Last of the Few

The Battle of Britain in the words of the pilots who won it

Hurricane Mk1 at the Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford, Gloucestershire, England, 2008. (Adrian Pingstone)

Pilot Officer George Herman Bennions: 41 Squadron

I was annoyed with myself for having been shot down so decisively, and I felt terribly isolated. I couldn’t hear or see very well.... I felt so very sorry for myself, which is not a good situation for anybody....

There was one person in particular who put me on a much more even footing. He had been shot down by a Hurricane. He had sent a message to go and see him. I was on crutches at the time, and I managed to get over to where he was with a hell of a lot of struggle and self-pity. As I opened the door in Ward 3, I saw what I can only describe now as the most horrifying thing I have ever seen in my life.

This chap had been really badly burned. His hair was burned off, his eyebrows and eyelids. You could just see his staring eyes, with only two holes in his face. His nose and lips were also badly burned. Then I looked down, and saw that his hands and feet were burned. I got through the door on my crutches with a struggle, and then this chap started propelling a wheelchair down the ward. Halfway down, he picked up the back of a chair with his teeth. Then he brought this chair down the ward and threw it alongside me and said, “Have a seat, old boy.”

It was then that I cried—and I thought, “What have I got to complain about?”

On August 20, 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed his nation: The gratitude of every home in our island, in our Empire and, indeed, throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unweary in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.


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