of a Dogfight
Like so many boys of wartime
southern England I spent many exciting times watching the aerial
activity over Whitstable and the surrounding countryside.
During air raids I would if possible escape from whatever
shelter I was in to watch any activity going on above.
I do not recall any fears, just interest and excitement.
Although I was quite young at
the time, about 4, I have to say that the most exciting time for me
involved witnessing one of the classic dogfights of the late Battle of
Britain period. A
dogfight which came within about 12" of ensuring I wouldn’t be
around to write this.
My mother was in
‘Tankerton’ hospital recovering from major stomach surgery.
A close friend looked after me.
We visited, as I understand it, her mother out at Yorkletts.
Alongside the cottage, on a rising bend overlooking the
Seasalter marshes, there was a ‘pillbox’. (It was still there for
my return visits in the ‘90s and, perhaps, still there today).
Certainly it was an excellent vantage point for any gun
emplacement with such clear views sweeping across from Faversham over
Sheppey to Whitstable.
During an air raid I was sent
under a front room bed while the two adults sheltered under a mattress
elsewhere. Why I was left alone
at such a young age I know not but it allowed me to escape outside.
I clearly recall a mass of vapour trails above and wherever I
looked across the estuary. But
to my great joy, two planes appeared - swinging in from off Whitstable
roughly over Blue Anchor corner. To
my eye, one was a Spitfire on the tail of a Messerschmitt 109.
What else would they be?
Many years later, I would
learn my Spitfire was a Hurricane. But
joy of joys, they were diving straight towards me and I still clearly
see the ‘Spitfire’s bullets tracing across the ‘pillbox’,
across the ground towards me then up the side of the cottage passing
about 12" over my head. Fantastic!
I nearly got shot. What
It didn’t register with me
that I could have been shot by one of our own.
Both planes swooped up, from my ‘mind’s eye’, little more
than 100 feet from the ground. Here
the ‘Spitfire’ pilot made a classic mistake in pulling up inside
the enemy plane’s loop. I
can still see the German plane rolling upright as they leveled out
pointing toward the end of Sheppey although they would have been over
the Coastal Road (Thanet Way). As
he leveled out, I saw the German pilot firing.
Both must have scored fatal hits.
Although still quite low both pilots baled out, as I found out
later reasonably safely i.e. they weren’t killed on impact.
The British pilot baled out
landing close to the railway bridge over Seasalter Road just out of my
sight on the other side of the railway embankment.
The ‘Spitfire’ slowly lost height turning slowly towards
Faversham eventually crashing beyond some trees.
I saw flames and smoke rising.
The German pilot also baled
out but a little further on - landing somewhere around the Blue Anchor
However, his plane continued - slowly losing height.
In my mind’s eye, I can see the eventual splashdown off
Sheppey so clearly I feel as though I could direct searchers very
close to the actual location of the Messerschmitt wreck.
There were three sequels to
the above story - one following on immediately after the event
the remaining two many years later here in Australia.
My mother was still in what was then a crowded hospital when
both the British and German airmen were admitted.
She saw both and learnt of their injuries etc little knowing
the event had nearly included me as a casualty.
The British airman had both
legs broken plus head and other injuries.
I do not know what injuries the German pilot sustained but I
think he was able to walk out of hospital within a day or so.
However it wasn’t before matron vented her feelings on him.
As she handed him a cup of tea she spat into.
Not very British but understandable under the prevailing
wartime conditions and, not knowing her personal experiences, perhaps
including the loss of loved ones through enemy action.
For his part, the German airman graciously accepted the tea,
offered his thanks and drank it.
Early in the 1970s, I worked
for Australia’s Ford Motor Company - a delightful job wandering
around the various engineering manufacturers solving their
manufacturing problems. The
aim of course being to keep Ford’s production lines going.
Whilst it was nice having a company car to swan around in and
have the authority of ‘Mr Ford’
when arriving at the various sites, the job was rather boring
when there weren’t any problems to attend to.
On such occasions I had a string of contacts I could call upon
for a morning, afternoon or perhaps even a lunchtime ‘cuppa.
My favourite was to visit Alby
a very close but sadly lately demised friend of 50 years.
Alby invested a small redundancy package into pursuing his
favourite hobby – he established a gunshop in Footscray.
Although born in Australia and at that stage had never visited
Britain, he was nevertheless very focused on the Battle of Britain
activities and the air war over South East England and Europe.
A number of Air Force
personnel from Point Cook airbase not far from Footscray became his
customers. Point Cook was the
very first Australian air corps base and, although no longer
operational, still has an Air Force presence as well as being home to
the Royal Australian Air Force Museum and museum flights.
In the early 1970s, an association of air force personnel both
active and past, both Australian and British, enjoyed many a social
evening watching old films etc. Alby,
although having worn khaki, became a periodic invited guest.
Whenever any past airman came into his shop his questions
inevitably searched out the former active wartime pilot and if
possible he had them telling ‘their story’.
Alby was amazed when the story
of one appeared to closely match my story above.
So amazed and intent on checking with me that although he said
he had heard an account witnessed by “his mate’, he didn’t think
to ask the old pilot his name or arrange any form of follow-up
in those days, mobile phones were still the province of Dick Tracey,
the closest being a crude form of pager.
Mine was a house brick sized lump of black plastic which lived
in a rack under the car dash. When
it received a call its red light merely winked at me prompting me to
call back to Head Office for instructions.
Needless to say, by the time I
received a message from Alby, his customer was long gone.
Alby’s eventual narration of the former fighter pilot’s
story convinced me his customer was my ‘Spitfire’ pilot although
he told Alby it was a Hurricane he flew in that action.
I would not have known the
pilot’s name nor did my mother recall if she had known it.
Unfortunately a spate of break ins and related incidents took
its toll, Alby‘s shop being closed down when my good friend suffered
a near fatal nervous breakdown. So,
the second sequel to that wartime event ended inconclusively.
The final sequel also happened
here in Australia. During
the late 1970s, I worked in Maidstone - a suburb in Melbourne’s
West. In the early 1980s,
my work took me to neighbouring Footscray, So you can see, I didn’t
move out of Kent at least by association.
In Footscray my general practice was to go for a lunchtime
stroll - buying my lunch and wandering wherever fancy took me.
that was to Footscray library where I would peruse the shelves
on a theme basis. I had
left until last a theme related to the air war over Britain &
Europe. The last because,
among other reasons, I owned or had read most of the titles the
library had on the subject.
The last book I borrowed was
one insignificant looking book by an ex RAF pilot whose name was Frank
or George Brown. I am
unsure of his first name due to some confusion with a well known
aviation photographer/ illustrator.
However, within its covers, I found an account of the very
dogfight I had witnessed, and yes.... the British pilot was in a
Hurricane not a Spitfire. In
a sense, I felt as though I was at the foot of a rainbow and had found
my pot of gold!
Unfortunately, when I returned
the library book I had unwittingly left my ‘bookmark’ within its
covers, a bookmark containing the book, author and publishers
references hence my confusion about the author, the British pilots
name. To make matters
worse, when I realised what I had done, I discovered the library
closed for rebuilding. All books had been securely archived pending
Like many municipal building
projects, building completion and re-opening suffered extensive
delays. It re-opened some 18
months later but I found ‘my book’ no longer listed. Most likely,
it was scrapped due to age.
An interesting part of the
British pilot’s story will raise the eyebrows of anyone familiar
with the area from Seasalter Road across the golf links to Collingwood
Rd. Although I was quite young
and his final touchdown hidden behind the railway embankment, I was
(and am still) sure the pilot landed on the marshes side of Seasalter/Faversham
From memory of the pilot’s
account, he hauled himself with both legs broken “across two
ditches, across a golf course to houses a mile away” where he
There was a time period over
which this transpired without him being discovered which I found
of the number of ditches or the accuracy of my memory, it was a bright
sunny day and you can be sure that his dogfight and subsequent bailing
out etc were observed by others although one would expect them to be
in their shelters. Perhaps
In the pilots
would expect him to be suffering considerably from his wounds with
little real comprehension of his bearings and activities prior to
rescue. My belief is that he,
in a confused and perhaps concussed state, may well have crossed the
small dyke which existed near the roadside, hauled himself across the
road to the houses on the Whitstable side and from there was rescued.
Perhaps later descriptions by others of where he landed and was
found became confused. Perhaps, some related that to the golf course
which he accepted as fact.
I would be very interested in
hearing from others who may have heard something of this story perhaps
from rescuers directly involved.