This summer is the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain when Churchill said “Never in the field of human conflict was so much was owed by so many to so few.” Most of the Spitfire and Hurricane pilots were very young men who themselves asked how they should live if you are twenty and will be dead by the end of summer.
Today the Probus Club of Basingstoke has several members who were “regulars” in the RAF. We have a Wing Commander, two Squadron Leaders, a Flight Lieutenant and Flight Sergeant and in previous years we have had two Group Captains. While the father of one of the current ex-RAF members was a Spitfire pilot during the early part of the war, none of the present day members are old enough to have served at that time although many of our mostly civilian members class themselves as War Babies and do have war time memories.
The presence of RAF Odiham does have a part to play on why some of these members live in Basingstoke following retirement. Although Odiham played a significant role during the war with a wide variety of aircraft types there were three airfields in Hampshire that operated Spitfire and Hurricane squadrons that contributed their efforts during the Battle of Britain. These were Boscombe Down (56 and 249 Squadrons Hurricanes) Middle Wallop (609 Squadron Spitfires and 238 Squadron Hurricanes) and Lee on Solent that was used by many RAF Spitfire and Hurricane squadrons during the Battle of Britain.
Today, one of these veterans is the Armed Forces Champion of Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council, and supports the local government in its covenant with all branches of the military, another was involved at a memorial service in Westminster Abbey when he was the usher to the chairman of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association and afterwards accompanied him to St James’ Palace for a reception with Prince Charles, a third joined the Queen’s Helicopter flight receiving a personal decoration from Her Majesty, the fourth was deeply involved in bomb disposal, and the most senior was involved with delta wing Avro Vulcans during the Cold War. All of them have been part of the array of interesting speakers at the usual monthly Probus Club lunch meetings.
10 July 1940 was the start of this first decisive battle in history fought entirely in the air. It is poignant that eighty years to the day was the funeral of forces’ sweetheart, Dame Vera Lynn and there was a fly-past of two Spitfires over her home. Both of these iconic planes were spotted over Basingstoke flying abreast back to their bases at Duxford and RAF Conningsby.
But what of the majority of members who either did their National Service or were just too young to be called up? They had busy lives in industry, commerce, medicine, law and science in the locality and overseas. They now have a fulfilling retirement helped by their membership of the Probus Club. Some are keeping fit by trying to do their 10,000 steps a day, others pleased to get back on the golf course and one keenly looking forward to being a cricket umpire. Others may be less energetic but have kept their minds active with other hobbies. Not for them the problem faced by many being on furlough with an increasing waistline but by not dining out so often has had a positive effect on their wallets.
Photos were kindly supplied by Chris Perkins MVO (Badge and P/O Peter Watson) and the two images of planes from Paul Miller.