« Maggie Teyte | Main | A Year Of Miracles »

Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 86 - The Battle Of Britain

...His courage won him the Distinguished Flying Cross, but the way he finished off the enemy earned him the reputation of being utterly ruthless. He gave no quarter and shot down planes mercilessly till they fell out of the sky. Few German pilots had chance to bale out once he had set his sights on them. He went for them first and watched their aircraft spin earthwards with grim satisfaction. After his experience in Prague, he never forgave the Nazis and hounded their air-force remorselessly...

Fighter pilot John Illingworth turns into a highly efficient killing machine.

John Waddington-Feather continues his gripping story of the fortunes and misfortunes of a Yorkshire mill-owning family. To read earlier chapters please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/illingworth_house/

While Keighworth basked peacefully, if patriotically, in the phoney war of 1940, John Illingworth was in action over France, fighting desperate air-battles to cover the retreating British army. He flew the Hawker Hurricanes he had trained on, this time for real. By the end of the year he was a veteran fighter pilot with kills to his name.

He learned quickly how to survive the numerous dog-fights with the Luftwaffe fighters which were strafing the Dunkirk Beaches. He was a natural fighter-pilot and his killer instinct made him a deadly opponent in those few bloody weeks over France.

His courage won him the Distinguished Flying Cross, but the way he finished off the enemy earned him the reputation of being utterly ruthless. He gave no quarter and shot down planes mercilessly till they fell out of the sky. Few German pilots had chance to bale out once he had set his sights on them. He went for them first and watched their aircraft spin earthwards with grim satisfaction. After his experience in Prague, he never forgave the Nazis and hounded their air-force remorselessly.

In August, the Luftwaffe began bombing mainland Britain and his squadron moved to Biggin Hill as German attacks grew in intensity. By the end of the month he was in the air daily, surviving where others were picked off by the German fighter escorts, now able to operate from French airfields and fly in with the bombers.

Many of his fellow pilots were Czechs and Poles, who had escaped when their countries were overrun by the Germans. They had flown out their own decrepit air-forces at the last minute and re-trained on the new Hurricane fighters and Spitfires. Like John they became merciless fighters, suicidal in their ferocity once they went into action.

As losses in his squadron grew, they were replaced with inexperienced pilots fresh from training schools. Few of them had flown much in the Spitfires and Hurricanes which patrolled the south coast. But once in action, they soon became skilled fighter pilots - if they managed to survive long enough.

The new drafts were easily recognised by their eagerness to get into action, and they grew younger as the battle in the air took its toll. They had arrived fresh from school, wide-eyed and keen to get a crack at Jerry. They were boyish and noisy, laughed and joked easily; and had been hyped up to expect instant success. They soon discovered reality was very different.

By contrast, the veterans, though much the same age, looked years older. They were reticent, grim. If they spoke at all it was about mundane day-to-day events in the mess or about sport. They said nothing about the terror they had to face daily in action. They had the bearing of older men, too; indeterminably older. In them there was an ageing of the mind and spirit more than the body, but just as real. It showed most in their eyes and the set of their mouths.

When they returned from battle that ageing was noticeable most. Their faces were haggard and pale, lined heavily around eyes tight with stress and red-rimmed with fatigue. They glossed over the kills they had made or the deaths of their fellows. If they laughed at all, their voices had a hollow ring.

To the newcomers they seemed callous and indifferent. They didn't mourn for lost comrades, leastways not openly. They showed little emotion at all, speaking off-handedly about the squadron's losses, which they dismissed with a shrug of the shoulders or the casual remark that so-and-so had bought it. Then, after a sleep, they got back to their flying and killing.
There was a time when they tried to pass on their experience to the raw pilots before they went into battle, but as August drifted into September that became impossible. They were permanently on combat call. Only John as squadron leader gave what short briefings he could. After that, the new pilots were on their own and had to take their chance with the rest of them.

On the other side of the English Channel, Air Reich Marshal Goering promised Hitler he would destroy the RAF in weeks before the German
invasion of Britain. He switched his attacks to the airfields in the south, sending in wave upon wave of bombers. The battle for Britain had begun in earnest. So had the struggle for survival by the pilots of both sides.

Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.