Tributes paid to wife of last Hurricane pilot in East Anglia who fought in Battle of Britain
09:17 13 August 2014
Warm tributes have been paid to the wife of Wing Cdr Tom Neil – the last surviving pilot in East Anglia who fought in the Battle of Britain.
Eileen Neil died a few days short of her 96th birthday last Thursday, and as well as being the wife of a venerable fighter ace, had her own distinguished RAF career.
She was born in London in 1918 into an army family, with her father serving in India. Her childhood was spent moving around different countries and schools and she was 21-years-old when the Second World War broke out.
Her husband, a former Hurricane pilot who lives in Thwaite St Mary, near Bungay, said: “She was one of the most beautiful and talented women I have ever come across. She did nothing but good.
“The air force was her life. And she endured all the bombing and moving around with me.”
Mrs Neil wanted to become a nurse but found out she couldn’t be trained unless she was going to stay for three years. She didn’t want to join the navy or army, so gravitated to the air force.
Wing Cdr Neil, 94, said: “She collected at King’s Cross Station with about 40 recruits and was immediately put in charge of them all, even though she hadn’t been in the air force before.”
She was stationed at RAF Kenley as a plotter during the Battle of Britain. She was promoted to personal assistant of an air marshal but didn’t like the job so went to Biggin Hill as an officer in the underground operations room. She was then promoted to Flight Officer.
It was at Biggin Hill where the couple met in 1942.
He said: “I was only there for a week or two until I moved on. We didn’t see each other again until 1943 when I was with the American air force. We agreed to marry but not until the end of the war.”
Mrs Neil remained in the air force during the German surrender and atomic bombings on Japan, stationed at Ghent in Belgium. She left in October 1945, and continued to follow her husband around the world.
The pair were married on June 3, 1945. Together they have lived in 35 different homes and have three sons.
After moving to Norfolk Mrs Neil worked in social services, before finally retiring in 1983.
She suffered from glaucoma and became blind two years ago.
Mrs Neil’s funeral will be held at the village church on August 20.
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