“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”
History has always a great love of mine. Growing up my Dad used to share stories of his ancestors in the South African war and my Mom used to relate stories of her studying as a journalist during Apartheid, when the censoring and violence surrounding the freedom of press was increasing every day. As a member of the ‘born-free’ generation who started school just after Nelson Mandela was elected, both myself and my peers have grown up with a deep sense of connection to South Africa’s history; remembering both the sins of the past and how much South Africa has overcome. I think that this is something that many of us carry with us every day.
With this, the bookshelves of my childhood home overflowed with books on the Great Depression, the French Revolution and World War 1 and World War 2. As a South Africans family, we have great link to England and share a common history. From my Great great Uncle Louis Botha fighting against the English in the South African war, to my mother being born in Nottinghill, London; our two histories are intertwined.
My dad has long held a fascination with aviation history and as a child, I can remember him relating tales of the great Dogfights that dominated the skies during the Battle of Britain. It’s then somewhat amusing that of all the counties that I moved to, Lincolnshire is renowned for both its aviation bases and their subsequent legacy; which not only includes the Battle of Britain but the Dambusters as well. It’s no wonder then that since living here my love and appreciation for these airplanes and pilots that helped to defend England and their remarkable contribution to history, has grown.
I recently attended the Battle of Britain Gala at the Petwood Hotel which commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Being both an aviation and history enthusiast , this of the most special evenings in my life and something that I will remember for years to come.
As a brief history, the Battle of Britain refers to the the Second World War air campaign waged by the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, against the United Kingdom during the summer and autumn of 1940.The Battle of Britain was the first major campaign to be fought entirely by air forces, and was also the largest and most sustained aerial bombing campaign to that date.
In honour of the significant contribution, Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire not only brought fellow aviation enthusiasts together to watch the historic Battle of Britain film in the Kinema in the Woods – the most delightful 1930’s cinema where the organist pops out of the floor during the interval – but also brought three of the remaining ‘few’ to join us.
From left to right: Flying Officer Ken Wilkinson, Wing Commander Tom Neil and Squadron Leader Tony Pickering.
Meeting and chatting to these special men was such a delight. I was touched by their twinkling eyes that spoke of an incredible spirit and their sense of humour at attending an event in their honour. They also displayed a gentle comradeship, and a deep respect for their friends that were no longer with them.
A hugely successful Hurricane ace, Tom Neil, flew 141 combat missions (only a few pilots reached 50), show down 13 enemy aircraft and was only 19 when the Battle of Britain ended.
“We were very young, I don’t think we realised fully what we were doing. We were enthusiastic and we were driven on by Winston Churchill. ”
What I’ll carry with me from this meaningful evening are the values of commitment and loyalty to not only remembering this turning point in the Second World War; but also recognising the men and women who served and gave their lives for this cause. It’s through honouring their lives and their sacrifice that their stories are woven into my life to be remembered.