One of my proudest ever days and one I certainly shall never forget! When Tom Neil asked if I would accompany him as his guest to the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flights 60th Anniversary celebrations at RAF Coningsby I was beyond lost for words.
The day comprised a gathering of many RAF Bomber Command veterans and Fighter pilots. Refreshments would be followed by a meet and greet with HRH Prince William – Duke of Cambridge and Patron of the BBMF, then a private flypast, speeches and photographs with their aircraft.
In tribute to the remaining ‘Few’ the BBMF Spitfire Mk.II P7350 & Hurricane Mk.IIc LF363 had been marked up for the 2017 season in four of the remaining Battle of Britain pilots squadron marking on each of their port & starboard sides. The Hurricane marked up in Tom Neil’s 249 Sqn codes GN-F and Paul Farnes 501 markings SD-A. The Spitfire likewise in Geoffrey Wellum’s 92 Sqn QJ-G and Ken Wilkinson’s 19 Sqn markings QV-E. Unfortunately Paul Farnes was not able to attend – but the other trio were all present.
Arriving with Tom we proceeded into the main hangar for refreshments and soon met with Sqn Ldr Geoffrey Wellum and his lovely son Neil – whom both I was privileged to spend the majority of the day with. I was literally in heaven and had to keep pinching myself.
The weather was looking indifferent with wind and rain on the horizon – so following HRH’s arrival the programme altered slightly to bring the flying display forward, so not to be scuppered later by the weather. We congregated outside to watch the Lancaster bomber perform multiple flypasts – flanked by two Hurricanes and two Spitfires. A magical sight in the presence of so many brave servicemen and heroes who flew in them – goosebumps!
We then returned inside where HRH made his way round chatting to many of the veterans before we were ushered outside again for the speeches and photographs – again trying to beat the rain!
It was truly a special moment to see Tom in front of a Hurricane that he once also actually flew (post Battle of Britain), in his GN-F markings – and I managed to get some irreplaceable photographs and memories from a magical day. Unfortunately Tom was too tired to stay for the formal evening dinner – so we said our goodbyes and headed home after a very special occasion.
Sadly F/O Ken Wilkinson, who I had the pleasure of meeting before in February 2016 passed away only a couple of weeks after this event and having just turned 99 in June. God bless you Ken & Blue skies sir – it was an honour to shake your hand a last time. Thank you.