Friends, family, and the wider ‘family’ of the Royal Air Force gathered at St Clement Danes Church in London on Thursday (8 November) to bid farewell to Wing Commander Tom Neil, DFC*, AFC and his wife of 69 years, Eileen.
Eileen, who was stationed at RAF Kenley as a plotter during the Battle of Britain before moving to Biggin Hill, where she became a Flight Officer working in the underground operations room, died in August 2014. After husband Tom joined her on 11 July this year, just a few days before his 98th birthday, their sons Terence, Ian and Patrick decided to hold a joint memorial service for the devoted couple.
The service was a moving combination of rousing hymns, familar music, poetry and tributes from author James Holland and Patrick Neil, who recalled his father’s sparkling sense of humour. He told how his father was asked recently, while talking to a group of schoolchildren, about the kind of counselling that had been on offer in 1940, when the casualty rate in battle could be as high as 50 per cent. “Counselling? We had enough trouble with the Germans,” was the swift response from Tom, who achieved “Ace” status in the Battle and went on to have a distinguished RAF career.
The service was conducted by The Rev David Osborn, Resident Chaplain at St Clement Danes – the Central Church of the RAF – supported by The Venerable Ray Pentland, Chaplain to the Battle of Britain Fighter Association. The Choir of St Clement Danes and organist Simon Over also contributed to a fitting send off for the much-loved couple.