Born 16th July 1918 in Boscombe, Hampshire – Paul Caswell Powe Farnes joined the RAFVR in 1938 – converting onto Hurricanes in 1939.
On 14th Sept 1939 Paul joined 501 Squadron, then based at Filton – before the squadron flew out to join the Battle of France at Betheniville on the 10th May 1940. He had immediate success within 2 days of arrival, destroying an HE111 and sharing another.
With France lost to the Germans the squadron were withdrawn back to England on 17th June 1940, eventually being stationed at Gravesend on 26th July as the Battle of Britain accelerated. His combat experience gained during France gave him valuable experience and flying hours, compared to many of the other pilots thrust through necessity into action between July-Oct 1940.
Flying Hurricanes throughout the Battle, Paul claimed 6 enemies shot down, one probably destroyed and six damaged – giving him ‘ace’ status (5 or more enemies shot down). He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM) as a result on the 22nd October.
Later commissioned in Nov 1940 he spent most of 1941 as a flight instructor with various postings, before becoming Flight Commander of 229 Sqn, posted to Malta in March 1942. Stints followed in Iraq & Baghdad until returning to the UK in early 1945.
He was later given command of 611 and 164 squadrons and held other various appointments prior to his retirement in 1958, retaining his rank of Wing Commander.
Paul turned 100 years old, a quite remarkable achievement – the same age as the Royal Air Force which also celebrated this milestone in 2018. He was the last surviving ‘Ace’ from the Battle of Britain, following the passing of Tom Neil earlier in 2018. Sadly Wing Commander Farnes passed away peacefully on the morning of 28th January 2020, aged 101. Paul had been the only member of the ‘Few’ able to attend both the annual memorial services at Capel-le-Ferne and Westminster Abbey in the RAF’s centenary year.
I was honoured to first meet Wing Commander Farnes at the Battle of Britain Memorial Day, Capel-le-Ferne in 2016, and have since had the great honour meeting him on further occasions including at Westminster in 2017. Honest and very straight talking, he always mentioned how he enjoyed the Battle when perhaps he maybe shouldn’t (given the loss of life) – and how he was proud to have taken part in it all.
I was always truly fascinated at how both mobile and sharp Paul was at his tender age, and was no surprise to see him as the last of the ‘Few’ able to attend various commemorative events. His daughter had once told me of his exercise routines and how he walked daily to the shops even in his late 90’s to keep fit.