As the country commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, Wing Commander Paul Farnes has spoken about his experience as a young pilot protecting Britain’s skies.
The 97-year-old from Tangmere joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR) at the age of 18.
“Things were beginning to get a bit difficult, people were getting worried so in April 1938 I thought it was time to do something,” said Wg Cdr Farnes.
In 1939, he was sent to Wales where he learnt to fly Hurricanes. “But the war started so I never completed my training.”
Wg Cdr Farnes joined 501 squadron and was just 21 during the deadly battle.
“I never felt any fear, I don’t think anybody did.
“Flying and fighting was easy because that is what we had been trained to do.
“I quite ‘enjoyed’ the battle, we were flying several times a day which was what we wanted to do. I got the odd bullet hole in my aircraft but never enough to force me down. On one occasion we were sent up on a sortie and my oxygen wasn’t working properly so I had to return to base. Suddenly I saw a Junkers JU88 German aircraft coming towards me. I turned around and chased him and he crashed on Gatwick air field. I went over to meet the pilot and offered to shake hands with him but he didn’t respond.
“Another time I shot down a 109. The pilot bailed out and I waved at him as he went down - he waved back. Eventually he landed in a farmer’s field.
“When the Battle of Britain is mentioned people immediately talk about Spitfires but in fact the Hurricane was the work horse of the battle.
“It shot down twice as many enemy aircraft.”
After the battle Wg Cdr Farnes became a flying instructor, before leaving the air force in 1958. He added: “501 was the only squadron that went right through the battle without a break. There was a wonderful camaraderie between the officers and sergeant pilots, we were all fighting for the same cause. You could not create that camaraderie again. The ground crew were also wonderful, we relied on them.”
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