Yesterday, 10 July 2018 was the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force, and there was a celebration of the brave men and women who contributed to the air force with their courage and many with their lives.
We must also not forget the many who fought alongside the RAF, especially in World War II, the USAAF/USAF who bolstered the RAF from 1942 onwards in winning the war against Germany with many daring raids into enemy territory.
The RAF during the Battle of Britain saved these shores from the Luftwaffe, with ultimate bravery and skill.
Pilots like Flight Lieutenant James Nicolson who was on patrol near Southampton on 16 August 1940, when his Hawker Hurricane was fired on by a German fighter aircraft. Making the ‘loudest noises [he] had ever heard’, four cannon shells thudded into his cockpit, damaging his machine, setting his petrol tank alight and wounding him in the eye, leg and heel. Surrounded by flames and with blood pouring down him from his injuries, Nicolson prepared to bail out. But just as he did so, he spotted a Messerschmitt Bf 110 ahead. Despite being in severe pain, he put down his parachute and reached instead for his gun controls. He poured fire into the German aircraft, keeping up his assault even as it tried to turn and twist away from him.
As he attacked, Nicolson noticed that the intense heat of the cockpit was burning his flesh. Only then did he abandon his Hurricane. After giving the Messerschmitt one last burst, he struggled free of his blazing cockpit and tumbled out into the sky. Nicolson deployed his parachute and, as he fell, he took stock of his extensive injuries, noticing that he could see the bones of his left hand showing through the knuckles. He managed to land in a field and was rushed to hospital, where his life hung in the balance. After several weeks, he had recovered enough to make it out of danger, but the burns he had received took much longer to heal.
Nicolson was awarded the Victoria Cross, which he received from King George VI at Buckingham Palace in November 1940. More Stories of RAF bravery here.
After America joined the war in 1941, it was not until 1942 when the USAAF landed in Britain.
The men of the 351st Bomb Group in their B-17 bombers were some of the bravest US airmen stationed in Britain, many perished over the Channel and Germany. Hollywood star, Clark Gable joined the group to bolster moral after a slew of heavy losses.
From 1942-1945 350,000 Americans served in Britain as members of the Eighth Air Force, of which more than 21,000 sacrificed their lives.
We must never forget..