‘The Few’, the title given to pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain by Winston Churchill, are acclaimed for the part they played in World War Two. Many of ‘The Few’ were in their late teens or early twenties and those who survived the Battle of Britain have provided historians with many vivid memories of those days between July and October 1940.
Richard Jones was a Flight Lieutenant during the Battle of Britain. Now aged 91, he recalled that many of the men he knew did not survive the battle.
“We were all volunteers. We knew what we were up against and how important it was. We wanted to get on with it. Our life expectancy was only seven to eight days but we learnt not to show too much fear. There was only one thing to do – we had to beat the Germans.”
In a ceremony held at Capel-le-Ferne in July 2010 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the battle, Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon stated:
“The Few are national treasures.”
Prince Michael of Kent, patron of the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust, stated at the same ceremony:
“In the summer of 1940 the whole population of Great Britain and Europe was in your hands. We salute you.”
Not man of ‘The Few’ knew about radar and the impact it would have on the battle.
“We as pilots knew nothing about it. We were told they were something electronic but we really did not know what effect they would have on us until the battle started.” (Billy Drake, 213 Squadron, Flight Lieutenant)
“He (Dowding) understood the rule of radar. He recognised here was the weapon to defeat the Luftwaffe. Without radar we would have been so outnumbered we’d have had no chance whatsoever.” (Edward Fennessy, 60 Group, Squadron Leader)
Pilots held Keith Park is the highest of regards.
“Keith Park was right out of the top drawer. He led from the front. He was a very fine man.” (Geoffrey Wellum, 92 Squadron, Pilot Officer)
“He (Keith Park) was an approachable man. A fighting man’s man.” (Tom Neil, 249 Squadron, Pilot Officer)
Pilots had a simple procedure to avoid being shot down:
“A pilot always wants to get above and behind his enemy. (If this happened to you) the only thing was to take evasive action with what was known as a ‘split arse turn’. It meant climbing steeply and turning to one side or the other. You didn’t really have time to be scared. Your main focus was on ensuring survival; there’s no point in being a dead hero.” (Jimmy Corbin, Flight Lieutenant)
“Psychiatrists and psychologists were in short supply and counselling unknown, or we might have been grounded due to combat stress. Instead a few pints in the pub did the trick.” (Bob Foster, Pilot Officer)
‘You know somebody’s going to be killed – you just hope it’s not going to be you… You regretted losing a friend, but there was a war going on, and you just had to put it out of your mind.’ (Anon)