A group of World War Two RAF pilots gathered at the Cabinet War Rooms in London on Tuesday to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. MSN UK News spoke to some of them to hear their memories of fighting and ultimately defeating the German air force.
"There was no time to feel afraid," explains Squadron Leader Nigel Rose, aged 92.
"You were so busy dealing with everything. There was so much to think about when flying the plane.
"One obviously missed one's friends who were lost. But you hadn't got time to mope about it. It was one of those things that happened."
'Very new and raw'
Rose and other veterans were attending an event organised by the Royal Mint in association with the Battle of Britain Fighter Association and the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust, to mark the release of a new documentary film featuring pilots' memories.
Squadron Leader Rose joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve in 1938 and had logged 87 hours before being called up at the outbreak of war in September 1939. He joined 602 Squadron at Drem in Scotland in June 1940, just as the Battle of Britain was about to get underway.
"We were very new and raw," he recalls. "On my third day with the squadron I had my first engagement, when about 100 or so Germans were spotted coming in over the coast.
"I'd never seen a German aircraft before, not one, and here were 100 or so. We dived down and tried to hit the rear end of these enormous Bf 110s. I got my baptism of fire then, I really did."
'Unless you were flying a Spitfire, nobody was interested!'
Wing Commander Tom Neil DFC* AFC AE joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in October 1938 and was called up in September 1939. He joined 249 Squadron, stationed in North Weald in Essex, in May 1940.
"We became operational - fit to take on the enemy - on 4 July 1940," Neil remembers, "and in the afternoon of the same day I intercepted my first enemy aircraft somewhere out to sea. I was so intrigued by the sight of an enemy aircraft that I sat there looking at it for quite some time.
"The leader of my formation, who was a bit of a halfwit, was slow to see the enemy; I was banging on my window, telling him there was an aircraft over there! He didn't get out of the way to enable me to shoot."
Four days later Neil shot down his first enemy aircraft. He recalls seeing a news report of the battle in a cinema and being bemused at how it stated the aircraft had been shot down by a Spitfire. "We were flying Hurricanes! But of course, unless you were flying a Spitfire, nobody was interested!"
'A plane cannot fly with only one wing'
Flight Commander Keith Lawrence was mostly based in Hampshire during the Battle of Britain.
Asked if he and his colleagues were aware of how the wider campaign was progressing, he is blunt. "In modern day language, we hadn't a clue! All we did was concentrate on flying each day's shift. We might have to be ready at first light. We would be waiting and waiting for the telephone to ring to give us the call to go.
"We would race to the aircraft, strap on the kit, press the start button and be airborne within four or five minutes of getting the call to scramble."
Lawrence had a few close shaves during the Battle of Britain, including getting a wing shot off while flying over Kent. "A plane cannot fly with only one wing," he states, matter-of-factly. "I was ejected from my aircraft and had to get my parachute open, which was very badly damaged in the ejection. A stong wind blew me out to sea and I landed in the Straits of Dover."
'Those letters were really difficult to write'
Squadron Leader Rose recalls how one of his fellow pilots was shot down and landed in the grounds of a girls' school. "One of the teachers picked him up in her car, together with his parachute, and drove him to the station.
"After a few days this pilot got a letter from the head girl of the school to say they'd held an emergency meeting that night and had decided to adopt him! The rest of the squadron was very jealous, as from that moment on he'd get socks and scarves and all sorts of things."
Later in the war Rose became a gunnery instructor. He remembers one of the most unpleasant tasks was not going into battle in the air, but writing letters to the parents of pilots who had been killed in action.
"You had to point out what a nice chap he was, how popular he was, what a good pilot he was; there were all these standard phrases. But you knew that parents were trying to read between the lines to see what people really thought of their son. They were really difficult to write, these letters, more difficult than flying a plane, because you could be trained to fly a plane."
Geoff Caddick, PA Wire
Virtual memorial wall
Battle of Britain Day is held every 15 September: the anniversary of 24 hours Winston Churchill dubbed "the crux of the Battle of Britain" and which marked a permanent shift in the balance of power in the air in the RAF's favour.
The Royal Mint has issued a special Battle of Britain £5 coin for this year's anniversary, and has launched a virtual memorial wall where members of the public can post a tribute to the contributions of their relatives during the campaign.
The Royal Mint will also donate £1 to the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust's Learning Centre Appeal for every person who posts a tribute on the wall between 3 September and 17 October, up to a total of £10,000.
Squadron Leader Rose is proud to be involved in this year's commemorations. "Remembering the Battle of Britain appears to be much more important now than before. It's wonderful what has been happening this year, and how it's touched people of all ages, even little children.
"The popularity of it seems to have grown tremendously, which is no bad thing. We need a bit of national pride."
- The Battle of Britain: interactive guide
- 10 RAF pilots who helped win the Battle of Britain
- Battle of Britain images on Bing
- World War Two, 70 years on: MSN special report