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Tributes paid to heroic Battle of Britain fighter pilot Tom Neil

PUBLISHED: 18:16 12 July 2018 | UPDATED: 18:16 12 July 2018

Tom Neil, who was a Battle of Britain commander, has died. Picture: Nick Butcher

Tom Neil, who was a Battle of Britain commander, has died. Picture: Nick Butcher

Archant © 2017

One of the last remaining pilots who fought at the Battle of Britain has died.

Prince Harry and Tom Neil . Photo: PA Wire Prince Harry and Tom Neil . Photo: PA Wire

Tributes have been paid to “charming” wing commander Tom Neil, of Thwaite St Mary near Bungay, who died on Wednesday, July 11, days before his 98th birthday.

Mr Neil, who was the last surviving pilot in East Anglia, flew 157 times during the Battle of Britain and shot down 14 enemy aircraft.

Tom Neil and Eileen Neil. Photo: Nick Butcher. Tom Neil and Eileen Neil. Photo: Nick Butcher.

His son Patrick said: “He belonged to a generation who did not understand the notion of celebrity so did not consider himself a hero. He just said he was lucky.

“At the height of the Battle of Britain there was a less than 50pc chance of survival.

Battle of Britain wing commander Tom Neil. Photo: Nick Butcher. Battle of Britain wing commander Tom Neil. Photo: Nick Butcher.

“But my dad wanted to fly; deep down without a trace of arrogance he always felt he 
would be okay and that we would win.”

The Second World War fighter pilot served as part of the 249 Squadron and played a key role in defending Britain during the battle between July and October 1940.

Tom Neil. Picture: Nick Butcher Tom Neil. Picture: Nick Butcher

He left the RAF aged 24 and married his late wife Eileen, who had her own distinguished RAF career. The pair had three sons; Terence, Patrick and Ian.

Patrick added: “They were a perfect pair. They had this incredible relationship where they both completed each other. We were so lucky to have the pair of them.”

Tom and Eileen Neil on their wedding day. Photo Nick Butcher. Tom and Eileen Neil on their wedding day. Photo Nick Butcher.

Throughout his life Mr Neil’s service and bravery were much admired and in 2015 while serving as chairman of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association (BBFA) he met Prince Harry at an event marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

The moment was captured in a photo and later used as the Prince’s Christmas card.

Tom Neil  (5th from left) with his crew. Picture: Nick Butcher Tom Neil (5th from left) with his crew. Picture: Nick Butcher

And in 2016 he collected the Legion d’Honneur, the highest French order of merit, during D-Day commemorations in Normandy.

Patrick Tootal, secretary of 
the BBFA, said: “He was a charming man and 
tremendously successful flying in the Battle of Britain.

“As a fighter pilot he would be going up five times a day to meet the oncoming German pilots. He was part of the great and wonderful young men who, barely out of the teens, saved this country.

“He wouldn’t say he was a hero but he was – he took on significant odds and survived.”

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