Tony Garforth Pickering was born in Foxton, Leicestershire on the 25th August 1920 and a day after his 19th birthday he first went solo in a Tiger Moth having joined the RAFVR in April of 1939.
On completion of flying training Tony was posted to 32 Squadron at Biggin Hill, but the CO was not satisfied with the level of experience of some of his new recruits. Tony had not even seen a Hawker Hurricane (which the squadron were then equipped with) – so he was sent with two other colleagues to 6 OTU, Sutton Bridge for further flying and familirisation with the aircraft.
Tony was sent back to 32 squadron later that month however two days later the squadron was retreated to Acklington for a rest – however as Tony and his other two new comrades were new, he was posted to 501 Squadron at Gravesend on 27th August 1940.
Thrust in at the height of the Battle, 501 Squadron had experienced pilots having been at the forefront of combat since the Battle of France a few months earlier. These pilots had a big influence on the younger, inexperienced likes of Tony.
On the 11th September, Tony’s Hurricane was shot down following an engagement with Heinkels and Dorniers. Following a head-on attack he was hit by the front air-gunners of the German bombers which destroyed the sump on his Hurricane. With smoke pouring from his engine, Tony decided as soon as the flames emerged to bail-out. He landed at Caterham at a guards depot and often recalled how he was taken by a pair of Irish guards to see the CO who poured him a couple of whiskeys before returning to base.
As a junior pilot Tony claimed a few aircraft damaged during his Ops including a Dornier 215 on 30th August and a ME109 destroyed on 29th October – however suggested the more senior pilots made claims and pulled rank in being credited a lot of the time.
Post Battle of Britain Tony became a test pilot and instructor before a posting to the Middle East in early 1945. He returned to the UK in December 1945 before being released a month later with the rank of Squadron Leader. Tony settled in Rugby where he also took part in bell ringing at his local church and he became a focal point of the media for the Battle of Britain commemorations, particularly for the 75th Anniversary in 2015.
I only met Tony briefly twice – on both occasions he was a true gentleman and made a point of making time to listen and ensure that he spoke to everyone. A privilege to shake his hand and hear some of his stories first hand.
He sadly passed on 24th March 2016 aged 95.