War heroes celebrate anniversary

THE last of a dwindling band of veterans from the Battle of Britain are this weekend being reunited with historic aircraft that featured in the epic campaign.

THE last of a dwindling band of veterans from the Battle of Britain are this weekend being reunited with historic aircraft that featured in the epic campaign.

The only surviving airworthy Hurricane from the conflict will be joined by a Spitfire at Duxford for a stirring flypast for the former pilots – bringing back emotional memories of the battle.

The event is part of the Duxford War Museum's 65th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain Air Show, which runs until Sunday.

Some 50 veterans, the last of The Few, are expected to attend the event over the weekend, which will also feature some of the latest jet fighter aircraft.


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Tom Neil, 85, from Bungay, who rose to the rank of Wing Commander, remembers with great pride and affection the period of his life, which defined a generation and safeguarded the country's future.

After his training, Mr Neil was sent to join 249 Squadron at its reformation after the Great War on May 15, 1940, in Yorkshire.

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"When I arrived no one knew anything about me being posted there and at first we had no planes either," he said.

"I did 100 hours in the Spitfire before engaging the enemy on January 1, 1940. We were thrown into the Battle of Britain properly, I lost my first aircraft on August 16 on the same day James Nicolson received the first Victoria Cross in fighter command.

"After that period we went to the North Weald where we lost eight pilots and 20 were seriously wounded and we were there for the best part of the year before being sent to Malta.

"I didn't do anything special, I was credited with shooting down 17 aircraft in total. It was like all the major historic events, at the time you didn't think anything of it, it was all just part of a lot of very, very intensive flying.

"There was a sense of occasion because we thought we were going to be invaded but we didn't know when. The battle lasted for 16 weeks and in that time I flew 141 times, 3, 4 or sometimes 5 sorties a day often for 18 hours each day.

"We mostly enjoyed it, we were all between 18 and 25 we didn't have anything to worry about and we could cope mentally and physically."

But he said memories of the daily tragedies were still vivid. "You realise you only knew the colleagues we lost for a few weeks or months but the memories are so fresh and the ones who survived have been friends for life," he said. "There are only 60 on our feet now and the average age is 87 or 88, in five years there won't be any of us left. I look back with pleasure – it is human nature to remember the good things."

Bob Foster, 85, from St Leonard's on Sea, whose own Hurricane was part of an aerial display staged yesterday to preview the show, took the opportunity to look around the cockpit of the plane he flew during the conflict.

"I feel nostalgic, it is quite remarkable that 65 years after the event it looks just exactly the same," said Mr Foster.

"It was exciting - we were afraid at the time when we flew but we did spend a lot of time sitting around on readiness but the reality was one of killing and being killed.

"We were proud and happy - the spirit in the squadron was high we were young men doing good jobs and there wasn't a bad one among us."

The 16-week conflict ended in October 1940 and put an end to Hitler's plans to invade Britain.

More than 500 RAF pilots died in the Battle of Britain and those who survived and their aircraft instantly became symbols of the freedom they helped to win.

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