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. In particular I will always remember with a lot of affection 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 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.
* On a lighter note, also out fairly soon for those wishing to look back on the World War 2 era is a new CD set called Heroes and Sweethearts: A Salute to the Greatest Wartime Songs, produced by Union Square Music in association with the RAF Museum. It's a double CD set with all the classic tracks - Vera Lynn, Glen Miller, etc - and an hour long DVD with rare footage and performances. It's £4.99, and will be out in shops July 5th - I'm listening to a review copy just now, and I have to say, I am absolutely loving it! For more info, see www.unionsquaremusic.co.uk/shop/cd.asp?Marid=14&arid=1481
"Whispering Grass..." dee da dee dee dee...!
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