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Battle of Britain letter

Battle of Britain Letter 1My father’s cousin Daphne died the other day. She was in her nineties, one of those old ladies with a cut glass accent who flatly refused to discuss what she had done in the war. She always insisted she was just a cypher clerk at the Foreign Office. Perish the thought that she had been in MI6, despite the ladies’ pistol that we found among her effects after she had died.

Daphne was the widow of a Battle of Britain pilot. His 22-year-old brother, Flt Lt David Hughes, DFC, was a pilot too. We found this letter, written by David to his parents at the height of the battle, among Daphne’s effects after her death. It’s very poignant, well worth reading if you’re interested in that kind of thing:

RAF St Eval, Nr Newquay, Cornwall, 21 August 1940:

My Darlings,

It is a very long time since last I wrote, and very many things have happened.

I have shot and been shot at. I have killed, but not been killed. I have had my life saved by a comrade, and saved another in return.

I am now what is termed as an “Ace”, in that I have over 5 Jerries to my credit, namely 6 machines have been destroyed through my pressing a little button. For the boys’ information I have shot down 3 ME 110’s, 2 ME 109’s, and a Dornier 17.

Battle of Britain Letter 2I arrived in my new Squadron on Sunday August 4th. There were three officers senior to me in the Squadron then. By August 11th I was the C.O. We lost twelve pilots in 4 days. After I took over we only lost one in a week, and had even greater odds against us. One day we were the first Squadron to make contact with the enemy, and I led my Squadron, twelve of us, against 350 Bombers escorted by 400 enemy fighters. It was one HELL of a scrap. When I landed I had 150 bullet holes in my machine, one was 1/2″ from my head. I said a quick prayer before we dived to the attack, and I think my guardian angel was working overtime!!

On the 18th August our Squadron was sent down here for a rest, and we needed it. I’d lost a stone in under a fortnight. We had been flying for 6 and seven hours a day, missing meals, and averaging 5 hours sleep a day!

When we got here I had a telegram which read “Congratulations 238 Squadron for the great part you have played” from Sir Cyril Newall, Air Chief Marshal.

Up to today we have had a quiet time here, but the Nazis gave us their attention today, and bombed us here. I was in the Mess when the bombs came, and rushed down to the machines and as I took off the Jerries machine gunned me, and then dodged into the clouds and got away.

Battle of Britain Letter 3I don’t know when we shall return to Wallop, but I expect it will be soon.

I flew over to Cardiff last Monday and saw Joan [his wife] for a couple of hours. She has had a bad time recently, poor darling, her throat was bad again. I do love her so!!

I am writing this in flying kit and waiting for the word to take off.

Take care darlings.

All my love,

(David’s Hurricane was shot down over the sea on 11 September 1940. His body was never found. RIP).

David’s brother Arthur was an RAF pilot too, but not a fighter pilot. Refused permission to transfer to Spitfires, he flew two-engine Blenheim bombers instead. Arthur Hughes spent the Battle of Britain attacking Luftwaffe airfields and Wehrmacht invasion barges in France. It’s  a part of the battle that you hear very little about.

Prior to Dunkirk, Arthur’s squadron was based in France. He left a very interesting account of his time there in his book Sorties & Soirees. A Cambridge athletics Blue and candidate for the 1940 Olympics, Arthur attended lectures by the likes of Harold Abrahams (Chariots of Fire) and was invited for a drink by P.G. Wodehouse, then living in France.

He also met the French author Andre Maurois, whose novel Les silences du Colonel Bramble, a fictionalised account of his time as a liaison officer with the British army on the Western Front during the First World War, had been a big hit on both sides of the Channel. With the Germans about to invade France again, Maurois told Arthur that the way to avoid future wars  was to turn Europe into a federation along American lines. Unlike Jean-Claude Juncker, he reckoned it wouldn’t happen for at least a hundred years.

Arthur also left an account of a visit to a brothel near Compiegne. He and some drunken fellow pilots only wanted to see a porn movie. They were startled when a red light came on and girls were paraded for their inspection:

‘The first of the four was the possessor of a moustache, spectacles, a sagging stomach, breasts bulging despondently out of a despairing brassiere and a waddle; the second was a blonde… the remaining two were not unlike the first. All were made up like death masks and had the resigned air of cattle in an abattoir. I felt desperately sorry for them.’

As well as an athletics Blue, Arthur won the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Croix de Guerre and the Legion d’Honneur. His book about his RAF experiences in 1940 is published by Woodfield Publishing. Well worth a read, if you’re into the Battle of Britain.

While all this was was going on, Cousin Daphne’s brother was a Royal Marines officer aboard HMS Repulse. See that post for more.


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