My father in law, Denis Robinson, was a Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain, so its dates have a particular family resonance. I wanted to mark the 70th anniversary of the decisive day – on the 15th September – with Paul Nash’s famous painting, which seems to capture the intensity of the Luftwaffe’s last great assault, a day when, at one time, all of the RAF’s 176 serviceable planes were in the air. In real life, it’s a large canvas, with lots of detail; well worth visiting the Imperial War Museum to see.
Denis is best-known amongst Battle of Britain historians for the photograph he took of his own plane, nose down in a field outside Wareham, after he’d crash-landed it after being hit by a German plane. Given that the great fear of all pilots was that the plane would catch fire, and explode, I’ve always admired his presence of mind in taking the photograph. Afterwards he walked to a local pub where he was given brandy. The BBC recently interviewed him about his experiences in the Battle of Britain (scroll down for the audio).
‘The Battle of Britain’, by Paul Nash’ hangs in the collection of the Imperial War Museum, and I have used their image of it with thanks.