The Last of the Few

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  1. The end of an era – perhaps an age.
    When I was young back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, I knew a number of guys who had flown in WW 2. Noel James, a neighbour whose son and I were good friends – Noel had flown Grumman TBFs in the Pacific theatre – was a Squadron Leader.
    Also Joe Bell – Joe flew Corsairs in the Pacific, and had a fascinating tale to tell, which I will repeat at some other time – just to name a few.
    But the guy who flew with the RAF in England was Tommy (Titch) Austin; Tom was a builder and a friend of dad’s and was a customer of dad’s in his joinery factory, where I worked until 1968 when dad sold the business. I had a lot to do with Tommy, and he used to tell some humorous stories – with hindsight, I think, to disguise the stress from the danger they faced only 20 odd years before, and which still was real to him. I don’t think Tommy flew in the Battle ofBritain, but he did fly with the RAF before the RNZAF squadrons were formed. He flew Hurricanes, then Spitfires, and later Hawker Tempests (or Typhoons – can’t recall which). He must have had a fairly charmed life, having had I think 18 or 20 personal kills, and was Mentioned in Despatches for bravery and his success.
    He was only a little guy – stood about 5’6″ and about 140 lbs wringing wet. His size was very suited to flying in these fighter aircraft, which were quite tight and small,(except for the Tempests) and perormed better with a lighter pilot. He was a local house builder, and was quite innovative in his designs. He recounted the only mishap he had – he was ordered to taxi an Avro Anson twin enginged plane from the tarmac where it was parked to a hangar some distance away because of an approaching storm. He decided to take a longer route around the perimeter of the airfield, instead of the direct route to the hangar. He decided to open the throttles a bit more than taxi speed, and was hit by a gust of wind – he flipped the plane onto its back and severely damaged it. He was put ‘on the mat’, but not stood down from flying ops because of his experience.
    I believe he died about 15 years ago – one of the heroic few.

  2. “The end of an era – perhaps an age.”

    Indeed Don, although in a larger sense I hope not. In our hour of need may we always have heroes willing to fight against the odds for a great cause, in spite of Death and the other weaknesses to which Man is heir to.

  3. Thank you for posting, Don. I cannot help but be amazed that in calling these brave airmen “the few,” Winston Churchill was echoing Shakespeare’s Henry V: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

  4. “I cannot help but be amazed that in calling these brave airmen “the few,” Winston Churchill was echoing Shakespeare’s Henry V: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”

    Nathan, Churchill had the English language in his bones. It is fun to read his speeches and catch his borrowings and riffs on other masters of the tongue.

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