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Author's Notes

I can remember the screening of the movie "Battle of Britain" as if it were yesterday. I was seven years old and the film was seminal to me for two reasons. First, it represented my first real awareness of the Battle as an historic event. Secondly it introduced me to the unnecessarily complicated nature of lady's under-garments as worn by Section Officer Maggie Harvey (God bless you, Susannah York).

However, the next day in the playground the hot subject was not lady's pants but rather the scene in the film where the German gunner's goggles became splashed with his own blood. The very close second place was taken by the scene where the RAF pilot extricates himself carefully from the greenhouse in which his parachute had dumped him and accepts a cigarette from a small boy. So the pattern was set in schoolboy stone: podgy Nazi dies horribly while decent British chap lives to fight on despite a sprained ankle. This was to fuel many happy years of games, drawings and general daydreaming about the Battle. And I still love that film.

But my interest extended far enough to include a desire to learn more. All the usual books became grist for mill. The best of them concentrated on the personal aspect, the story of the individual or the feel of an artefact.

In my home town of Wells-next-the-Sea a local historian has put together a photo montage of those lost from the town during the Second World War and subsequent conflicts. This hangs in the War Memorial Institute and it was here, upon reaching drinking age (nearly) that I first came face to face with Adrian Laws. Seeing the date of his death was within the official dates of the battle, I looked for his inclusion on the Roll of Honour. His absence led me (in later years) to look for the reasons.

The PRO is a priceless resource for official squadron records and the combat reports I've included here add a great authenticity to this memorial. But I needed to have something more personal, because unless I could make Adrian Laws come alive for the reader I would simply have a collection of documents.

In the Operational Record Book for 64 Squadron, on the day that Laws died, there is no mention of his flight, it being "non-operational". However, at the bottom of the page a previous researcher had written in pencil:

30/9/40 P9564 P/O Laws crashed (F.A.) 4 miles north of Leconfield.
Reference Lee "Tally Ho" Page 80-83. Time 10:30

I began a search for a book by "Lee". I modified the search for a book by "Leigh" (a pilot with 64 Squadron). I found nothing for either. So I went to the Holy Grail of book searching, The British Library. Once they'd established my query was worthwhile (they don't just let anyone in, you know), I was allowed to search the database. Again my "Lee/Leigh" searches gave me nothing. So I searched the title "Tally Ho".

Having trawled through a monstrous list of books about fox-hunting, I finally saw the light. Donahue, "A Yankee in a Spitfire". That had to be it.

Waiting for a book in the British Library is a bit like waiting for lunch in a monastery. The silence makes the time elastic. Eventually my book was served and I read Donahue's elegy about Laws with some emotion. Now I had the person to put to the face, someone to be remembered.


 

Debates still rage about the significance of the Battle. History squirms and shimmers like a mirage, presenting a slightly different horizon to each that cares to look in that direction. The important thing is that people still care enough to look, and I thank you for looking at this small part of that ever shifting horizon.

Some people claim that the British people have used the myths created by the Battle to mould the image that they like to present to the world. I believe that the exact opposite is true. The nature of the Battle was moulded by the character of those that lived through it and died because of it.

We look on in gratitude.

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"The British Character"
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Punch Ltd.

"The British Character"
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Punch Ltd.

Our collective Grandmother
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Punch Ltd.

P.S. I'm pleased to note that for "Heinkel" my spell-checker suggests "Heineken", which might have been a better idea all round.


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