Thursday, 15 September 2011

Remembering the Few

The following post is based on a couple of posts I made last year on Scottish GENES, but as it is Battle of Britain Day today (15 SEP), I wanted to re-share on the new blog:

I don't care what people's views are on the United Kingdom, Scottish nationalism, British unionism, Presbyterianism, Catholicism, druidism or even absenteeism! One thing I think that everyone can agree on, no matter what race, colour or creed we are, is that if it had not been for The Few, the pilots who fought to defend British airspace and thereby prevent the necessary conditions for an invasion by the Germans during World War Two, we would quite frankly have been well and truly stuffed.

I had the great honour to meet many Battle of Britain pilots whilst working on two separate television programmes for the BBC and Channel Four many years ago. The first was Bob Doe. I first met Bob when working for BBC Bristol on War Walks series 2, a series presented by Professor Richard Holmes in 1997. We did a programme on The Blitz, but as a part of this spent a day filming at Duxford with Bob, to get the story of the Battle of Britain as part of the lead up. Unfortunately the entire sequence ended up on the cutting room floor, as the decision was taken in the edit to concentrate on the story of the bombing campaign.

However, because of this editorial vandalism I later suggested the idea of a programme on the Few to STV producer Ross Wilson for a Channel Four documentary a couple of years later - the upshot of this was that I had the pleasure of meeting Bob all over again (and this time he remained in the programme!)! One thing I remember about Bob was that he was very badly injured during the war - in fact, his face was almost removed, but thanks to the extraordinary skills of the plastic surgeons, you would not have known. Bob sadly passed away in February of last year - an obituary can be found at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/military-obituaries/air-force-obituaries/7294353/Wing-Commander-Bob-Doe.html

In addition, I remember with a lot of affection and admiration Sergeant Pilot Iain Hutchinson, a Glasgow born lad who spent his final years in Dorset, and a more humble and unassuming get you could never meet. When filming a sequence with him in summer 2000 at Duxford beside one of the few remaining working Spitfires, I asked him when the last time he had ever sat in a Spitfire had been. When he replied it had been in the war, I asked him how he would feel if he ever got the chance to sit in one again? When his eyes just lit up I asked the pilot if he would mind, to which he offered no objection. I've seen many weird and wonderful things in my time so far, but the site of Iain legging it up onto the wing at his age and straight into the cockpit before the pilot had even finished drawing his breath will stay with me until the day I die! :)

There's a lot of myths about the Few, but there are also the tragic details you don't get to hear too often amidst the shouts of "Chocks away". Sgt Pilot Eric Cox was another pilot I had the pleasure of meeting on several occasions. Eric did not fly Spitfires or Hurricanes, but a converted Blenheim Bomber, going up on sorties at night. In an interview I did with him at his home for the same programme, his description of the screams of burning British airmen that could be heard over the open radio frequency, as their planes hurtled to their doom after being shot down, provided one of the most disturbing mental images of the horrors of war I have ever come across. Eric used to make little wood carvings in his shed, and kindly did one for me, and it sits in front of me in my office to this day as a reminder of another of life's true gents.

Sadly Bob, Iain and Eric, as well as their fellow comrades, are largely all now passed away. But if there is one story that I think every kid in the land should have drummed into them in their youth for ever more, it is the tale of how 3000 young lads held the line in the country's greatest moment of crisis.

Pic: Iain Hutchinson in 2000

Pic: Memento from Eric Cox

Chris

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