Today, all over Britain, people remembered The Battle Of Britain. Three and a half months of aerial combat in the summer of 1940 that prevented a Nazi invasion.
Around 544 personnel from Fighter Command died in the battle, which was fought over south-east England as the German Luftwaffe attempted to destroy Britain’s fighter defences.
Odiham is home to RAF Odiham, the largest Chinook Squadron in the UK, No 7 Squadron, No 18 Squadron, No 27 Squadron, and the Operational Conversion Flight and was a target of German bombing in October 1940 with the loss of several lives.
The 1940’s Chronicle suggests that we ‘take action’ to remember those dark days, and write a blog as if we were living through it. I wanted to write something and I’ve started several posts but nothing I’ve come up with seems fit to publish. I can’t imagine what it must have been like and life today would have been very different if it hadn’t been for ‘the few‘ who fought so hard.
So today we listened to a swing band blasting out the hits of Glenn Miller, a Vera Lynn tribute and the distant sounds of a Spitfire and a Hurricane on a brief fly past. I ate Spam, sandwiches, drank a little Spitfire Ale and took photographs as Odiham saluted the people who fought, and died, in The Battle Of Britain.
And as a final thought I’d like to refer to the diary of Aircraft Woman 1st Class – Jane Sheridan. From the 1940’s Chronicles.
I got a call on the telephone yesterday while I was on duty to say that George had been shot down but that he was alive and in no danger. However, he had been injured. I wanted to go and see him. Violet was able to take over my shift and our Commanding Officer let me head off to Orpington General Hospital where George had been taken.
I didn’t know what to expect. It was a cloudy day and it was raining. I hadn’t eaten any breakfast due to the sickness that I’m getting every morning now. My stomach was fluttering and I just stared at the greyness around me and heard my heartbeat thumping in my ears until it made me feel as though I would explode. When I arrived at the hospital, I stood on the side of the road outside and I was sick against a wall. A nice old lady came over and asked me if I was alright and I said I was and I cleaned myself up standing in the rain and walked in to the hospital. When I arrived on the ward, I saw his face immediately; it was unblemished and I felt relieved. A nurse walked towards me and started to say something but I rushed straight over to him. His eyes flickered when he saw me, in that same way that they’d flickered the first time we met, but I realised that something was amiss.
‘Hello darling’, he said, trying to sound happy.
‘What’s wrong, George?’ I asked him straight away, looking straight at his eyes.
He held my hand tightly.
‘I’m perfectly alright,’ he said. ‘Except for the fact that my leg’s been blown to bits,’ he said, looking down the bed at where his right leg should be, and I realised what had happened, and I couldn’t tell what I felt.
I felt terrible that George had lost his leg, but relieved that he hadn’t been burned, like so many other pilots. I was relieved that he was still alive. Of course I was! But then for some stupid reason I thought about all those socks that I’d been knitting for George and the tears rolled down my face when I thought that one from each pair had been wasted.
‘It’s alright, George. You’re alive. You’re alive.’ And I hugged him tightly.
‘And we gave the buggers a bloody-good pasting, didn’t we,’ said George with tear in his eyes too.
‘You certainly did.’
He told me what had happened. They were scrambled in late morning, gained height and intercepted an enormous bomber formation of approximately 300 planes heading for London somewhere close to Canterbury (I had seen them coming in on my screen).The two Biggin Hill squadrons were the first to reach them and George told me that he peppered a Dornier with tracer into the starboard wing, hitting the engine and setting it on fire. But then as he pulled away from his attack, he was hit by cannon fire in the cockpit which tore his leg from the rudder pedal. He realised that he had to bale out. He managed to get out of the cockpit and after his parachute unfurled he used his red silk scarf to tie a tourniquet around his leg to stop the bleeding on the way down. He could tell even then that the leg was finished as it was flapping around loosely in the wind, shattered to pieces by the cannon shell. He was brought here, where they had to amputate his leg just below the knee.
I don’t know whether men with one leg can carry on with a life in the services. Perhaps George can get a job in the ops room. I heard that the RAF Benevolent Fund may be able to help – I remember reading in the Chronicle an appeal from the Benevolent Fund saying something like ‘It is only too sadly obvious that in the near future there must be heavy calls upon the Fund, to an extent not at present calculable.’ Surely this is one of those calls. Maybe they can help. There seem so many uncertainties with our child on the way. If it is a boy, will George be able to play cricket with him? I honestly know so little about what they can do with this type of injury.
But I do know one thing. My husband is a hero. The Luftwaffe was given an almighty thrashing on September 15, reversing the bad fortune the RAF had endured for more than a fortnight before, and George was at the very forefront of the defence of London and Britain. I hope that whatever happens to him in the future, people won’t forget what he did for them.