Battle of Britain 80

A few of The Few:

Just three hours after this photograph of eight Hurricane pilots from 43 Squadron, ‘relaxing’ outside the Officer’s Mess at RAF Tangmere, was taken, on 7 September 1940 – seven days before Battle of Britain Day – two of them, the Australian Richard Reynell and the South African Caesar Hull – were killed in action:

Richard Carew Reynell. Here’s a superb and moving account of Dickie on this day in a thread by Steve Hunnisett of Blitzwalkers.

Peter Townsend [Signatory 12] and Caesar Hull [see his sister, Wendy Bryan, Signatory #6] (right)

Of the six now left, the Belgian pilot Albert Emmanuel Allx Dieudonne Jean Ghislain van den Hove d’Ertsenrijck would die a week later on Battle of Britain Day itself.

Van den Hove at Beauvechain on 10th May (British troops have arrived to strengthen the airfield defences) Battle of Britain Memorial of London

The Scotsman David Gorrie would die in a mid-air collision on April 8th, 1941.

Of the half of those eight pilots in the photograph who survived the war, British-Canadian Hamilton Charles Upton died in 1965.

Sgt. J Arbuthnot, Sgt. R Plenderleith, Sgt. HJL Hallowes [Signatory 14], F/Lt. JWC Simpson, S/Ldr. PW Townsend [Signatory 12], P/O HC Upton

The remaining three (alongside the sister of Caesar Hull, Wendy Bryan [Signatory #6], are They Were There signatories:

Air Vice Marshall C George LOTT CB CBE DSO DFC (5 e/a) [Signatory #11] George died in 1989 and called not flying out with the others on his visit that day – which the photograph was taken to honour – “the greatest regret of his life”:

Wing Commander JI ‘Killy’ KILMARTIN OBE DFC (13+ e/a) [Signatory #35] who died in 1998, and landed back at Tangmere that day around 7pm so shattered that all he could do was mutter
“My God! My God!”:

And Group Captain Frank R ‘Chota’ CAREY CBE DFC** AFC DFM (28+ e/a) [Signatory #27],
who died in 2004:

In this one picture, the bigger tale is told. About a quarter of The Few were killed in The Battle of Britain. The ranks of those left thinned in the war, and afterwards
Now there is only one of The Few who flew left: John Hemingway.
At 101, the Irishman put his survival down to ‘the luck of the Irish.’

John Hemingway, the last of The Few. John Allman Hemingway, DFC, AE (born 17 July 1919) is an Irish former Royal Air Force fighter pilot. He served during the Second World War in the Battle of Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the Allied invasion of Italy and the Invasion of Normandy. Following the death of William Clark in May 2020, Hemingway became the last verified surviving airman of the Battle of Britain. He was shot down four times during the Second World War.

Meanwhile, over 40 others who fought The Battle of Britain are represented among the They Were There: Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat signatories – around one in seventy of The Few. Each signature tells an extraordinary story. Each signature is part of the great web that entangled the Allies in a world at war.

As we mark Battle of Britain 80, we invite you to explore some of these remarkable lives.

Battle of Britain by Paul Nash (1941) © IWM Art.IWM ART LD 1550