Battle of Britain pilot Tom Neil, 97, joins veterans for RAF Coningsby memorial flight
- Credit: PA
Battle of Britain pilot Tom Neil was among the Second World War veterans invited to a special air display to remember their fallen comrades.
The 97-year-old of Thwaite St Mary, near Bungay, is now one of the last remaining pilots of the battle, and yesterday he travelled to Lincolnshire to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight alongside Prince William.
Mr Neil flew between 141 and 157 times during the Battle of Britain, shooting down 13 enemy aircraft.
The commemoration was held at RAF Coningsby, where the Duke of Cambridge spoke to veterans before watching an air display of a Lancaster, three Spitfires and a Hurricane flown by serving RAF aircrew.
Mr Neil was due to meet the prince, but said the timings of the day were changed due to the bad weather.
However Mr Neil is no stranger to meeting royalty having spoken to Prince Charles, Prince William and The Queen many times before. And in 2015, he appeared on Prince Harry's Christmas Card after meeting him at an event to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
Mr Neil said: 'The programme had to be changed due to the awful weather, but there was a flypast with five aircraft and I had my photo taken lots of times in front of my Hurricane.'
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Back in 1940, when Mr Neil joined his first fighter squadron aged 19, they were first equipped with Spirtifes, before being given Hurricanes to fly.
The Hurricane on display at Coningsby is one that Mr Neil especially remembers. It was not used in the Battle of Britain, but was used by fighter command in 1944. And he remembers flying it frequently.
He said: 'I first flew it in 1951 and it has been crashed several times during that time. It caught fire in the air and also crash landed several times I think. They've now 'tarted it up' in my old squadron colours GNF which I always flew.'
Mr Neil does not consider himself a hero, just a survivor, and also thinks many people are no longer interested in the Battle of Britain.
He said: 'Young people don't know much about it. They enjoy listening to stories about it but they don't know much themselves.'
During the 16 weeks of the Battle of Britain, Mr Neil flew between 141 and 157 times against the enemy.
He said: 'I was very fortunate I didn't get badly wounded. But I lost four Hurricanes in the course of that time - one of whom was with (James) Nicolson who won the only Victoria Cross in flight command in the Second World War.'
Mr Neil left the air force aged 24 and married his late wife Eileen, who had her own distinguished RAF career. Together they have three sons.
Last year he collected his Legion d'Honneur during D-Day commemorations in France, and his other medals include the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Force Cross.
He has also written seven books about the battle and his experiences.
The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight was formed on July 11, 1957, by Group Captain Peter Thompson, a former Battle of Britain Hurricane pilot.
He set about collecting and preserving examples of the main aircraft involved in the conflict to honour the RAF's defence of the UK against German attacks at the end of 1940, having realised many were falling out of service.
Group Captain Thompson began the flight with a Hurricane and three photo reconnaissance Spitfires.
The BBMF now has 12 historic aircraft, including a Lancaster, a Dakota, six Spitfires, two Hurricanes, and two Chipmunks, which are used for training.
It has displayed at or flown past thousands of events as a living tribute to those who have served in the RAF.
Prince William, who completed his service with the RAF Search and Rescue Force at RAF Valley, Anglesey, is Honorary Air Commandant of RAF Coninsgby.