A Day in the life of a Battle of Britain Pilot

I have always been interested and intrigued by The Battle of Britain, hence my screenplay; Cast of Eagles in it I have a scene about ‘The Skunks Room’ at RAF Biggin Hill in Kent. This young pilot was stationed there, they named their concrete briefing place. ”The Skunks Room.’ I found this piece and had to insert it here.

If this doesn’t bring lumps to your throat, nothing will.

 

A day in the life of a Battle of Britain pilot, Ft. Lt. Al Deere DSO, OBE. DFC & bar, later Air Commodore. He came from New Zealand to help.

‘Come along Sir, the orderly whispered in my ear. The Hut was dark, cold. Minutes passed, ‘can’t be, only just gone to sleep’ I murmured back. ‘Gave you an extra hour Sir its 4.30’ Kettle’s on.’ Hurriedly I tugged my Irvin trousers-over Pyjamas, sweater, flying boots, scarf, flying jacket.

Outside I squinted-looking for my Spit, staggered toward it, ‘Morning Sir’ the fitter called jumping from cockpit as I hauled myself in. ‘Morning Williams, put my chute on the tail please’ I checked the instruments one-by-one: tanks-full, Tail-trim wheels-neutral, Prop fine-pitch, directional gyro-set, Helmet-on, Reflector-sight-with Oxygen/R/T leads connected. Spot-on for a quick getaway.

Back in the hut sipping hot, strong tea, Chips in flying gear lay fast-asleep in a deck-chair, head lolling on his May-West. As I lay down, I reminded myself, ‘must have a shave’ immediately I fell asleep as if doped.

I didn’t hear the telephone ring, all I made out was a mumbled, ‘Dover 26,000; fifty plus bandits approaching from South East. Someone else shouted ‘Scramble Bill, lazy bastard.’ Now, automatically-programed I was outside running toward hopefully my Spit. Engine running, into the chute, airfield getting smaller, as the noise of the wheels being sucked into their wells hit my eardrums. I woke, wondering if I was late, so I glanced around making sure I was flying? ‘Christ I am.’ I looked at my wristwatch, it was 10 past 12, ‘can’t be.’ I said to myself, this is the 3rd sortie today, or is another day, what day is it?

Brain, back in gear I realize it’s the 3rd sortie Today-Wednesday, God what did we do Tuesday, Monday? The sheer hell of today’s sorties a distant memory, I need to sleep. My R/T blasted in my ear-familiar, re-assuring voice of C.O. ‘Bandits Eleven o’clock level.

By luck I fastened onto yellow 109 tail, fighting to bring guns to bear, I closed in until the 109 slotted into range-scale bars of my reflector sight and squeezed the milled-edged firing-button. My Spit vibrated as eight browning’s came to life. Lead tore into the 109’s sleek fuselage, ripping ragged holes along its length. ‘Got you’ I muttered. Before I’d squeezed again two 109’s dropped in line astern of me, I broke hard into attack yanking my Spit in a frame-snapping spiralling, climbing turn. A life-saving manoeuver I thankfully discovered only recently. The 109’s literally ‘fell out of the sky.’ My faithful Spit’s saved me yet again.  Minutes’ later-low of juice and ammo, I headed for Biggin.

I bumped across the grass, toward the Hangers, tugged back the hood, inhaled deep and long several times, fresh air never felt so good, then stopped. Ground crew swarming over my battered Spit, the high-octane fuel snapped at my nostrils, but I was past caring anymore. I crawled out onto the wing, looking for my other brave friends, there, against the blue sky I can see some, but how many? As I hit the grass, Sergeant Smith-Smithy bent down, looking at me from beneath the wing. ‘Running on fumes again Sir are we? I couldn’t raise a grin as usual, pulling off my Helmet and Goggles I said. ‘We both are Smithy.’ As we both made our way toward the hut. I said ‘Both of us are exhausted.’ ‘That bad is it Sir? Appreciating his trying to lift my spirits I replied ‘It’s going to get worse. The sky was full of Bombers and fighters as far as one could see. Soon the bastards will be in London.’ Pouring tea from the Urn we sat outside looking for an empty deck chair as a head poked out a window, ‘B Flight scramble!!!, Before he’d finished we’d chairs to choose from and another bunch of young men dashed toward their Mounts.

One by one all my friends strolled to the hut, poured tea, sat down, and fell asleep, except the Squadron comedian. ‘Mind you if I wasn’t low of juice I’d have gone to Margate…tell me it’s nice this time of year, not too many holidaymakers about.’

Unfortunately, the rest we looked forward to was short-lived, I was about to see ‘the old man’ when the phone rang, followed that eerie silence, then, ‘Everybody up…. Scramble.’ No one questioned it, we all shared the same terrifying thought. ‘How much ammo and juice have I?

But the unforgettable, re-assuring sound of Henry Royce’s well-tuned Merlin engine inspired us and we knew we were in safe hands.

Seconds later we were bouncing across the grass, engines at full-bore. Doing it all again.

Through a miasmatic cloud of flame and smoke the ground suddenly appeared ahead, then a post flashed by my wing tip, as my Spit thumped the deck and ricocheted me airborne again, dumping back with jarring impact, again jerked forward onto my harness holding me fast through countless posts before lurching to stop on the edge of vibrant cornfield. The-now dense smoke blinded me, my throat raw, swallowing impossible my tongue seemed welded to the roof of my parched mouth. For the first time during this battle, I was now frantic with fear.

I ripped at my harness release pin, the battered the Perspex hood to escape my cockpit tomb. Minutes passed and I scrambled into the swaying golden corn. Dis-orientated, not knowing where I was, it was quiet, the sky clear. Taking off my sweat-saturated helmet. ‘That’s where I was near Ashford.’ Another day over for me I decided, as I set off and get back to base, and along with my friends down at the local pub. A letter to the folks at home. The one we dread to fallen comrade’s families. Tonight sleeping like a log in a sane world.

Then at 4.30-hopefully, interrupted by ‘Come along Sir, come along Sir, 4.30……. And another 16-hour day, and pray to God, I hear that voice next morning.

Their new Commanding Officer at Biggin Hill Fighter Station: Sqd/Ldr Skinner called these Battle of Britain Pilots. “A load of Skunks.’ Winstone Churchill called them and the ground crews. “The Few.”

He died on 21 September 1995 aged 77 years from cancer, a disease which also claimed his grandfather and four of his brothers. His ashes were scattered over the  River Thames from a Spitfire of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight

on most e-publisher sites. Ron Shears

 

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