Friday, 12 Aug 2022

Battle of Britain pilot, 103, reunites with WW2-era Hurricane fighter

The Last of The Few: Sole surviving Battle of Britain pilot, 103, is reunited with Hurricane fighter 82 years after RAF thwarted Hitler’s plan to invade UK

  • John ‘Paddy Hemingway was guest of honour at Irish Air Corps’ Dublin ceremony
  • 103-year-old was reunited with a World War Two-era Hawker Hurricane fighter 
  • The Group Captain once flew the same type of plane in Battle of Britain in 1940 

The last known surviving fighter pilot who defended the country from the Nazis during the Battle of Britain was reunited with a 1940s aircraft as part of a Veterans’ Day celebration.

Group Captain John ‘Paddy’ Hemingway, who turned 103 this week, was the guest of honour at the Irish Air Corps’ celebrations in Dublin on Friday.

Two World War Two planes, an Avro Lancaster bomber and Hawker Hurricane, met the Air Corps ‘The Silver Swallows’ aerobatic display team and flew in formation before landing at the Casement Aerodrome.

Gp Capt Hemingway, the sole surviving member of The Few who was shot down five times, was reunited with a Hurricane fighter – the same type of plane he would have flown more than 80 years ago when he helped repel the Luftwaffe invasion.

The war hero was brought to the fighter plane via wheelchair, where he could see the once-unrivalled plane and hear the glorious humming of its engines once again.

Group Captain John ‘Paddy’ Hemingway, who turned 103 this week, was the guest of honour at the Irish Air Corps’ celebrations in Dublin on Friday where he reunited with a Hawker Hurricane

The war hero was brought to the fighter plane via wheelchair, where he could lay eyes on the once-unrivalled plane and hear the glorious humming of its engines once again

Born in Dublin in 1919, he enlisted with the RAF in 1938 and was assigned to 85 Squadron in France at the start of the Second World War.

He flew missions over the Channel during the Battle of Dunkirk and flew in daily sorties as the battle for control of Britain’s skies raged on during 1940.

More than 500 RAF pilots and aircrew were killed in the Battle of Britain, which led Prime Minister Winston Churchill to declare ‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few’. 

Gp Cpt Hemingway destroyed a Heinkel He 111 bomber and a Dornier Do 17 during a glittering period of service.

But he was forced to bail from his aircraft over the Thames when his plane was damaged in August 1940, before being shot down again over Eastchurch, Kent, just a week later. 

He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in July 1941, before going on the help plan D-Day landings and flying Spitfires during the Italian campaign. 

Born in Dublin in 1919, Gp Capt Hemingway (centre) enlisted with the RAF in 1938 and was assigned to 85 Squadron in France at the start of the Second World War

Gp Cpt Hemingway now lives in a care home in south Dublin and celebrated his 103rd birthday this week.

‘They called him the lucky Irishman,’ his son Brian told the Telegraph.

‘One of the times he was shot down was in the English Channel, which was normally a death sentence, but he was rescued. He’s just lucky to be alive.’

‘He is very mindful of the thousands of other pilots that are not with us any more. If people feel proud to be British because of the part he played in the Battle for Britain, then he is proud.’

John ‘Paddy’ Hemingway, at age 100, in 2020

Captain Paul McDermott, 2022 leader of The Silver Swallows, said that it was ‘a momentous occasion for me, for our team and for the Irish Air Corps’.

‘It’s not every day that you get to fly in formation with a series of World War Two aircrafts’, he said.

‘It was a bit surreal, I still can’t believe that we got to do it.’

RAF Warrant Officer Jake Alpert said it was a ‘significant day’ for the Royal Air Force.

‘When I look at [Mr Hemingway’s] career, I absolutely inspire to be like a person of that sort, especially somebody who has been shot down five times, and to come back for more which is absolutely incredible.’

GLORIOUS FEW WHO STOOD AGAINST NAZI DOMINATION 

They fought the most important battle this country has ever faced and their victory saved Britain from the tyranny of Nazi Germany.

The heroes of the Battle of Britain repelled Hitler’s Luftwaffe in the summer months of 1940 but now only one of ‘The Few’ is still alive.

At the time, they were in their late teens or early 20s when they took to the skies in Spitfires and Hurricanes between July and October 1940.

Others flew in Blenheims, Beaufighters and Defiants, becoming the ‘aces’ of the Battle, shooting down plane after plane.

Hundreds of RAF pilots were killed in dog fights over the English Channel, the control of which proved a critical turning point in the war. 

During the Battle, Sir Winston Churchill said: ‘The gratitude of every home in our island, in our empire, and indeed throughout the world, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion.

‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.’

When it was over, 544 RAF pilots and aircrew were dead and had made the ultimate sacrifice to keep generations of Britons safe.

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