John Allman Hemingway was born in St Kevin’s Gardens in Dartry, Ireland on the 17th July 1919.
Having joined the Royal Air Force on a short-service commission in 1938, he was later posted out to France flying Hawker Hurricanes with No.85 Squadron. Flying from January 1940, he would provide air support for the British Expeditionary Forces.
On the 10th May 1940, John claimed a He111 destroyed and the following day shared a Do17 before his Hurricane L1979 was struck by Flak and he had to make a forced-landing. Returned by the Army to 85 Squadron at Lille-Seclin, he returned to England for a short-spell with No.253 Sqn at Kirton-in-Lindsay, following the evacuation of the BEF at Dunkirk, before re-joining 85 Squadron at RAF Debden on the 15th June 1940.
On the afternoon of the ‘Hardest Day’, the 18th August 1940, John was forced to bail-out from his stricken Hurricane V7249 after he was hit by return fire from a JU88. Falling into the sea he was only rescued two hours later when the lightship searching for him accidentally ran him over on their return journey, 12 miles out from Clacton. He was back in flying action just two days later!
John was shot down again, just 8 days later by an ME109, bailing out over Eastchurch, with his Hurricane P3966 crashing at Pitsea Marshes. The Hurricane was only excavated in 2019, which you can read more about here in the excellent online Wingleader Magazine article.
John was soon back flying and damaged an ME109 on the 31st August, and following the end of the Battle of Britain, No.85 Squadron were assigned Havocs, which would see a switch to predominantly night-flying.
Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in mid-1941, John was next detailed to 1452 Flight at West Malling, before later commanding No.43 Squadron, flying Spitfires in Italy between April and December 1945. On the 23rd April 1945, John was once again hit by groundfire and baled out unhurt. He avoided capture behind enemy lines through the assistance of an Italian family who disguised him, so that he literally walked past Nazi occupied positions, holding hands with the families young daughter aged no more than 10! He retired from the RAF in September 1969 as a Group Captain.
John’s whereabouts was only made public knowledge a few years ago when his family made contact with various Associations to make them aware during commemorative occasions such as the RAF’s 100th Anniversary. He was otherwise presumed no longer alive.
John, now 100, is the very last known Pilot alive from the Battle of Britain, and who flew over 80 sorties between July-October 1940. He was one of 36 proud Irish Pilots who flew and fought in the Battle of Britain.
I had the huge honour of arranging a private visit to spend a morning with John in his care home in Ireland in October 2019. There I spent a couple of hours in awe at hearing some of his incredible stories first hand, alongside seeing his logbook and medals. To shake his hand and to meet the now last Hurricane Pilot was a great honour. He was modest as ever and certainly felt he had the ‘luck of the Irish’. “I’m not ill, I’m just old” he says!
Now the very last of the ‘Few’, in the 80th Anniversary year, I wish John the very best of health and happiness and feel truly honoured to have been able to shake his hand and thank him for what he did.