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Jo'Burg Days: Sad Day

Barbara Durlacher is deeply moved by the death of her neighbour, Aidan, and pays this heartfelt tribute to a man who flew a Spitfire during the Battle of Britain.

The reason for calling this column Sad Day is because my dear old neighbour (the ex-WWII Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot) died last night and I have been more affected by it than I had expected.

You know, when I first had him and his wife Penny in for a drink and he chatted about flying Spitfires in the war I thought to myself… ‘In your dreams, my boy - you can’t be more than 67, so where do you come from with this bragging that you flew Spits in WWII?”

Aidan was slender, with dark brown hair, a typical military moustache, extremely active, walking all over the village, putting us all to shame with his energy and vitality; there was no way he could be old enough to have flown Spitfires in the last war.

Then some weeks later, I casually said to Penny ”How old is Aidan?” and she proudly replied “Oh, he’s 87, and I’ll be 85 in two weeks time, and we’ve been married for 47 years!”

‘Oops!’ I thought, metaphorically eating my words, ‘Then perhaps Aidan is old enough to have flown in the Battle of Britain, and that everything he was telling me was true!’

Throughout the short time I knew him, I found him to be the most kindly and sensitive of men, one of, in the moth-eaten phrase, nature’s gentlemen, a sweet, kindly, worldly, sophisticated and wise commentator on the follies of the world, and somebody I was always glad to have a quick chat with. And now …..

He had been failing for some months, ever since he had pneumonia badly during the winter and was hospitalised a couple of times. Whilst in hospital his doctor discovered that a triple heart bi-pass he had about 10 yrs ago was failing - the valves were blocked and the heart was working overtime trying to keep the poor dear old man alive.

The doctor then put him onto blood-thinning medication and he responded quite well. He seemed to rally - and in fact, I had a good chat to him a few days ago and he was a bright as a button. Although he had lost a lot of weight - principally, I think, because the medics had taken him off all alcohol, he still had a hearty appetite and was in good nick.

He really enjoyed his couple of snorts in the evening, and missed his tipple - although he was always punctilious about serving Penny with her usual brandy and soda at 5:30pm. He looked well, despite the weight loss, and his mind was completely normal.

Anyway, enough of all this - the dear thing dropped dead last night, whilst reading a book at the dining table with his wife of 47 years quietly watching telly next to him, and the family have been rallying around since.

His going will be a great loss to us all, and I will always remember him as being my personal contact with One of the Few. One of the last of those remaining, the brave young lads who saved the world in 1941 when Britain was tottering on the verge of defeat and they roared into the sunlit silence, into the skies of southern Britain and took on the might and power of the Luftwaffe and defeated them all.

In the beautiful Zulu words… “Hamba Gashle, dear Aidan (Go with God) and what a privilege it has been to know you.

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