DATABASE OF THE FEW
The Battle of Britain Memorial Trust database is a remarkable and constantly expanding research resource held at the National Memorial to the Few.
It contains biographical information on every one of the almost 3,000 Allied aircrew known to have qualified for the “immediate” award of the 1939-1945 Star with Battle of Britain Clasp – known as ‘the Few’.
In more and more cases, information on social and educational backgrounds and civilian jobs is being added to the details of service careers. Often reference is also made to relatives who served in the forces or performed wartime civilian roles.
At the heart of the database is the material compiled by Kenneth G Wynn for his definitive work of reference, Men of the Battle of Britain. All the rights to the book were acquired in 2010, and donated to the Memorial Trust, by an anonymous well-wisher.
The first edition of Men of the Battle of Britain appeared to instant acclaim in 1989. A supplementary volume appeared in 1992. In 1999 the second edition was published. Under the auspices of the Memorial Trust, Frontline Books brought out the third edition in 2015 and a further supplementary volume was released in 2020.
Ken Wynn’s work benefited from the assistance of many of the Few and their families, as well as from contributions from the late Bruce Burton and other researchers.
A similar situation exists today. Geoff Simpson, FRHistS acts as consulting editor for the database. He and the Trust acknowledge the continuing contributions of relatives of the aircrew, of Edward McManus (who curates the website bbm.org.uk), Gerry Burke, Gladys Armstrong (genealogist) and many others interested in the events of 1940.
KENNETH G WYNN
28/6/1925 - 10/5/2020
Kenneth George William Wynn was born in London on 28 June 1925. For much of his early life he lived in Southall, Middlesex. He joined the RAF during the Second World War and was sent for aircrew training in South Africa. However, the war ended before he had the chance to fly operationally and he was released, having reached the rank of Sergeant. He then worked as a draughtsman and for a seller of rare books in London, where he specialised in military titles.
Ken Wynn moved to New Zealand in 1973, becoming a naturalised citizen four years later. He worked as a draughtsman again and lived for many years in Auckland in the country’s North Island. In England he had had three daughters with his first wife. His second wife, known professionally as Anah Dunsheath, is an artist, sculptor and bookseller.
Frequently Ken came back to the UK in September to attend the Battle of Britain service of Thanksgiving and Rededication in Westminster Abbey as well as other events. He would tour the country meeting veterans and fellow researchers.
In addition to Men of the Battle of Britain, Ken wrote A Clasp for the Few, self published in 1981, which told the stories of New Zealanders who flew in the Battle of Britain. He also produced volumes on U-boat operations in the Second World War and the charge of the Light Brigade.
Ken Wynn died in Auckland on 10 May 2020, aged 94.
The late Kenneth G Wynn, with copies of the third edition of Men of the Battle of Britain, at a launch event at Hatchards bookshop, Piccadilly London, on 18 September 2015.
WE NEED YOUR HELP
The Trust is always on the lookout for additional information and photographs on the men who came to be known as the Few. A recent step forward has been the donation to the Trust of the archive of Dr Mark Whitnall, who has made a particular study of Battle of Britain aircrew with Nottinghamshire associations.
If you have material you would like to share with us, please contact:
Geoff Simpson FRHistS by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
RESEARCHING THE FEW?
The database, held in The Wing at the Battle of Britain Memorial, Capel-le-Ferne, is available to academics, authors and researchers, studying the Battle of Britain. To place an enquiry or arrange a visit please contact the site by emailing email@example.com
At the Hatchards event in 2015 Ken Wynn (centre) was joined by four of the few. From left to right, they are: Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum DFC, Squadron Leader Tony Pickering, Wing Commander Paul Farnes DFM and Flying Officer Ken Wilkinson. All have since sadly left us.
Personnel of No 602 Squadron, 1940
When did the Battle of Britain take place?10 July – 31 October 1940. These were the dates favoured by Air Chief Marshal Dowding who had led Fighter Command in the Battle, though he accepted that they were arbitrary.
Why was it such an important part of the war?In the early summer of 1940 Germany had conquered France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark and Norway. Hitler contemplated invading Britain and might have done so if there had been a reasonable prospect of an invasion force crossing the Channel without heavy losses. Because the German Luftwaffe failed to eliminate the threat to the invasion posed by the RAF, the invasion never materialised.
The Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall at Capel-le-Ferne contains the names of the men who took part in the Battle. How were these names arrived at?In 1945 the Air Ministry announced that participants in the Battle would be entitled to the “immediate” award of the 1939-1945 Star with Battle of Britain Clasp. This award was to go to Aircrew who had made at least one operational sortie with an “accredited” unit under the control of RAF Fighter Command between the specified dates. The list of accredited units was amended in a series of further Air Ministry Orders until 1961. There are 71 such units. The award was only available to fighter aircrew.
How many Allied airmen took part in the Battle of Britain?No one is certain. There are 2,941 names on the Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall, but the actual number is probably slightly higher
My grandfather flew in the Battle – why is his name is not on the Wall?This may be because your relative did not fly operationally between the specified dates or because his service was in Bomber or Coastal Command, Army Co-operation aircraft, etc. If you feel that your relative has been overlooked, then the normal method of making the case is to produce a relevant reference to him in his squadron’s operations record book (likely to be held at The National Archives, Kew) or a clearly operational flight in his logbook, with the page signed by the CO or Flight Commander. If you wish to pursue a claim contact the Memorial Trust or the Air Historical Branch (via the RAF website).
Why did some Coastal Command and Fleet Air Arm personnel received the Clasp?Some Coastal Command and FAA squadrons were attached to Fighter Command during the Battle, enabling some of their aircrew to qualify for the Clasp. In addition some FAA pilots were attached to Fighter Command squadrons.
Why does the Trust refer to aircrew, not pilots?"Some units in the Battle were equipped with Blenheim, Beaufighter or Defiant aircraft, which were multi-crewed and included air gunners.
How many Allied airmen were killed in the Battle?The answer depends on definition. For example, one man was killed while on leave and another was standing on the ground when a landing aircraft struck him. A booklet published by the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust lists 534 aircrew who died during the Battle or were mortally injured and died later.
Were all those who took part from this country?Far from it. Overseas participants included men from, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Newfoundland, South Africa, Rhodesia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, France, Belgium the United States and Ireland. One Air Gunner had been born in Austria and was officially stateless.
Who was the highest scorer in the Battle of Britain?For a variety of reasons, none of the “league tables” of scores by Allied airmen can be relied on. Some people over claimed and others under claimed. Some intelligence officers were tougher than others in questioning claims. Many historians now accept that the highest scoring Allied pilot in the Battle was Sergeant Josef Frantisek, DFM, a Czechoslovakian flying with the Polish No 303 Squadron. He is often credited with 17 enemy aircraft destroyed. He was killed in a flying accident on 8 October 1940.
Who was Geoffrey Page?Geoffrey Page was a 20-year-old Pilot Officer flying Hurricanes with No 56 Squadron in the Battle. On 12 August 1940 he was shot down and baled out into the sea with grievous burns. He was rescued and underwent many operations at the Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, where he became a founder member of The Guinea Pig Club. Later in the war Geoffrey returned to action and earned the DSO, DFC and bar, before being injured again. In the 1980s he founded the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust and was the driving force in creating the National Memorial. He died in 2000.
Who was Christopher Foxley-Norris?The future Air Chief Marshal Sir Christopher Foxley-Norris was one of the Army Co-operation pilots who converted to fighters in 1940 at a time of desperate need. He flew Hurricanes in the Battle with No 3 Squadron. Later in the war he became one of the leading pilots in the RAF specialising in low level attacks on ships bringing industrial supplies to Germany and was awarded the DSO. Sir Christopher held senior commands in the post-war RAF. He was President and a great benefactor of the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust and a long serving Chairman of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association, of which only “the Few” may be full members. He died in 2003.
What does "Scramble" mean?"Scramble is an RAF expression meaning “take off immediately”.
Did the RAF win the Battle of Britain?In the sense that no invasion was attempted, then “yes”. Historians continue to argue over the finer points of what took place.
Was Fighter Command outnumbered?It depends on your definition, which aircraft are included, etc. In absolute terms the answer is “yes”.
Were the pilots really all very young?Many were teenagers and in their early 20s. Plenty were in their later 20s. Some were in their 30s and a few were over 40. We think the oldest man to qualify for the Battle of Britain Clasp was 51-year-old Defiant air gunner, Pilot Officer Sydney Carlin.
Which was the best fighter - Spitfire, Hurricane, Messerschmitt Bf 109 or Messerschmitt Bf 110?"Many pilots felt that there was little to choose between the Spitfire and the 109. Each had advantages over the other. The Hurricane was an older design than the Spitfire, was slower and could only operate effectively at a lower altitude but it could turn more tightly than both the Spitfire and the 109 and pilots often felt that it could take more punishment than the Spitfire. On the other hand, the design of the Hurricane meant that men flying it were in more danger of serious burns if the aircraft was hit. The Bf 110 normally carried a crew of two and was slower and heavier than the other types.
The seated airman at the heart of the Memorial is wearing an Irvin jacket. Were these worn during the Battle?Yes; there are many photographs and accounts of veterans to demonstrate the point. Apart from authenticity, a reason for the “seated airman” to wear a jacket is that it means we do not know his rank, nationality or aircrew trade.