Thomas Francis Neil was born in Bootle on the 14th July 1920 and was aged just 19 when the Battle of Britain began on the 10th July 1940. Tom survived over 140 sorties during the Battle of Britain flying Hurricanes with 249 Squadron, before being posted to defend the besieged island of Malta in 1941.
After safely returning to the UK, Tom was attached to the American 9th Tactical Air Force as Liaison Officer where he took part in the invasion of Normandy, and remained with the USAAF until the border of Germany was reached.
After the War, Tom remained with the RAF until 1964, eventually retiring highly decorated, achieving the rank of Wing Commander with awards including the Distinguished Flying Cross with Bar, Air Force Cross, Air Efficiency Award, Bronze Star and most recently in 2016 the Legion D’Honneur. Tom lectured at the prestigious School of Air Support, before spending time as a Service Test Pilot, where he flew over 100 different types of aircraft and participated in the development of pressurised flight suits.
Having served for some years in the British Embassy in Washington at the height of the Cold War, Tom returned to the US as a businessman before relocating to Norfolk where his career included running a Shoe Business and Art Gallery.
Devastatingly Tom passed away just 3 days short of his 98th birthday on the 11th July 2018 – a huge personal loss, and to this world.
Tom is credited with 14 victories during the war, the majority of which were during the Battle of Britain and obtained him ‘Ace’ status (5 or more victories) and making him one of the most successful RAF pilots.
Today less than 10 of Churchill’s immortal ‘Few’ who flew and fought in the Battle of Britain remain with us, of which only a handful are able to attend commemorative events in person. Tom was a phenomenal man and there was no a greater ambassador to represent the ‘Few’. He epitomized the incredible generation that we owe so much for today with his infectious charm, his humbleness, selfless nature, and being the utmost gentleman. It has been my proudest and greatest honour to have been able to get to know Tom and spend such treasured time in his irreplaceable company over the past few years, and to have called him my friend.
The ‘Few’ and in particular Tom are a huge personal inspiration and whom we should all be both enormously proud and grateful, and they deserve to be eternally remembered.
Lasting memorials to this great generation can be found at both the Battle of Britain Memorial site at Capel-le-Ferne, and the Battle of Britain Monument situated on Victoria Embankment – London.
Tom wouldn’t call himself a hero, but he forever will be in my eyes.