) is mentioned twice, in passing, in the text, with no clue that he not only became an ace but the only man in the history of the service to be awarded the DFM and two bars. He differed from Franklin and Unwin in that he was clearly, in the classification of the time, “middle class” and had attended a “good school”.
What were the qualities that all these men shared that went towards the making of great fighter pilots? Why did the services, even the RAF, place such stress on “background” if it apparently mattered not at all when the overwhelming requirement was to destroy enemy aircraft?
As somebody who has visited the National Memorial to the Few many times, I am delighted that Mr Kaplan has included Geoffrey Page. There is no evidence (and none presented here) that he achieved ace status in the Battle of Britain, though he did later. Geoffrey overcame extensive “Hurricane burns” in 1940 to become a founder of the Guinea Pig Club, a Wing Leader and be awarded the DSO and DFC, suffering further serious injuries before the end of the war.
Anyone who enters the National Memorial site at Capel-le-Ferne today sees before them the results of Geoffrey’s vision and drive. When he died in 2000 the site was a more modest place than it is now but everything that has been done has been built on Geoffrey’s foundations.
Philip Kaplan quotes the eulogy to Geoffrey Page from his friend and fellow Battle of Britain Clasp holder, Sir Christopher Foxley-Norris, “Even by Battle of Britain standards he was the bravest of the brave ….. a modest and self-effacing man ……. if ever anyone had what has become known as ‘the right stuff’, he did.”
Feb 16, 2021
They Flew Hurricanes
Author: Adrian Stewart
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation, first published 2005, republished 2019 and 2020, RRP £14.99
ISBN: 978 1 52677 025 7
Excellent. A book all about the Hawker Hurricane and those who flew it. A book, too, which is not error-prone. One of my tests on an occasion like this is to see whether an author can spell the surname of Roland Beamont, the distinguished combat and test pilot. Adrian Stewart crosses that hurdle. Explaining his intentions Stewart states that he will “cut down on detail, take most of the background for granted” and “concentrate on the experiences of those who were involved with the Hurricane at the time.”
He keeps his word, with many pages which recall something that probably no reader of this review has experienced – what it was like to fly Hurricanes in action in various theatres of the Second World War.
An interesting statement comes from Beamont: “If the Hurricane was an inferior fighter in the Battle of Britain, nobody told the pilots.”
From February 1940 there is Peter Townsend’s account of surprising a Heinkel He 111.
“The effect of my guns was devastating. The bomber staggered, emitting a cloud of oily vapour which obscured my windscreen. Then, as if the pilot had collapsed over the controls, it tipped into a steep dive, at terrifying speed. Suddenly both wings were wrenched off with fearful violence and the dismembered fuselage plummeted into the sea, followed by a trail of fluttering debris. Only at that moment did I realize what I had done to the men inside. I felt utterly nauseated.”
The Hurricane in many manifestations is covered. If your main interest is France, Greece, Malta, North Africa or the Far East you will find material here. If you did not acquire They Flew Hurricanes on first publication, consider doing so now.
Men of The Battle Of Britain
Nov 24, 2020
The first edition of Men of the Battle of Britain by Kenneth G Wynn was published by Gliddon Books in 1989. It was quickly established as a standard work of reference, though, as a senior RAF officer stressed to me recently, it is considerably more than that. A supplementary volume followed in 1992 and a second edition appeared from CCB in 1999.
In early 2010 Ken Wynn had completed the manuscript for a third edition but was seeking a publisher. A benefactor came forward who acquired the rights from CCB and immediately donated them to the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust. “Wynn 3” appeared in 2015 from Frontline Books in association with the Memorial Trust. Its contents formed the basis of the Battle of Britain aircrew database which can be consulted electronically by visitors to the National Memorial at Capel-le-Ferne.
Ken Wynn, from his base in New Zealand, made an enormous contribution to recording the history of the Battle of Britain as did those who assisted him, including the late Bruce Burton who spent many hours immersed in the official records. The Memorial Trust salutes all that effort and achievement. It is determined to ensure that not only is the information preserved for future generations but that it is expanded and improved with the benefit of all the research carried out in recent years and the release of more records.
Entries continue to be revised and expanded and the Capel-le-Ferne database is updated from time to time. Now that space is not such a limiting factor it is possible to expand many of the entries to include more information on the family background of the subjects, their education, civilian careers and interests and other members of the family with military service.
Many people are contributing to this work. The Few themselves did so in the past and their families still do. Those who take a keen interest in the Battle often provide information and photographs. Special mention has to be made of the contributions made by Edward McManus, Gerry Burke and the genealogist, Gladys Armstrong. Support comes from individual Memorial Trust trustees, led by Richard Hunting, CBE, the Chairman.
Now Frontline Books, with the Memorial Trust, is publishing a further supplementary volume, the first for 28 years, containing many of the entries re-written since 2015 and newly-acquired photographs.
There is much additional information on RAF service. With the expansion of mini-biographies, readers of the new supplement can learn of two pilots with close links to James Bond (one of whom was related to James Bond). They can find that an obituary of a pilot killed in action in the Battle described him as having “a quiet voice and manner and a slow smile” and suggested that his time at Cranwell was “perhaps his happiest years”. There is the man whose paternal grandfather was a German tailor, the pre-war record clerk at Morris Radiators, the future ace whose introduction to flying was a joyride in an Avro 504 and the pilot, much of whose retirement was spent at the water’s edge, as a member of the fishing club at Leintwardine, Herefordshire. Another pilot, having retired from the RAF, would ride a scooter through London, carrying a rolled umbrella and wearing a bowler hat, while one of the Few boasted an ancestor who served in the Crimean War and went on to take formal possession of Cyprus for the British Crown.
The Supplement is available from the Trust by mail order @£20 per copy (ex P&P)
The Supplement can also be supplied bundled with a copy of the Third edition of Men of the Battle @£60 per bundle (ex P&P)
The Supplement can also be supplied bundled with a copy of the Special Edition of Men of the Battle which has a special binding and is signed by Members of the Few. This bundle will retail @ £275 per copy (ex P&P).
P&P will vary depending on destination
To order please contact the Trust via email@example.com
Oct 24, 2020
The Territorial Air Force: The RAF’s Voluntary Squadrons 1926-1957
Author: Dr Louise Wilkinson
Publisher: Air World, an imprint of Pen & Sword Books
Pre-war reservist aircrew played a significant part in winning the Battle of Britain, indeed the war. That point comes across clearly in this work which is, I understand, effectively a reproduction of Louise Wilkinson’s doctoral thesis.
The author is concerned with the men of what were originally the Auxiliary Air Force, the Special Reserve and the RAF Volunteer Reserve. She examines their recruitment and social background.
We are reminded that the pre-war behaviour of AAF officers did not always suggest the kind of dedication required to best Hitler. Thus we have Max Aitken, who would command No 601 (County of London) Squadron in 1940, recorded much later as saying, “My companions were a pretty high-spirited group many of whom I already knew from skiing and after skiing parties at St Anton. They were the sort of young men who had not quite been expelled from their schools, whom mothers warned their daughters against – in vain – who stayed up far too late at parties. Does that sort of young man still exist? I do not know but in those days they were quite common and they clustered in unusual density at the Headquarters of 601 Squadron.”
Fortunately for us, many of those young men, as well as partying, were prepared to fly Hurricanes into large German formations, and sometimes lose their lives in the process.
While 601 seems to have continued its high jinks after the war, Dr Wilkinson demonstrates that recruitment had changed for what quickly became the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, in a reconstituted form. She quotes from the Yorkshire Post of November 7 1946: “At present only officers and men who have served in the Air Force during the war are eligible to join”, and goes on to stress that social standing was no longer as important as it had been.
This is an excellent reference book for the dedicated student of the RAF or of social history. I suggest that those with a more general interest in the subject will also find it rewarding to dip into. Given that a thesis is aimed at academics and has its own style, trying to read the book from cover to cover would be a jerky experience.
There are rather a lot of errors and typos. Most of them are trivial but I was taken aback to be told that Squadron Leader Roger Bushell was killed by the Germans after escaping from Colditz (it was Stalag Luft III). “Bam” Bamberger, a great supporter of the Battle of Britain Memorial, was not a pre-war officer on No 610 (County of Chester) Squadron, nor was he awarded the DSO and bar. He was still a Sergeant Pilot in the Battle of Britain and later received the DFC and bar. On P128 there is somebody called “Stephen Mackay”; this appears to be a reference to Harbourne Mackay Stephen. The distinguished eye surgeon Sir Harold Ridley becomes Ridely at one point and so it goes on. Dr Wilkinson does not seem to have quite grasped the intricacies of RAF ranks. Some of the captions are very poor.
Having said all that, the book does contain the fruits of most welcome and detailed research. It is an important contribution to RAF historical literature.
RAF FIGHTER COMMAND ‘Defence of the Realm’ 1939 – 1945
Authors: Ron MacKay and Mike Bailey
Publisher: Fonthill Media Ltd. RRP £45
Much has been written about how the men of Fighter Command rose to the occasion and stopped the invasion of Great Britain in 1940 but this action did not come about by accident. MacKay and Bailey, in a book that runs to more than 500 pages, cover how Fighter Command came into existence, as well as its activity over the ensuing years.
The book sets the scene by briefly covering the early years of the Royal Air Force before starting on a history of Fighter Command. They cover the early years of the Command, during which Air Marshal Hugh Dowding set in place the structures and organisation that were to be so important in the early years of World War Two.
Dowding’s brief was to ensure that Fighter Command provided a barrier to any attempt at air superiority of British skies. He spent the years from the formation of Fighter Command in 1936 leading up to WW2 wisely, despite inheriting a badly depleted force, and produced an integrated command and control system which utilised the latest technology as well as tried and tested simple systems.
The book is then devoted, chapter by chapter and in some parts day by day, to Fighter Command’s role in the war, taking it though re-armament, changes in command and role and then its support of the offensive as the Allies retook Europe and defeated Nazism.
The book is well illustrated, but it is a pity that picture credits are sparse. The style of writing makes for a very readable piece but the lack of an index will make it of limited use to researchers.
The authors have made what could have been a very dry subject come alive in a work of diligence that fills some gaps in the history of a Command of the RAF upon which so much depended at the start of WW2.
The book is a worthy addition to the written history of the Royal Air Force – and a very worthwhile addition to the comprehensive library of Battle-themed books now housed in Hunting Lodge, the former visitor centre at Capel-le-Ferne that has been transformed into a fit-for-purpose library and resource centre – open to historians and researchers on request.
Make the most of your summer
The summer of 1940 was long and hot, but for the men of the Royal Air Force fighting the Battle of Britain it was far from relaxing.
Today we have the freedom to enjoy the sunshine and a few days off with the children, thanks to the bravery and sacrfice of the Few and the freedoms they preserved for us all.
The ideal summer attraction, of course, has to tick lots of boxes. It needs to be exciting, but it’s always great if the kids – and the grown-ups, for that matter – can pick up some fascinating facts at the same time. Fresh air is good, but an ‘indoors if wet’ option is vital in this climate. Easy car parking – tick; friendly café – tick…
The Battle of Britain Memorial at Capel-le-Ferne in Kent ticks all those boxes, along with one that is particularly important for families on a budget. While the audio-visual Scramble Experience at the heart of The Wing attracts a small charge, the rest of the site is free to visit, although there is a nominal car parking fee to offset the charity’s costs.
The Memorial offers a wealth of things to see and do and provides a place of calm reflection that adult visitors will appreciate while offering plenty of excitement for the youngsters, including the chance to get ‘up close and personal’ with our Spitfire and Hurricane replicas.
On certain days in the spring and summer, there is even a chance of seeing a real Spitfire or Hurricane on a circuit from Biggin Hill or Headcorn. Nothing makes a visit to the site quite so special as hearing the roar of a Merlin engine as a Spitfire comes into view and pays it own respects to the men Churchill named “the Few”.
It’s fun to look for your family name on the Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial wall, where the names of all those known to have flown in the Battle of Britain are listed. For those with a particular interest in any of the airmen, there are details of virtually all of them on our computerised database.
Our newest attraction in The Scramble Experience, meanwhile, gives visitors a chance to ‘shoot down’ enemy aircraft on a video screen while sitting inside a mock-up Hurricane cockpit. It’s free to Scramble Experience visitors and a great chance for the family to compete for the title of ‘Top Gun’.
At the heart of the Experience is a unique film, made for the Trust, which takes over most of one side of the room and the ceiling to show just what life was like for fighter pilots during the Battle of Britain. It was moving enough to bring one member of the Few close to tears the first time he saw it.
The Experience is full of hands-on activities that make finding out about the most important battle fought by this country in the 20th century a lot of fun, while for those of any age who want to find out even more, the Experience contains a huge amount of detailed information.
Much of that information comes from the Few themselves, in filmed interviews and in archive footage and recordings from 1940. There are even clips taken from the gun cameras fitted to some fighter aircraft during the war.
Younger children can dress up as fighter pilots, while everyone enjoys using the ‘plotting table’ that highlights the location of important wartime RAF installations and reveals more information about them.
A well-stocked gift shop at the site offers everything from pocket money-priced gifts for children to tee-shirts, replica aircraft, stamp sets, books, prints and other memorabilia, much of it signed by members of the Few to create something unique and special.
On the first floor of The Wing, overlooking the Channel, is the Cockpit Café, which has perhaps the best view of any café in Kent. Enjoy sandwiches, hot and cold drinks, beer and wine, ice cream and hot snacks while sitting on our balcony looking out towards France. Visit soon, have a great summer and spare a thought for those who made it possible.
So you think you’ve had a hard day?
Running a business can be tough. The challenge of finding new customers, the pressure of keeping existing clients happy, the never-ending paperwork and the almost inevitable staff issues can make the entrepreneur’s lot a far from happy one.
There are, of course, some great moments; landing that big contract, completing a challenging project or celebrating an award win to name a few. But there will also be challenges and setbacks along the way.
Tackling those challenges takes determination and a single-minded approach to getting the job done, particularly when the livelihoods of a loyal workforce depend on the business owner finding a way to solve the problem.
That determination to see the job through has echoes in the wartime spirit displayed by the pilots of the Royal Air Force when they faced the numerically superior Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain in 1940.
In that case it wasn’t just their colleagues that depended on their commitment, but the rest of the nation. With Hitler poised the other side of The Channel, preventing the Luftwaffe from achieving superiority in the air was the country’s priority.
It is a matter of record – but no less remarkable because of it – that the RAF won the day, with the fewer-than 3000 Allied aircrew standing firm to repel the larger enemy force and prevent an invasion.
Twenty-first century commerce is, of course, a far cry from the bravery and sacrifice displayed in the summer and early autumn of 1940, but there are some fascinating examples of the kind of determination that allowed nothing to get in the way of achieving the ultimate goal; freedom from tyranny.
While he was later perhaps better known as the man who sparked a constitutional crisis because of his love for Princess Margaret, Peter Wooldridge Townsend was a skilled pilot who was awarded the DFC after shooting down a Heinkel 111, the first enemy aircraft to fall on English soil during the war.
His bravery was reflected in the fact that he later received a Bar to the DFC, followed less than a year later by the DSO, while his determination to get the job done was highlighted when he injured his foot when landing by parachute after being shot down by a Messerschmitt Bf 109.
By now a Squadron Leader commanding No 85 Squadron during the Battle of Britain, Townsend knew that he would be replaced if he did not rejoin the squadron within three weeks, and he was determined not to let that happen.
In his autobiography Time and Chance he explained how he avoided being grounded: “My wound prevented me from walking, but not from flying, so, when I arrived at our new base, Church Fenton in Yorkshire, I took the precaution of going straight to the hangars, where I was helped into a Hurricane. Then I took off.
“When I reported to the doctor, he told me gravely: ‘It will be some time before you can fly again.’ ‘But I’ve just been flying,’ I replied, and he said no more.”
The end of the Battle, but not of the war
The Battle of Britain was perhaps the most important battle fought by this country in the whole of the last century, but for the men of the RAF it was just one campaign amongst many.
The victory over the German Luftwaffe in 1940 prevented a Nazi invasion of this country and preserved the UK as a base for the Normandy landings four years later, but in the meantime there were other aerial battles to be fought.
For many pilots, including Pilot Officer Eric Bidgood, the Battle of Britain was merely a curtain-raiser to the even more daunting challenge of attempting to help relieve the siege of Malta.
Bidgood, who joined the RAF on a short service commission and began his training as a pupil pilot in March 1939, joined No 266 Squadron at Sutton Bridge towards the end of that year before moving to Digby to join No 229 Squadron, with which he flew in the Battle of Britain.
After flying his last operational sortie on September 11, some seven weeks before the official end of the Battle, Bidgood joined No 85 Squadron, but before tasting action with his new unit he was posted to No 1 RAF Depot, Uxbridge, en route to Malta. Sadly, he never reached his destination.
It was the opening by the Axis powers of a new front in North Africa in June 1940 that had increased Malta’s strategic value to both sides in the second world war.
British air and sea forces on the island, which Churchill described as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” were able to attack Axis ships transporting vital supplies and reinforcements from Europe, something Rommel knew could spell defeat for Axis powers in the area.
There followed a bombing mission of unprecedented intensity, designed to starve Malta into submission by attacking its ports, towns and cities as well as Allied shipping supplying the island.
It was into that maelstrom that pilots like Bidgood, who had survived the Battle of Britain, were sent, tasked with taking out the bombers and protecting the shipping convoys. Many who had seen off the Luftwaffe in the summer of 1940 later said defending Malta was a far more harrowing experience.
Such was the urgency to defend the island that Bidgood did not even reach Uxbridge but instead reported directly to the aircraft carrier HMS Argus, which later sailed from King George V Dock in Glasgow with 12 Hurricanes on board, together with two Blackburn Skuas of the Fleet Air Arm.
In mid-November the Argus sailed from Gibraltar with the aim of taking the two flights of six Hurricanes, each led by one of the two Skuas, within flying distance of the besieged island. Only four of the 12 aircraft were to reach land.
Bidgood was one of the six pilots in the ill-fated second flight. After leaving the carrier, a series of mishaps saw each of the aircraft run out of fuel and fall, one by one, into the sea. It has been suggested that they took off too far to the west of the island to be clear of the Italian fleet and that they encountered strong headwinds.
Another member of Churchill’s Few, Blair Eustace Galloway White, also followed up a respectable score in the Battle of Britain with service in Malta.
White, flying with No 504 Squadron in the Battle, claimed a probable Bf 109, destroyed a Dornier 17 and a Bf 110 and damaged a Bf 109 and a Heinkel 111.
Flight Lieutenant White was posted to Malta in October 1942, joining No 1435 Squadron at Luqa as a Flight Commander before being given command of 185 Squadron at Hal Far in November.
He fell ill with jaundice in January 1943 and relinquished command but in May took over No 229 Squadron at Krendi, carrying out offensive sweeps and bombing attacks against Sicily. On 5 July 1943 White was reported missing after failing to return. He was just 28.
Like many of those who flew in the Battle of Britain, Flt Lt White had earlier served in the Battle of France, where the RAF made a last-ditch attempt to stop the advancing German forces.
Shot down on 14 May 1940, he baled out, wounded, and was repatriated on the last ship to leave Dieppe.
Towards the end of the Battle of Britain, White took off from Filton with Sergeant R T Holmes on an interception sortie, but the pair became lost in fog and were diverted to Cardiff.
After landing safely they had breakfast with renowned flier Amy Johnson, one of the female pilots serving with the Air Transport Auxiliary, delivering aircraft of all kinds from factories to front-line squadrons around the country, before returning to Filton.
Bring your own chairs
It is always fascinating to look back on history and to see how things have changed over time.
The history of the Battle of Britain is, of course, fundamental to the work of the Trust and is at the core of our efforts to inform and educate future generations.
But after more than a quarter of a century honouring the veterans of the Battle of Britain at the site at Capel-le-Ferne, the charity is beginning to create a history of its own. As the site has developed, so the Trust has changed, becoming steadily more professional over the years.
Supporters from the early days who are sadly no longer with us would surely marvel at the changes at the clifftop site. The simple, poignant Memorial they would instantly recognise is still there, but joined now by a high-tech, Spitfire wing-shaped visitor centre and a thriving business venue come library and resource centre.
While last year marked the 25th anniversary of the unveiling of the Memorial, this year’s 7 July commemoration will be the 25th anniversary of the first Memorial Day, which was held the year after the unveiling.
Trust secretary Patrick Tootal, still the driving force behind the Trust and the many events it organises, recently turned up a copy of the invitation letter that invited members of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association to the 1994 event.
Neatly typed in the days before word processors took over – and long before every communication was sent by email or via a Whatsapp group – there is even evidence of the judicious use of Tipp-ex at one point (other correcting fluids are, presumably, available).
Reassuringly, the Trust’s logo has not changed over the years, although the incorporation of the Fighter Association is highlighted on the slightly updated version now in use.
The veterans were invited to a “very informal affair, commencing at 1100 with a short service” and followed by “an exciting display of World War II aircraft” from Duxford’s Fighter Collection.
The 25th anniversary event will follow much the same lines, with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight providing this July’s exciting display, but the small print regarding the weather hasn’t changed over the past quarter of a century.
In more recent years the Trust has provided lunch for its VIP guests – most of whom pay for the privilege as the charity is still working to the “very restricted budget” mentioned in the 1994 missive – but back then the author of the letter, no less than Geoffrey Page* himself – advised guests to “get together with old chums and retreat to the nearest tavern”.
The lack of budget meant the Trust was on that occasion “not able to provide either loos or chairs”, with Wing Cdr Page adding “if you have a fold up version that might be useful”. One can only assume he meant a fold up chair, not a fold up loo…
As planning continues for this year’s Memorial Day it is reassuring to know that the format has remained very similar, although the budget now runs to luxurious mobile facilities.
The one sadness that was always inevitable, but probably far from the minds of those who gathered back in 1994, is the lack of representation by the Few. Wing Cdr Paul Farnes DFM was the sole representative at the 2018 commemoration, just a few weeks short of his 100th birthday. We can only hope he may make it to Capel-le-Ferne this July.
*Wing Commander Geoffrey Page was shot down on 12 August 1940 while flying a Hurricane with No 56 Squadron. He baled out, badly burned, and spent more than two years in hospital, undergoing plastic surgery at the Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, as one of Archie McIndoe’s ‘guinea pigs’. He later went back on active service and emerged with a DSO and DFC*. He was awarded the OBE in 1995.
It was Wing Cdr Page’s determination to see the men with whom he had served honoured in some way that saw the Trust formed and the National Memorial to the Few unveiled at Capel-le-Ferne in July, 1993. A founding Trustee, he died on 3 August 2000.
It’s a numbers game
A glance through the visitors’ books at the Memorial will inevitably highlight the fact that we attract visitors from all over the world, but it still came as a surprise to discover that in the past 25 years we have welcomed people from a staggering 90 nations.
There has been a succession of visitors’ books at the Memorial since it was unveiled in 1993, and it is always interesting to leaf through them and read the entries. Extracts are posted on social media from time to time, with most centred on remembrance and on the peace and tranquillity of the site.
Since 2015, when The Wing was opened, some of the comments have also mentioned the educational and learning aspects of the site, which is pleasing since that is something The Scramble Experience was designed to enhance, reflecting the fact that the then surviving members of The Few were keen to leave a legacy that highlighted their experiences in the Battle of Britain.
It is clear, then, that we have a Memorial with some great facilities that people enjoy, and one that deserves – and needs – visitors.
It is the NATIONAL Memorial to The Few but it sits on the nation’s southern extremity, not by accident but by design, since it sits under the skies in which much of the Battle was fought and within sight of France, the base in 1940 from which Hitler planned to launch his invasion. On a clear day the French coastline is clearly visible.
It is situated in an area of Kent – Hellfire Corner – that many people know about, but the question we keep asking ourselves is how many of them know about the Memorial. The answer, it seems, is quite a significant number if the visitors’ books are anything to go by – although we would inevitably like it to be higher.
The entries are many and varied, although statistically invalid in terms of overall visitor numbers, since not only is signing voluntary but each comment can represent a single person, a family or a group.
It is where our visitors come from that is so fascinating. The infamous 80:20 rule almost applies since, unsurprisingly, 79% of the entries are from UK visitors. Of the remaining entries, the larger representations come from the USA, Australia, Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand, France Poland and Czechoslovakia – the major allies of Britain in World War II. Germany, though, is also well represented and its people have contributed some of the more moving comments.
Some of the more unexpected nationalities include Vietnam, Belize, Senegal, Egypt and Peru, but wherever they come from our visitors are assured of a warm welcome to this unique site on the clifftop at Capel-Le-Ferne.
In all, since Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother opened the Memorial in 1993, visitors from 90 nations have signed the book. Nearly 38,000 entries have been made, by visitors ranging from children writing in their best primary school printing to Heads of State and Government. All were equally welcome.
As the site enters its second quarter century, wouldn’t it be good to get to a century of countries represented in the books and 50,000 entries?
The site facilities are open every day of the year (except for a short Christmas break) at 10am daily, and entry is free, although there is a small charge for parking. Entry to The Scramble Experience is by paid ticket but the rest of the facilities are free for visitors to enjoy at their leisure.
Even when the weather is cold or rainy the Memorial can be viewed from the warm cover of The Wing and a nice cup of tea or coffee awaits in the café with (probably) one of the county’s best views across the Channel.
Isn’t it about time you looked for a room with a view?
We all love a meeting, don’t we? Sometimes we even have meetings about meetings. We can fill entire days with meetings – often leaving with nothing more than a new winner for the next round of buzzword bingo and a mild case of sensory deprivation.
And there is always one in the room who loves the sound of their own voice, isn’t there? You politely look for an escape route but in a badly lit, low ceilinged room with no windows and just one door, you are trapped until Captain Conceited has finished talking.
Away day meetings can be just as colourless. Why are all hotel meeting rooms painted magnolia? Is magnolia really the catalyst for creative thought and inspiring discussion? Why choose to go away from the office to somewhere even less stimulating?
There are, of course, some key criteria for selecting a meeting room – things like space, facilities and accessibility. But I would like to add ambience and environment to that list of considerations if you want your session to be truly productive.
Surely there can be nothing more inspiring than seeing a huge expanse of deep blue water? The sea ozone alone is enough to enliven the senses. How about adding in the stunning landscape of the East Kent coast? Add to the mix a place of national, global even, historic significance and the mind is truly engaged. And if that wasn’t enough, how about having a Spitfire and Hurricane parked right outside the meeting room?
You can have all of that, and more, for the fraction of the cost of conventional meeting rooms, here at the National Memorial to the Few. The newly refurbished Hunting Lodge is an ideal environment to contemplate, stimulate and co-ordinate a meaningful and actionable meeting, training session or more informal gathering. You even have lots of opportunities for R&R during the day – by taking in the Memorial, interacting with the Scramble Experience or simply taking a break and taking in the views from the first floor Cockpit café.
And you may even discover you have a relative who fought in the Battle of Britain. That’s better than a magnolia room and an overpriced custard cream in anyone’s book, right?
Just to cover off the more pragmatic considerations, here’s what else we have to offer…
- Space for up to 50 people
- Ample parking, just minutes from the M20 and mainline train stations
- Meeting rooms with natural light and high ceilings
- Modern rooms with regulated heating, air conditioning and windows
- All rooms feature AV equipment, with a large drop-down projection screen in the Geoffrey Page Centre
- Plenty of power sockets and full WIFI connectivity
What are you waiting for? Book a room with a view, and so much more, for your next meeting. Simply call Jules Gomez on 01303 249292 or email Manager@battleofbritainmemorial.org
Welcome to 2019
I’ve never really been into New Year’s Resolutions. That’s not simply because, like most people, I’m not good at keeping them, but because I tend to think that if something is worth doing it’s worth doing not just well, but now. If you feel unfit in September, why wait until 1 January to join a gym? Spending too much of your summer on social media? Stop now, not on 31 December.
But if resolutions are not on the agenda as we reach the turn of the year, reflections certainly are. This strange no-man’s-land between Christmas and New Year is a time to wonder, not just about what day of the week it is, but about what the future has in store and what the past year delivered.
For the Trust, reflecting on 2018 means looking back with a certain amount of pride, though tinged with some sadness, and forward with hope and optimism.
The year was a major milestone not just for the RAF, which celebrated its 100th birthday, but also for the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust, which marked 25 years since the National Memorial to the Few was unveiled by Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.
While we played our part in the national celebrations, including welcoming the RAF 100 relay torch ‘baton’ to the site, ferried in style by the Aston Martin Red 10, we also marked our own anniversary in style.
In April, just over a month before Red 10 arrived, escorted by a fleet of other impressive Aston Martins, the Trust unveiled its new library and resource centre, created by modernising and upgrading Hunting Lodge.
Up until 2015, Hunting Lodge served the Trust well as the site’s visitor centre, housing a small shop and café, toilets and an office, having been opened 20 years earlier in July 1995.
The new Wing building, officially opened in March 2015 by Her Majesty The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, saw Hunting Lodge forced into an early retirement, but it was not to prove much of a break for this loyal member of the team.
Remodelled by Wing architects Godden Allen Lawn, a team so supportive that partner Nick Lawn is now a Trustee, Hunting Lodge has a new role as home to the Trust’s impressive library of Battle of Britain-themed books. The bright and airy space also works well as a meeting venue for local businesses – just ask the site manager for details.
Hunting Lodge was nowhere to be seen when four of our current supporters first got involved with the Trust.
Brenda and Martyn Halls, Sylvia Coles and Gwen Beaumont have been around since day one and were on hand to watch the Memorial’s unveiling in 1993. This December, in company with the Trust’s immediate past president, Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, they celebrated a quarter of a century of support for the charity.
As well as opening the re-imagined Hunting Lodge, April also saw the unveiling of new black granite squadron badges around the National Memorial to the Few, replacing the weather worn badges that had soaked up the salty air of the past 25 years. The new badges also put right one slight anomaly which had seen a handful of the insignia displaying the ‘wrong’ Queen’s crown instead of the more accurate King’s crown.
As for sadness, this was a year which saw a number of the Few leave us, amongst them Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum, perhaps better known to the general public as the author of First Light, and Wing Commander Tom Neil, who achieved ‘Ace’ status as a Hurricane pilot with No 249 Squadron.
While it’s always sad to lose old friends (although in my case I guess it would be less presumptuous to call them acquaintances), there is considerable consolation in thinking back to their exploits of 78 years ago. I am sure there were many occasions in the summer of 1940 when Geoffrey, Tom and the remaining members of the Few still with us (including Wg Cdr Paul Farnes, now a remarkable 100 years old) were far from confident they would survive into their twenties, let alone their nineties.
And the future? One of the surprising features about working with the Trust is the realisation that the exploits of the Few continue to inspire young people as well as older generations. Watching teenagers enjoy The Scramble Experience and soak up the atmosphere of the Memorial site, clearly moved by the tales of bravery and sacrifice it represents, is reassuring. We WILL remember them.