Monday, 10 October 2016

Clare Hollingworth: The English Rose, who saved Europe's Refugees

Happy Birthday, Clare! Many best wishes & thanks to you. 

So many have heard the name, Oskar Schindler. He was the German credited with saving around 1200 Jews. And there have been others, and today I give you the story of a lady who is 105 years old, living in a care home in Hong Kong. Her name is Clare Hollingworth. Clare is credited with being the first journalist to break the news of the Second World War. But, there is a twist. Before breaking the news, Clare was busy with a humanitarian role.

Clare Hollingworth was born on the 10th October 1911 in Leicester, England. She had been working as a journalist for under a week when her employer, The Daily Telegraph packed her off to Poland to report on the problems in Europe, at the end of August 1939.
Clare Hollingworth
Once there, Clare managed to borrow a car as she intended to drive to Germany. Along the German-Polish border, she witnessed numerous German troops, armoured vehicles, and tanks. In her words, she said, "I was driving along a valley, and I saw scores of tanks, hundreds." Three days later on the 1st September, she contacted the British embassy in Warsaw and reported the invasion of Poland. Officials there were sceptical, however, and Clare reportedly held the telephone at arm's length out of a window in an attempt to pick up the noise of the tanks rolling in.

The Telegraph ran with the headline "1000 tanks massed on Polish border" and "ten divisions reported ready for swift stroke."

But less known is just what Clare did before the war. In 1938, as thousands of refugees poured over borders in Europe seeking asylum, Clare Hollingworth was a 27-year-old beautiful woman who had just booked a holiday to Kitzbuhel, Austria. When she returned home, she had a Nazi-approved visa in her passport.

In September 1938, Chamberlain's "Peace for our Time" mission delivered Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland region to Hitler, something which struck terror into refugees who sought asylum abroad. Many British people were outraged, and various organisations were created to help with the refugee crisis. One such organisation was the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, and in March 1939, they were looking for a willing volunteer to carry out a dangerous mission. They needed someone willing to travel through Germany to the Polish port of Gdynia to meet a significant number of refugees who were fleeing Prague.

Now that Clare had a Nazi-approved visa, she was eligible to volunteer for the role, and so she travelled to Poland without delay. Just before she reached her destination, the Germans marched into Czechoslovakia.

In Gdynia, 451 refugees were waiting - men, women, and children. Most were known as anti-Nazis and included military men, writers, and Jews, some of whom had already fled from Germany and Austria. They had no means of safe passage as they did not have the official documents or funds.

Clare was very efficient, and had a way with words, a way that would see her haggle with officials to get what was required. She collected up her group of refugees and sought accommodation and food while she then set about acquiring appropriate documentation and arranging sea passage to take them to sympathetic countries.

Afterwards, Clare returned to Poland. Refugees arrived daily from Czechoslovakia, risking their lives as they did so. They were shot at from one side by the Germans, and from the Poles who were defending their borders.

The British General Consul in Katowice welcomed Clare's help, and she was put to work immediately, interviewing refugees daily and checking their claims to British support. Soon, she was made the official BCRC representative for Poland and was charged with the care of more than a thousand refugees at any one time until safe passage could be arranged to countries such as South America and Britain.

The list of people the BCRC saved included a two-year-old girl called Madlena Koerbel, who escaped to America with her family. This small child was renamed Madeleine Albright and became the Secretary of State. Clare also helped secure the safety of Hans Heinrich XVII von Hochberg who was a London-born Polish aristocrat.

Another lucky soul was Margo Drotar. Margo was four when she and her mother were arrested in Poland in 1939. They were communists from Hungary, fleeing the advancing German troops. Thrown into jail, they had starved for five days when Margot's mother held her up to the prison bars and told her to cry. A woman passed by and heard her cries. That woman contacted the resistance in Katowice jail, and Margot and her family were smuggled out to safety where they were interviewed by an English lady. Margot and her family sailed away from Poland on the last ship, reaching England 2 days before the outbreak of war on the 1st September.

Margot now lives in Buckinghamshire and has four children, nine grandchildren, and a great-grandson. Having found out about Clare, she sent her an emotional birthday message which said,

"Happy Birthday darling Clare. Live for a hundred years again. I will think of you to the end of my life. Thank you very much for what you gave me, and for all those other people. Thank you."

Between March and July 1939, Clare helped to arrange visas for around 2000-3000 refugees who were then able to come to Britain and other countries.

Clare carried on after the war, reporting the news and covering later conflicts around the world, such as in Palestine, China, and Vietnam. She is also a survivor of the King David Hotel bombing in Jerusalem in 1946 which killed 91 people.

She didn't speak of her role in helping refugees flee the Nazis. It was by chance that a relative discovered her involvement in this daring, dangerous mission. She is typical of a generation who perhaps feel unworthy of being hailed heroic, but they are nonetheless. She was clearly a feisty, determined young woman and one resolved to 'doing her bit' to help vulnerable people flee a tyrannical regime; flee death.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Remembering The Brave Few: Battle of Britain Pilots

I recently watched the film 'First Light' again - I've lost count of how many times that makes now, but it's so beautiful and evocative, and I lose myself in the drama. Some of you will know it's an adaptation of the book, First Light, a personal and frank account of life during the Battle of Britain by author and former WW2 pilot, Geoffrey Wellum DFC. Geoff is now 95 years old, but he remembers his experiences as a Spitfire pilot most vividly.
Geoff 'Boy' Wellum 92 Squadron Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Geoff was 18 years nine months when he completed his initial training and arrived fresh and eager at 92 Squadron at Biggin Hill. Nicknamed 'Boy' by his Squadron Leader Brian Kingcombe, he was to have the most harrowing induction into the life of a fighter pilot in RAF Fighter Command.

Initially, while he might have felt keen to join in the fight and send the enemy packing, he soon realised just what hell he was embroiled in. Like the rest of his 'brothers' he would become tired, worn down and worn out by the relentless pace, lack of sleep, the constant threat of enemy attacks and perhaps worst of all, witnessing the loss of one's friends up among the clouds.
Geoff with Brian Kingcombe Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
But while Geoff was clearly a great fighter pilot, he is also a great writer, effectively conveying in the most elegant prose the trials and tribulations of life in 92 Squadron during those dark, uncertain days.

In the film, one of the most poignant scenes for me came following the squadron's return from a sortie. Having encountered the FW 190 for the first time, Flight Lieutenant Lund was leading a section of three Spitfires when they encountered enemy aircraft over the Channel. The Luftwaffe shot all three down, and Lund's Spitfire Vb W3459 was seen diving away in flames. He was 22 years old and Geoff's good friend. Geoff narrates throughout the film.
P/O Tommy Lund No 92 Squadron Image via Wikimedia Commons
Geoff stated "Tommy Lund was a lovely chap and a very dear friend. He went into the Channel, but all the best blokes did, and the blokes like me got away with it."
At the end, Geoff says "Nobody wants a medal, nobody wants a thank you, but it would be nice just to be remembered because then you must think of all of us, and not just those of us who survived."

After serving eighteen months with 92 Squadron, Geoff was posted to an OTU elsewhere to instruct. Later, as a Squadron Leader, he served in the siege of Malta, and that was where he suffered a nervous breakdown, aged twenty. In 1944 he married his sweetheart, Grace and served in the RAF until 1961.

By the end of 1940, 92 Squadron had achieved the highest combat score in the entire RAF, with a tally of 127 enemy aircraft destroyed.
Researching the war and putting faces to names is something I love and feel privileged in doing, and it's so important to me to remember the sacrifices made, remembering the selfless, brave, young men who gave their all for our today. Lest we forget.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

The Berlin Airlift

When WW2 ended, Germany was defeated and divided up. The Soviet Union controlled East Germany while the west was divided up between the US, Britain, and France. Berlin, the capital city, rested within Soviet power but was split into four, with one-half of the city under Soviet control and the rest divided between the other countries.
The Allied Control Council was established in Berlin, and this union's mission was now to govern and rebuild Berlin.

Unfortunately, nothing involving governments and politics is simple, and soon there were rifts as the Soviet Union disagreed with the other allies over such things as German Unification, Soviet War repatriations, and ideology. The Soviets were vying for more say in the economic future of Germany, something the British and the US would not consent to.

It is relevant to indicate Churchill here. Churchill predicted WW2 in the early thirties when no one in parliament would listen. He was right. He also saw what was coming in Europe - or rather who, after the war ended. In a speech in Fulton, Missouri, he said, "From Stettin on the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent."

Early in 1948, things came to a head, and Stalin ordered the Allies to leave Soviet-controlled Berlin. Trains were stopped on various days in June and finally on June 21st the Soviets halted a train carrying US Military supplies and denied it entry to Berlin.
Then the Soviets cut off all land and sea access to West Berlin. There would be no fresh supplies from the West. Berlin had a population of just over two million to feed, and there was food for around thirty-five days and coal for forty-five days.

US Military Commander General Lucius Clay formed a plan to send an armed convoy into Soviet controlled Germany, but this action would almost certainly have led to another war, something which some in government called for, given the aggressive and antagonistic actions of Russia.

British Commander Sir Brian Robertson suggested dropping supplies by air, and after consultation, the plans were drawn up. On June 26th the first aircraft took off from bases in England and Western Germany and landed in Berlin. The scale of this operation was enormous, and it posed a great logistical challenge as aircraft landed at Tempelhof Airport every four minutes throughout the day and night. Often the pilots had to fly two or three round-trips daily in WW2 aircraft that often required maintenance and repairs.

Civilians watch a C-47 Skymaster coming into land at Tempelhof Airport 1948

To the RAF, this was known as Operation Plainfare. West Berlin was literally under siege, and the Allied Forces worked tirelessly to keep supplies coming. The German people would no doubt have been terrified, humiliated and lost. Having endured almost six years of war, and bombings, the one thing they feared most as the last days of war closed in was the arrival of the Russians. They were right to fear them. There were a lot of 'war crimes' committed, crimes which the Russians have never had to account for. Soviet soldiers committed inhumane acts and had it not been for the Allied Forces, the people of West Berlin would have starved.

To the Americans, the operation was known as Operation Vittles, because they were "hauling grub." They flew C47s and C54s from airfields in the American zone. Initially, the US and the RAF operated independently of one another, with the same aim of course, but by mid-October 1948 they combined their efforts with a single airlift task force HQ. American aircrews flew over 189,000 flights.

And let us remember with pride the grand efforts of the ground crew who also worked tirelessly to keep all the aircraft airworthy in support of the airlift.
During the term of the airlift, thirty American servicemen and one civilian were killed as a result of twelve air crashes. The RAF suffered five air crashes with the loss of eighteen airmen.

British aircraft also flew more than 131,000 sick people out of Berlin to West Germany for medical care. The British began with two squadrons of Douglas Dakotas, but quickly realised it was not enough. They acquired more aircraft and utilised the larger Avro York transport aircraft. Then, on July 4th they also used two Squadrons of Short Sunderland flying boats which took to the skies from the River Elbe. They carried supplies out and returned with industrial goods and refugees.
In November 1948 Squadrons of new Handley-Page Hastings transport aircraft arrived.

For almost a whole year aircraft flew twenty-four hours a day, making much-needed deliveries. Over 200,000 aircraft made over one and a half million tonnes of supplies. The blockade continued until May 12th, 1949. During this time, the Russians were seen as bullies, holding civilians as hostages in West Berlin, with the constant threat of starvation. They were viewed scornfully by the rest of the world for their inhumane and antagonistic behaviour.

C-47 Skytrains at Tempelhof Airport

Meanwhile, the success of the airlift served to show the world that the Allies had air and technological superiority. By the time the blockade ended, West Germany had become a separate nation.
The airlift continued until September 1949. By now the eastern section of Berlin was now a part of Soviet East Germany and West Berlin was a separate territory with its own government. It officially ended September 30th 1949.

For the people of Berlin, the war might have ended in May 1945, but conflict remained with them, and of course, flowed throughout the Cold War years. With the current Syrian conflict, I wonder, do leaders ever learn and will we ever achieve world peace?

US Crew celebrates the end of Operation Vittles 


Friday, 30 September 2016

The Other Douglas Bader

Many people have heard about Douglas Bader, the RAF pilot who miraculously survived an aircraft crash in the 1930s, but sadly lost both of his legs. Bader, through sheer courage, willpower, and true grit returned to flying after the outbreak of WW2. 
But Bader was not the only double amputee to serve in the war. There was another.
Colin Hodgkinson

Colin Hodgkinson was born in Wells, Somerset on February 11th 1920 and he joined the Fleet Air Arm for pilot training in 1938. He trained on the aircraft carrier Courageous. Sadly, during training, Colin was involved in a mid-air collision with another Tiger Moth and suffered severe injuries, and like Bader, had to have both legs amputated. He had been flying blind, with a hood over his head during instrument training. The instructor accompanying Colin was killed. 

Once he was fit enough, Colin was sent to Roehampton to the limb centre and fitted up for a set of tin legs. He was subsequently invalided out of the forces and given a pension of £3 per week. However, before he was discharged back to civilian life, Colin persuaded his doctors to send him for some convalescence leave and he went to Dutton Homestall. While he was there, he met Archie McIndoe, a plastic surgeon in charge of Ward III at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, where he treated burned airmen.

Archie would later state, "He was a red-headed thick-set figure precariously balanced on two artificial legs which were planted firmly apart and braced backwards to support his swaying body. His face was badly scarred. His eyes reflected the bitter desperation mixed with wariness which betrayed a constant anxiety to maintain his balance. He kept within reach of a wall or a convenient chair. He was watching me carefully and obviously had something to ask me. We moved into a corner and talked."
Colin asked Archie to help him get back into the Navy. While they chatted, Archie's gaze raked over Colin's face. He had keloid scar tissue above his left eye, so Archie said, "You ought to come over to the hospital sometime. I'd like to fix up that eye for you."

Archie had become frustrated with what was known as the RAF's ninety-day rule. If an injured serviceman was still unfit for duty at the end of 90 days, he was then invalided out and given a pittance of a pension as determined from the regulated schedule of payments set for particular disabilities. 

This caused men financial hardship, being unable to work, being unfit for many things, and also being stripped of their wings, something akin to stripping them of their spirit. Archie had seen it happen and he disagreed with the rule and it was one which infuriated him. Now, here, he had his chance. This burly six-footer before him, Colin Hodgkinson would give him the ammunition he needed to tear into the Air Ministry. 

And so he operated on Colin and fixed up his eye. Now, Colin was on the books, he was one of Archie's boys and became a member of the infamous Guinea Pig Club. Archie then began one of his own personal battles. He set about writing to the Admiralty and when that had no effect he telephoned. In the meantime, he used his influence with an old friend and persuaded him to allow Colin to fly his light aircraft. He also told Colin to practice walking on his tin legs, to improve his gait and stability.

As the weeks passed, Archie was getting nowhere fast. Then a chance meeting at a dinner with the secretary to the First Lord of the Admiralty won him some ground. Archie managed to persuade him that Colin was indeed fit and capable of returning to service and was told that the matter would be given consideration.

It worked. Colin was called back to active service and posted to a naval station in Cornwall at the beginning of November 1940. He was the first man to return to service while drawing a pension and this established a precedent. Soon afterwards all of the services opted to abolish the ninety-day rule. In celebration of this huge victory, Archie organised a drinks party back at his home for all the walking members of Ward Three.
Wells Gazette

Colin was determined to fly Spitfires and, inspired by Douglas Bader, he obtained a transfer to the RAF as a Pilot Officer. In December 1942 he was posted to No 131 Squadron at Westhampnett, Sussex. When the squadron left he was allowed to remain and joined No 610 Squadron. Colin became known as 'Hoppy' Hodgkinson, for obvious reasons. 

In August 1943, he was flying escort duty to a group of American B-26 Marauders when his squadron encountered more than fifty Focke-Wulf 190s. A dog fight ensued and he shot down a FW 190 that was heading to attack his wing leader, 'Laddie' Lucas. 

Later, Colin joined No 501 Squadron as flight commander. In November 1943, during a reconnaissance sortie, his oxygen failed and he crashed into a field in France. He suffered serious injuries and one of his legs became detached as farm workers pulled him from his blazing Spitfire. He was duly taken prisoner and sent to a POW camp. Ten months later, the Germans repatriated him, thinking he was no longer useful to his country and he was sent back to McIndoe for treatment. 

Colin returned to active duty near the end of the war and was based at Filton in Bristol as a ferry pilot. In 1946 he left the RAF but returned in 1949 and served with No 501 & 604 Squadron, flying de Havilland Vampires until the early 1950s. Returning to civvie street, Colin entered the world of advertising and PR, later starting up his own successful business, Colin Hodgkinson Associates.

After a brief spell in politics, he enjoyed a stint as an air correspondent with ITN and then later in 1957 he published his book, "Best Foot Forward," a biographical account of his life and his war. When his first wife June Hunter died, he married Georgina, a Frenchwoman. Colin Hodgkinson died on 13 September 1996.

Here's a link to a British pathe newsreel of Colin Hodgkinson's book signing with RAF pals including Johnnie Johnson and Archibald McIndoe :

Colin Hodgkinson seen on the left, chatting with Sir Archibald McIndoe

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

27th September 1940: The Battle of Britain

On this day in 1940, Germany, Italy, and Japan signed the Tripartite Pact, an alliance that would be later joined by Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Slovakia and finally, Croatia.

The Daily Mail leads with a story on a record air raid on Berlin. In other news, 46 more survivors are found and rescued at sea after drifting for 8 days. They were on the SS City of Benares when she was sunk. The survivors are spotted by a Sunderland Flying Boat. Of the survivors, six are boys aged between nine and sixteen. They were evacuees. Seventy-seven evacuees are dead.

Meanwhile, the Battle of Britain continued and Friday 27th September saw 504 Squadron take to the skies in their Hurricanes to ward off a group of German raiders. The Luftwaffe offloaded their bombs in local woods in the Bristol area.

In the London borough of Lambeth, no 139 Clapham Road took a direct hit, and there were a number of people in the shelters at this business premise who were badly injured or killed. Tragically, the water pipes burst in one of the underground shelters, and a number of people there drowned. This was the site of the well-known catalogue company, Freemans. Most of the dead were women, some of whom were only fifteen years old.

Also during this day, there were three attacks on London and the South-East of England. The Luftwaffe attacked the barrage balloons over Dover but were unsuccessful. Many enemy aircraft were shot down or turned back before reaching their targets. RAF Filton attacked from 11000 feet.

The RAF destroyed 131 enemy aircraft and the AA gunners brought down two aircraft. The RAF lost 27 aircraft today, and 18 pilots were either killed or missing in action.
Scattered raids took place this night across Edinburgh, Liverpool, Birmingham, and Nottingham.

Flying Officer Paul Davies-Cooke of No 72 Squadron baled out of his Spitfire over Kent, but tragically fell dead. Shortly before, Flight Lieutenant Lionel Schwind of No 213 Squadron was killed when his Hurricane crashed on a golfcourse in Sevenoaks, Kent. A memorial stone marks the site.
Lionel had married his sweetheart Georgina in 1939. Sadly they were due to have a second wedding the following day on the 28th September for the benefit of Lionel's widower father who had been unable to attend the first wedding. News of Lionel was not known by his wife or fsmily, and enquiries were only made when he failed to turn up for the wedding. Lionel was 27 years old, and he left behind a pregnant wife, who gave birth to his daughter in June 1941. He is buried in Crowborough Burial Ground, Sussex. 
Ft Lt Lionel Schwind

The wreckage of a Junkers Ju 88 was brought down by AA fire over Cudham, Kent. The crew baled, but one man was killed when his chute failed to open.

The following day, Prime Minister Winston Churchill sent a message to RAF Fighter Command which stated, "Pray congratulate the Fighter Command on the results of yesterday. The scale and intensity of the fighting and the heavy losses of the enemy . . . make 27 September rank with 15 September and 15 August as the third great and victorious day of the Fighter Command during the course of the Battle of Britain.

Take a look at this dramatisation & portrayal of Churchill in the years leading up to the war.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

New Novel: "The Beauty Shop"

Today, I'm thrilled to reveal the cover of my debut novel, The Beauty Shop, so here it is:

Well, as my frequent readers have seen, I've been writing recently about the Guinea Pig Club - a club formed by a group of burned airmen during the Second World War. It was for severely burned airmen, who were under the care of Archibald McIndoe. The club continues to this day, and out of the original 649 members, there are 17 remaining.

When I began to write the story, it seemed that not many people knew of the existence of this club and the history around it. However, due to the efforts of the Guinea Pig Club and all who support them, there has been more media coverage, a memorial to the plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe and various events. So, it seemed apt for me to release my novel this year, given that it is the 70th anniversary of the Guinea Pig Club.

I have been fortunate enough to have spoken with several people who worked with Archie McIndoe, one of whom worked with him during the war. I have also had the honour of speaking with Dr S Saunders, who is a 'guinea pig' and was so inspired by Archie's work that he trained to become a doctor after the war.

I spoke with Sandy Saunders by phone, and he wasted no time at all in telling me his story, and how he became a 'guinea pig.' I have to say I was saddened, and he must have picked up on this towards the end as he apologised for being so frank. But the truth was, I didn't find the details gory in any way - how could he shock me, an ex-nurse? I was, in fact, close to tears.

But even with gory details, tragedy and sadness, I find myself drawn to such pockets of history. I am in awe of these men and their bravery and of how they overcame the odds to lead the lives they've had. And I'm in awe of the maverick New Zealand plastic surgeon, Sir Archibald McIndoe, who forged an early working model of holistic care. He changed the boundaries and became a friend to his patients. He gave them hope. When a young airman was severely burned, disfigured and beyond recognition, he instinctively might have thought his life was over - many of them did. But Archie threw them a lifeline, one which each man clung to tight. Archie told them what he could do for them and how they might live their lives again. For that, and all that he was, they loved him. He was their 'boss' and their 'maestro,' and this was what they called him.

The book is available from Amazon and you can pre-order the Kindle version now which is due to be released 28th November 2016. The paperback and hardback will be available from December 2016.

Friday, 23 September 2016

The BBMF Spitfire and Hurricane & Heroes of the Sky

BBMF Image © B Henderson 2016
When I heard recently that the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) would be dropping in at my local airport to refuel, I grabbed the camera and dashed out the door. Destination - airport. Luckily I made it with ten minutes to spare. Time to warm up the camera and take a few practice shots (I'm not very good) and then I heard those magnificent Rolls-Royce Merlin engines humming in the distance, growing into a throaty growl as they flew overhead before landing.

The image below is the Battle Of Britain Memorial Flight Hurricane PZ865 (Mk IIc). This was the last Hurricane ever built, and she rolled off the production line at Hawker in July 1944. She bore the inscription, "The Last of the Many" on her port and starboard sides, but years later this was removed and placed on display at the BBMF HQ. In 1950, this particular aircraft was flown by Group Captain Peter Townsend CVO DSO DFC in the King's Cup Air Race and came second.

PZ865 was refurbished at Duxford six years ago in 2010, and now bears the colour scheme of the aircraft Flight Lieutenant Jimmy Whalen DFC flew during the war. Jimmy was sadly killed in action on 18 April 1944, just before his 24th birthday, during the Battle for Kohima. He flew 176 sorties and was credited with destroying 3 ME-109s and damaging another. He was also credited with destroying 3 Japanese Navy Val Type 99s over Ceylon. Jimmy was part of 34 Squadron, South East Asia Command.

BBMF PZ865 Hurricane. Image © B Henderson 2016

PZ865 in flight with a bird behind. Image © B Henderson 2016
Last but not least, this beauty is the BBMF Spitfire and happens to be the oldest airworthy Spitfire in the world and she saw battle in the skies over England during the Battle of Britain. On the 25th October 1940, she was damaged in combat with a squadron of ME Bf-109s while with 603 Squadron. Her Polish pilot, Ludwik Martel was wounded in his legs and left side and yet he still managed to land the aircraft, executing a wheels up landing in a field near Hastings. It would be 1941 before this aircraft was airworthy once more. P7350 would go on to serve with 616 Squadron at Tangmere and 64 Squadron at Hornchurch, flying fighter sweeps over occupied France. 

Martel survived the war and was released from the Polish airforce in 1947. In 1953 he became a pilot for the Colonial Office in East Africa and retired a Chief Pilot in 1966.
In April 1942, P7350 was removed from operational flying to carry out support duties and was based at the Central Gunnery School at Sutton Bridge and 57 OTU at Eshott, Northumberland. She ended her war service at 19 MU.

BBMF Spitfire P7350 (Mark IIa) Image © B Henderson 2016

P7350 was sold for scrap after the war, but luckily someone recognised her historical value and she was donated to the RAF Museum at Colerne. She was restored and made airworthy for the epic movie Battle of Britain in 1968 and afterwards was gifted to the BBMF. She is currently in the colours of Spitfire Mk 1a N3162 of No 41 Squadron, 'EB-G', the aircraft flown by Eric Lock on 5th September 1940 when he destroyed 3 enemy aircraft during a single sortie. Eric was 19 when he joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve. It had been his dream to fly and, as he would show, he was a natural and became a top scoring fighter ace. Eric became a household name and was the RAF's most successful British pilot during the Battle of Britain, credited with destroying 16 German aircraft, and with a half share in another. 

Pilot Eric Lock Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Eric survived some terrifying moments in the air, was injured more than once, at one time he sustained serious injuries that would see him endure fifteen operations to remove metal fragments from his body. He eventually returned to service but the battle for air supremacy had moved on since the Battle of Britain, and Fighter Command now flew long range sweeps over occupied France, known as Rhubarbs. 

On 3rd August 1941, Eric flew such a sortie over France when he happened to spot German soldiers somewhere near Calais. He was last seen swooping down to attack. It's presumed he was brought down by ground fire. The wreck of his aircraft and his body have never been found. You will find his name on the Runnymede Memorial in Surrey, along with the names of 20,000 British and Commonwealth airmen who were all reported as missing in action in WW2.

Shropshire born Eric Lock has a road named after him in Bayston, and the bar at Shropshire Aero Club, which is based at the old wartime airfield of Sleap, is named in his honour.
The BBMF do an amazing job of keeping the old wartime aircraft in airworthy condition and feature at airshows throughout Britain and Ireland each spring/summer. They also have a Lancaster Bomber and if you live in the UK near to or in the old bomber county of Lincolnshire, you will often have the privilege of watching these glorious old aircraft grace our skies.

And one final word, if you're interested, you can grab yourself a copy of this book by Author Steve Brew, and lose yourself in a detailed biography of the life of Eric Lock, DSO, DFC & Bar. I love the title, it's brilliant and so apt, don't you think?  This is available from Fighting High Publishing: 
And also Amazon: